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Mix of farmers markets a blessing, curse

High number in area spreads vendors thin

  • Aaron Lichtenberg (left), owner of Winnipesaukee Woods Farm in Gilford, takes a break between serving customers at his stand at the Laconia Farmer's Market in Laconia on Thursday afternoon, July 25, 2013. Lichtenberg owns the farm with his wife Liz (not pictured).<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Aaron Lichtenberg (left), owner of Winnipesaukee Woods Farm in Gilford, takes a break between serving customers at his stand at the Laconia Farmer's Market in Laconia on Thursday afternoon, July 25, 2013. Lichtenberg owns the farm with his wife Liz (not pictured).

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Various produce is on display for sale at the Winnipesaukee Woods Farm stand at the Laconia Farmer's Market in Laconia on Thursday afternoon on July 25, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Various produce is on display for sale at the Winnipesaukee Woods Farm stand at the Laconia Farmer's Market in Laconia on Thursday afternoon on July 25, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Various produce is on display for sale at the Winnipesaukee Woods Farm stand at the Laconia Farmer's Market in Laconia on Thursday afternoon on July 25, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Various produce is on display for sale at the Winnipesaukee Woods Farm stand at the Laconia Farmer's Market in Laconia on Thursday afternoon on July 25, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Aaron Lichtenberg (left), owner of Winnipesaukee Woods Farm in Gilford, takes a break between serving customers at his stand at the Laconia Farmer's Market in Laconia on Thursday afternoon, July 25, 2013. Lichtenberg owns the farm with his wife Liz (not pictured).<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • Various produce is on display for sale at the Winnipesaukee Woods Farm stand at the Laconia Farmer's Market in Laconia on Thursday afternoon on July 25, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • Various produce is on display for sale at the Winnipesaukee Woods Farm stand at the Laconia Farmer's Market in Laconia on Thursday afternoon on July 25, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

On any given day this summer, produce shoppers in Greater Concord have anywhere from one to six farmers markets to choose from. There are markets in town squares and parks, in hospital parking lots and train depots, and outside libraries and malls.

This season, there are about 20 markets within easy driving distance of Concord and 80 in the state. The high number, combined with traditional farm stands and Community Shared Agriculture programs, leaves vendors with a variety of options for where and how they choose to sell their goods.

Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of the state Division of Agricultural Development, said hitting multiple markets per week is common among vendors today.

“The reality is many vendors are participating in more than one market each week,” she said. “It is not unusual for farmers to go to two or three markets during the season. They could be going to multiple markets on multiple days even.”

Krista Weiser of Hackleboro Orchards in Canterbury is one farmer who takes advantage of the high number of markets in the area. Weiser and her family attend six markets in five days, including two on Wednesdays.

“It can be tiring,” she said at the Hopkinton Farmers Market on Wednesday. “My days often consist of starting blueberry picking at 7 a.m., and then someone else harvests other things like squash. . . . And then I instantly start making cider donuts, and then it’s off to the markets.”

Hackleboro Orchards joined the farmers market circuit about six years ago, starting with the Canterbury market. After they saw an increase in profits that first year, Weiser said they soon started “collecting” markets.

But even with the number of markets they attend, Weiser said their farm stand is probably the most profitable aspect of their operation.

“Basically, at the markets, we make a whole lot of money in a short amount of time, while with the farm, it’s open for a while,” she said. “In a normal day, the farm beats out the market, but sometimes the market beats us.”

McWilliam Jellie said many farms have this multifaceted approach to sales.

“A lot of people have a retail stand at their farm or a pick-your-own,” she said. “Some of them have wholesale and sell to supermarkets. Farmers markets for many vendors are just one component of their marketing mix.”

Community support

Surowiec Farm in Sanbornton also sells produce at multiple farmers markets and their farm stand. Katie Surowiec said the retail operation at the farm, which offers pick-your-own apples, usually brings in the largest percentage of income, but the three farmers markets they attend pull in a significant amount as well.

“At this point we’d love to be able to stop the markets, but it really is a strong moneymaker,” she said at the Laconia Main Street Outdoor Marketplace on Thursday. “It’s definitely grown over the years.”

Surowiec Farm also offers a third way for consumers to purchase their produce: Community Supported Agriculture. CSA programs allow consumers to buy shares of the farm at the beginning of each season. For the price of a share, participants receive a weekly allotment of fruits and vegetables being grown.

