LANSING- Being short on cash doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll come away short-handed at your local farmers market.

Just be prepared to negotiate.

Jean Kohler, market master of the Cadillac Area Farmers Market, said customers sometimes bargain with vendors if their wallets are running low.

The personable nature of markets allow frequent shoppers to know the vendors and ask them questions about such things as fertilizer and crop sprays used, Kohler said.

 “Customers bargain for a better price if they are short of money. They know the vendors,” Kohler said. “You can’t do this in a grocery store. A lot of people depend on them.”

But business hasn’t been as fruitful as hoped for at the Cheboygan Farmers Market, said Toni Brown, its market master.

Brown, who raises cabbage, broccoli, carrots, beets and potatoes, started selling at the market about eight years ago and has struggled to break even.

As a result, Brown said she can’t be as a flexible with her pricing as she’d like.

“I very rarely make a profit. I can’t lower my prices,” Brown said. “This will be our last year. I can’t put up the money.”

Farmers markets have grown in popularity in recent years as consumers look for ways to supplement their budgets, said Don Koivisto, director of the Department of Agriculture.

The department reports that the number of markets has doubled since 2001, jumping from 90 to about 200.

Koivisto said the trust factor is major draw for consumers.

“People can trust the product more. You’re getting the freshest possible product because it hasn’t been on a train for 10 days,” he said.

Products at farmers markets often are picked the day before, said Jeanette Woelmer, market master of the Monroe County Farmers Market.

Woelmer, who has an 80-acre farm in Monroe, said business has been steady in recent years, although she’s noticed an increase in people buying in bulk.

At the Cadillac market, traffic rose this year even though crops were late due to cool summer temperatures, Kohler said.

The market was open two days a week from June to October.

Tomato farmers had a particularly rough growing season because of fungus, Kohler said.

“I can’t say they were purchasing more, but there seemed to be a lot more people coming,” she said.

Advocates say buying locally grown foods not only saves consumers money, but it also strengthens the local economy.

If a household spends $10 of its weekly grocery budget on locally produced goods, nearly $40 million extra would funnel through the state’s economy each week, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Additionally, $1 spent locally helps three to seven area businesses before money exits the local economy, the department reported.

And vendors often donate unsold produce to food banks, Kohler said.

“That’s a lot more beneficial then letting them rot in the fields,” she said.

When selling at a farmers market, growers don’t have to spend money on packaging and shipping, said Val Vail-Shirey, executive director of the Michigan Farm Marketing and Agri-Tourism Association.

In turn, those savings are passed on to the consumer, Vail-Shirey said.

“Clearly, everyone is concerned about the bottom line,” she said 

 

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