While we wait for our squash to start producing fruit, we have not had enough other produce to justify setting up our booth at Farmers' Market. However, our eggplants are doing well, so we asked another vendor from Parma to sell them at the market for us. This year's eggplants are among the best I've grown. I think the cover crop of alfalfa, Austrian pea, and vetch that I planted last season has made a big difference. We have , bright white "Snowy" eggplant that are 13 ounces, and our "Orient Express", a Japanese style, lavendar eggplant, are 15 inches long and almost two inches in diameter. Last week the 18 eggplant that I sent to market sold out, bringing in all of $9.50. I probably should try a higher price, but this week they will be sold at the same price as last week.
Because we didn't have enough to sell, on July 28 husband John and I did a customer count and dot questionnaire at the Nampa Farmers’ Market. We estimated that about 1926 people came through the Market that day, up from 1812 people last year on July 22. That was good news. We also estimated that people spent an average of $4.18 per person, down from $4.61 last year. That was a disapointment. Many markets that have estimated customer expenditures report $20 or more spent per customer.
The business news on the radio yesterday said that retail sales were down in July compared to last year, so the decline in customer spending at our market may be part of a more general decline in spending.
Last year we asked customers if they would purchase more if there was more available at the market that interested them, or if they were spending all that they could afford. Most said they would purchase more. So, we need to figure out what we don't have at our market that customers would buy.
This year as part of our dot questionnaire, visitors to the market were asked to choose the one thing that they liked best about the market. 50% of respondents said they like the produce best. That percentage didn't change even late in the day when there was much less produce available! Lots of people told us that they want to see more fresh produce at the market.
I've been thinking about that. We've lost a couple of produce vendors this year to retirement or burnout, or late plantings like me. But we also have a few new vendors. So, the problem may not be the number of produce vendors, but a midseason slump in produce availability.
We at the Nampa Farmers' Market take pride in the fact that our vendors produce most of their products within 100 miles of the market. In this area July tends to be relatively slow for produce because of the heat, and because late varieties aren’t ready to harvest.
There has been lots of news about the newest trend in eating habits, "locavores". Several recent books have been written about the advantages of knowing where your food comes from and who grew it, and of reducing the distance that food travels to help reduce global warming. Try reading Gary Nabhan's "Coming Home to Eat", or Barbara Kingsolver's new book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." Nabhan tried to restrict his diet to items that came from within 250 miles of home (Tucson, AZ). Kingsolver ate mostly what she and her family grew themselves or purchased at Farmers' Market in Virginia from vendors within 100 miles of home. Kingsolver found that the ethical and environmental choice of eating locally is also the most pleasurable choice, since local food is also fresher and tastier.
In a recent interview, Kingsolver said: "I think what surprised me the most is that we didn't really miss anything. We went into it probably thinking too much about what we were not going to be able to have. But when we changed our thinking and started every meal with the question, 'What do we have? What's in season? What do we have plenty of?' — it became really a long exercise in gratitude."
That's the best attitude to bring to the Farmers' Market as well. Every week is a little different, but every week something is fresh and plentiful. We should be grateful, and creative with what we have. And hopeful. September is our peak produce month. The best is yet to come.