We at the Austin Farmers’ Market are often compared with California, or Madison, Wisconsin, or Portland markets when people make reviews of the market’s value, in their opinion. The truth is–comparing Austin’s farmers market to others on the West Coast, in the Midwest or on the Eastern Seaboard is like comparing tomatoes to peppers. You can’t with fairness.
Firstly, there are fewer commercial level, mid-sized farms growing vegetables and fruits in Texas than in other states (that’s a farm in the several hundred to several thousand acre category); most farms in Central Texas are in the 20 acre size, and there are just a few of them compared with what there could be.
Second, we have fluctuations in weather that other growers don’t have. Already this first quarter in 2009 there have been 40-degree days immediately followed by 80-degree days several times. Coupled with hail and/or freezes during the night and in late spring, these rollercoaster weather patterns require farmers to replant, reseed, take a loss and definitely bring less to market than planned. Some farmers even retire or give up.
Also, the availability of land that is arable, has water, is reasonably priced, and is relatively close to the Austin epicenter is scarce. While this may be a fair comparison with California’s farms as well, the return on investment is not. More people shop more from farmers’ markets in California than in Texas, so a farmer investing in land close to San Francisco can stand to reap many more sales than in Austin (at least right now). Thus, there are less farmers that what you’d expect in a year-round market.
But, it’s only a matter of time. The markets that we are compared to are 15 to 20 years older than Austin Farmers’ Market. We are entering our 7th season this May. The markets that we love and support in the West, East, and Midwest most likely had only three dozen farmers and two dozen (or less) specialty food vendors in their first few years.
Finally, we established the market in a slice of time (2003) when we had obstacles of faltering economy post-9/11, a tech bust in a highly dependent tech town, and within just a few block’s proximity of the newly built headquarters and flagship store of the largest natural foods grocery chain in the world (Whole Foods). The older farmers markets came out in the late 80′s and early 90′s when they were the only game in town.
We have been growing exponentially in the last year (up 31% in sales, 17% in farmers), so give us time to catch up, invest in new farmers, figure out how to farm in severe weather and extreme drought, and capture more of your hearts to make us more like the favored markets from other locales in the U.S.