How farmers’ markets remain resilient in the face of supply chain strains

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Have you noticed that there is something deliciously ritualistic about visiting the local farmer’s market?

You wake up early on a Sunday morning, grab your reusable shopping bag and head out into the sun. Just minutes down the boardwalk, you’re greeted with an abundance of fresh produce and a host of familiar faces.

On a good day, you’ll arrive early enough to see Amelia, a local farmer, unload dozens of baskets of fresh strawberries from the trunk of her car. These were hand-picked from his farm last night and here you are now: ready and eager to select the juiciest batch of the batch.

As you devour the strawberries, you stroll through the rest of the market, pick up some ingredients for tonight’s dinner, and chat with some local farmers and residents before heading home.

Growing Popularity of Farmers Markets

Farmers markets are by no means a new phenomenon, but they have grown in popularity over the past few decades. In the 1980s, affluent households became more interested in buying durable, fresh, local produce, while low-income families could use some federal benefits to buy their essentials from these markets.

By the 1990s, the United States Department of Agriculture had begun documenting the number of American farmers’ markets, and it became increasingly common to see diverse, multifunctional markets serving a large population.

Today, consumers appreciate the full transparency that comes with shopping at a local farmers market. They know exactly where their food comes from and how it was grown, what pesticides were used and when it was picked. in addition, they know they are supporting their local economy, reducing their carbon footprint and eating seasonally.

Along with these benefits, Marker Farmers have proven to be largely immune to the supply chain challenges facing the largest grocery stores in the United States. Indeed, consumer reliance on farmers’ markets has increased dramatically in the wake of COVID-19, with many farmers’ markets achieving their highest ever sales in 2020.

What factors enabled farmers’ markets to thrive in adversity while their multinational grocery store counterparts struggled?

Are farmers’ markets safe from supply chain disruptions?

Shopping at farmers’ markets was a way for consumers to avoid crowded grocery stores, reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19. But these markets also served to deal with food shortages; filling many food supply gaps caused by unprecedented supply chain disruption.

Food scarcity was such a major problem that 45 million people experienced food insecurity in 2020, an increase of 10 million from the previous year. In response to this, the United States Department of Agriculture developed the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. This has invested $19 billion in transporting locally and regionally produced food to schools, food banks and farmers’ markets. Farmers’ markets have also worked quickly to adapt their service offerings during the pandemic, testing options such as prepackaged goods and drive-thru pickups.

Multinational grocery stores have not been able to do the same as they have to navigate very complex and often international supply chains. This requires sourcing products from hundreds of different suppliers around the world, carefully managing inventory, adapting to changing consumer demands, and planning long supply routes. Not only that, but they have to make sure the produce is fresh and safe for consumption.

When you throw in the added challenge of a global pandemic, natural disaster, geopolitical unrest, or trade disputes, things get even more complex. In recent years, food supply chain industry professionals have struggled with border closures and delays, factory closures and product stock-outs.

Although Farmers’ Markets operate like pop-up grocery stores, they are not dependent on such long and complex supply chains, are not expected or required to deliver specific products to the end consumer, and will never incur the delays and expenses associated with international import. .

Farmers’ market operators can also mitigate risk by sourcing from multiple farmers in the same area. If a harvest fails or a supplier is unable to bring their produce to market, customers will have several other options to choose from.

What challenges do farmers’ markets face?

Farmers markets may not have to deal with supply chain difficulties, but running these businesses comes with a different set of challenges.

To begin with, a farmer’s market manager must be a skilled logistics professional – juggling multiple vendors, customer attendance, and various health and safety requirements.

Second, farmers’ markets often struggle to access and budget for the necessary technology. Consumers will spend more money when they can pay with a credit card, but many markets are still cash-only.

Third, large grocery chains are notorious for creating authentic “farmers’ market” product lines, undermining the true sustainability of farmers’ markets.

Finally, suppliers generally find it difficult to make a living from farmers’ markets alone, which means that they are somewhat dependent on the wholesale trade. This problem could be solved by encouraging direct relationships and negotiations between farmers’ market suppliers and wholesalers. Not only would this lead to sustainable and ethical food supply chains, but it would also improve the profitability of farmers.

Image Credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

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