Going to the Farmers Market can be a fun activity for the whole family, but starting Sunday it will have an even greater significance.
“The impact is ten-fold,” said Kim Hutchinson, executive director of the Virginia Farmers Market Association. “Farmers markets employ thousands of people and bring in millions of dollars, they have impacts on the local economies so we want to know what is driving people to go to the market and what its role is in the community.”
Starting Sunday, farmers markets across the country will be participating in National Farmers Market Week. But in Virginia, the week is going to be taking a step further by having a number of markets across the state go through an official counting process to see how many customers are actually coming.
Tracy Frey, executive director of the Williamsburg Farmers Market, said they have been counting their customers for years, but the process tends to produce results that are consistent but not necessarily accurate.
What this means is that at Williamsburg Farmers Market, the process to count visitors is the same each time but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is capturing the true number. To count visitors, Frey said there are individuals who walk from one end of the market to the other, counting adults who appear to be enjoying the market. This is done multiple times throughout the day to see how many people are coming and going.
During this week’s count, Frey said the market will be doing a full count, meaning there will be a number of volunteers at the eight different market entrances who will have a counter and track every person that comes and goes and report that number every hour.
Not all farmers markets will be tracking visitors the same way, Hutchinson said. Some might be using new piloted technology from a partnership with Virginia State University or use a GPS tracking system.
Hutchinson said the data, on a state level, gives VFMA the ability to go to government entities such as the Virginia Department of Health and show them how grants and food vouchers are being put to good use at the market.
According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, agriculture is the largest private industry, bringing in $70 million annually, and Hutchinson said the count will help them know how much farmers markets contribute to that number.
On the local level, that gives market managers the ability to tell farmers and local governments how the market impacts their businesses and localities.
“You can’t have a farmers market without the farmer,” Frey said. “And you won’t have farmers without the promise of customers.”
In York County, the farmers market community is also participating in National Farmers Market Week as well as the customer and visitor count.
“It brings awareness to the hard work vendors do,” he said.
Medford plans to do a head count of those on site every so often since the market is an open field with multiple entryways and exits.
“We don’t have a central entry,” Medford said. “We’re going to estimate foot traffic as best we can.”
In addition to providing an estimate of visitors to the farmer’s market, Medford will also submit the weather forecast to the national organization. This year, the event will include free children activities and a cooking demonstration using fresh produce and ingredients from the vendors on-site. The dish: smoked chicken over eggplant ragu.
“Our farmers market has a real community, family feel—between vendors and artists and especially with all the customers who come down week after week,” said Jessica Wauhop, content marketing specialist for the York County Tourism Department.
Wauhop added this is one of the days she looks forward to the most during the summer and is there just about every Saturday. She plans to feature different vendors on Facebook in the days leading up the event as well.
While this week celebrates farmers markets across the country, Medford encourages people to visit the market every week.
Things change –– it’s always something different,” Medford said. “You can’t get much fresher than a farmers market.”