Farmers market sees continued success
Story by Gordon Dritschilo | Originally Posted in the Rutland Herald | April 12, 2019
As winter turns into spring, Greg Cox said it is a great time to be growing things in Rutland County.
“The only thing I really know a lot about is agriculture,” the owner of Boardman Hill Farm and president of the Vermont Farmers Food Center said this week while staffing a booth at the Rutland Business Show. “The business climate in agriculture is filled with potential. Growing markets and an awareness within the people that what they eat and where it comes from is critical to their health — that is a good climate to be in.”
Cox said that over the last decade, gross sales at the local farmers’ market have quadrupled from $500,000 to $2 million. The economic activity surrounding getting all those goods to market, he said, represents a total of about $5 million to the local economy. Also, he said it’s not just farmers’ markets that are seeing growth.
“The number of folks buying CSAs is going up,” he said. CSA stands for “community-supported agriculture,” an arrangement by which customers pay a sort of subscription fee for assortments of produce through the growing season. “The number of businesses reaching out to farmers for CSAs for delivery to workplaces is going up.”
The Vermont Farm to Plate Network put local food sales at $45.8 million in 2015, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets estimated farmers’ market sales alone to be around $8 million in 2017.
“There’s definitely some success and some challenges depending on location,” said Alissa Matthews, the state’s agricultural development coordinator for direct-to-consumer markets. “There’s varying models in different areas.”
Matthews said the successes tend to be markets that act as business incubators for value-added food products.
“It helps with market research and has proven to be a good market channel for them,” she said.
Matthews said she works with smaller communities to try to optimize their markets and smaller local markets seem to come and go.
“The overall total number of markets hasn’t really fluctuated,” she said. “We seem to lose as many as we gain. We have about 70 markets around the state. ... A traditional market, in the sense we envision it, might not be the right fit for every community, but there are still ways to partner and use food in the community. I think one of the tricky things is ... finding the right variety of vendors and finding the right size for your community. ... I don’t think there’s something that works everywhere or doesn’t work everywhere. It’s about knowing what’s going on in the community.”
Brennan Duffy, executive director of the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, said the market was a massive draw to the area. The summer incarnation, he said, brings in people who might not ordinarily come to downtown Rutland and the winter market rehabilitated a blighted industrial property that was crying out for a new use. He noted as well that the VFFC’s restoration of the former Mintzer property has taken the incubator effect Matthews mentioned to a higher level.
“They have Vermont Maple Sriracha working out of there, and I think there’s potential for more like that,” he said. “That happens, from time to time, where there’s a good business opportunity that comes out of a home-spun idea.”
The farmers’ market moves back to Depot Park for the season next month.