According to the agriculture department, the number of CSA programs has significantly increased in recent years. McWilliam Jellie said farms are likely expanding their efforts with CSA because of the convenience for customers. Depending on the method the farm is employing, customers can pre-order their produce and pick it up or have it delivered to their door, allowing them to eliminate shopping time.

Second-year farm owner Aaron Lichtenberg is planning for his Winnipesaukee Woods Farm in Alton Bay to make most of its profit from CSA. Lichtenberg sells his produce at two farmers markets, one in Laconia and one in Tilton, but he does not plan to attend any others.

“Farmers markets are kind of tricky,” Lichtenberg said. “They’re very fickle, and they’re very weather dependent. They’re hard to figure out.”

Farmers markets are a good way to advertise a new farm, he said, and he joined the Tilton market this year for that very reason. But overall, he would prefer to sell produce through CSA and restaurant sales.

Last year, Lichtenberg said his sales were divided pretty evenly between farmers markets, restaurant customers and CSA members. But this year, he said most of his profits will come from CSA, with the remainder divided evenly between markets and restaurants.

The change is due to both demand and his own preferences, he said.

“I like the CSA model,” Lichtenberg said. “You’re putting your support to the farm early in the season when the farmer needs it. You’re participating on a more personal level with the farm, because you’re taking advantage of the surplus, but you’re also taking on some of the risk. It’s a great way to support local agriculture and to eat seasonally.”

Many markets

Although Warner River Organics relies almost entirely on a CSA program, their personal spin on the model means members pick up the items they want from a market each week. As a result, they hit six markets per week.

Ben Pratt, who assists owners Jim Ramanek and Anne Nason, said he thinks the increasing number of farmers markets will end up having a negative effect on business.

“I think we’ve seen an increase in demand for organic products and for locally grown products,” he said. “And I think that in time, due to that increase, I think we’ll find out it’s one market too many.”

For example, Pratt, who sits on the board of directors for the Hopkinton Farmers Market, said the market had trouble finding a cheese vendor who was free to commit to the market.

Nason agreed she has been starting to see similar problems at many other markets as well.

“There are not enough products or vendors to provide a robust enough market to provide the market with business,” said Nason, who founded Warner River Organics nine years ago. “For example: bakers. There’s not a heck of a lot of bakers, or cheesemakers. These kind of vendors you kind of covet.”

Although Diane Souther has not experienced the negative effects of market competition personally, the owner of Apple Hill Farm in Concord said she has seen it affect nearby markets.

Souther, who is also secretary of the Concord Farmers Market, previously attended several markets each week, but she narrowed it down to her two favorites, Concord and Bedford.

“Sometimes what will happen is the farmers market will have a diverse customer base of towns around its opening,” Souther said. “But if other towns in the area, say if Loudon, Pittsfield and Pembroke, all opened up their own markets close to the same time, it just divides the pie.”

The addition of the Wednesday afternoon market at Steeplegate Mall is one such example. Concord added the market to its schedule in an effort to reach consumers in an area of town far from its Saturday morning market off Main Street. It joined Wednesday afternoon markets in Canterbury, Hooksett, Hopkinton and New London.

Even with the high number of markets, McWilliam Jellie said she believes the farmers market boom has steadied in recent years and there will not be any negative effects on vendors beyond what has already occurred.

“A few do go away because of that shopper attrition in that particular area,” she said. “But I think we’re holding steady the last couple of years. I think it’s all good now.”

(Mel Flanagan can be reached at 369-3321 or mflanagan@cmonitor.com.)

As owner of Hermit Woods Winery, we are vendors at several farmers markets. I am also someone who personally feels it is important to purchase food from local farmers and producers. As a vendor and consumer, I find the NH farmers market system very frustrating. Competing markets have too few vendors to ensure a wide variety of goods. Do to the increased time and gas of attending multiple markets, it is hard not to choose a single visit to the supermarket. I personally am committed to markets, but until this issue is addressed, it will hard to convince the general public to choose markets over supermarkets. As most market organizers discourage multiple vendors of the same type of products, markets will continue to be small and variety limited. Unless markets can increase traffic there will not be enough business for everyone. This is the catch 22 that is in my opinion stifling farmers markets. Imagine if within a 30-mile radius there were only one market held twice a week, this market would have potentially hundreds of vendors and would be the single place that consumers could count on for all their needs. This market would present a real choice over supermarkets and help develop new champions of buying local. Organizers and vendors would have to spend less money on marketing, time, gas, and staff on multiple markets. Having traveled in Europe where this is the model, there is no doubt it could work.

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