Customers want local products

Carol Hudson’s great-grandfather, Harley Vickers, was a one-man farmers market.

“He’d take his produce down to Bethany and ring a cowbell,” she said. “That’s how he sold his vegetables.”

Carol and her son, Michael Hudson, do a different kind of farming. They own Honey Bee Lake Apiary in Frankford, where they harvest honey for today’s farmers markets: weekly assemblies of purveyors of produce, meat, dairy and homemade goods in community gathering places that attract customers looking for fresh and local products.

“Farmers markets are absolutely vital to us,” Carol said. “After my husband died last year, it’s how I pay for the farm.”

The benefits

David Smith is a marketing specialist with the Delaware Department of Agriculture. He said the popularity of farmers markets is booming. People have become more interested in how their food is grown and processed.

“People want fresh stuff,” he said. “They don’t want something shipped across the country.”

Take honey, for example.

“Some grocery store honey has up to 40 percent corn syrup,” Michael Hudson said. “Some of it doesn’t even have pollen.”

Produce farmer Paul Johnston traveled the world in the military and observed farming in many different cultures. Johnston is heading up a new farmers market at the Moose Lodge in Smyrna.

“You might be able to buy a product cheaper at the store, but you don’t know where it’s coming from,” he said. “Here, if I put contaminated water on my crops I’d go to jail. Overseas, you don’t know what their regulations are, and a lot of stuff at the store is grown overseas.”

Smith at the DDA pointed out it’s not just the consumer who benefits.

“Some farmers just might not be big enough to sell to grocery chains,” he said. “Or maybe they had a bad crop one year and lost their contract. They need a way to get their produce to the customer.”

Smith said the local economy gets a boost as well.

“Sea Colony in South Bethany Beach, their farmers market is right across the road from a shopping center, and those shops all see an increase in business when the farmers market is in operation.”

Delaware markets

The markets are concentrated mostly in Sussex County and the Wilmington area. There are just two in Kent County – the Capital City Farmers Market in Dover and the brand new Moose Market in Smyrna, which held its inaugural run Sunday.

“They’ve tried farmers markets a few times in Smyrna,” Johnston said. “And I really think they just never had a good location.”

The Moose Lodge is on northbound Route 13, and Johnston hopes to get some traffic from returning beachgoers.

It takes more than just produce to make for a successful farmers market, though – it’s a perfect storm of things, including time, place and weather, and the extras that cater to each specific community.

The Historic Lewes Farmers Market, for example, offers scholarships to local farmers that allow them to attend sustainable agriculture conferences. Capital City Farmers Market hosts the United States Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, which provides free lunch for kids. The New Castle County Farmers Market Program locations often feature entertainment for children, including arts and crafts and petting zoos. Almost all incorporate musicians from the vicinity.

With the help of the state agricultural department, farmers markets across the state have started accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women, Infants and Children coupons.

Click here for more information on Delaware’s farmers markets.