January 11, 2011

Emerging Markets

Agricultural trend: The success of the state’s indoor winter farmers markets shows that consumers’ desire for fresh produce doesn’t end when days grow colder.
Luke Mahoney of Rollinsford’s Brookford Farms works the Derry indoor farm market
just before Christmas. He has been selling produce, milk and flour all winter in Derry
and will be joining Salem’s indoor market this weekend.

Union Leader Correspondent
Noah Munro, co-owner of Mill Fudge Factory in Bristol,
 has found a good outlet for his flavorful treats.
DERRY -- You can think snow if you want, but in 2011 nothing says “winter in New Hampshire” like the smell of fresh produce in a downtown gymnasium.
That’s a direct result of the current boom in indoor winter farmers markets — there are 20 of them scattered around the state, according to the state
 Department of Agriculture, where just a few years ago there were none. 

And the winter market phenomenon is a direct result of consumer demand for yearround locally grown goods. 
“It’s all driven by the willingness of the public to buy local,” said Kris Mossey of Milford, president of the New Hampshire Farmers’ Market Association and longtime family farmer. 
Of the state’s 4,000 farms, about 400 are participating in the 90 registered summer farmers markets. Ten years ago there were barely a dozen community farm markets, said Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of agricultural development for the state’s Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food. “It’s skyrocketing. Every community wants to have a farmers market. The limiting factor for New Hampshire might eventually be that there are a finite number of farmers already going to multiple markets,” Jellie said. “We’ve been watching and wondering if there will come a time when a community that wants one can’t because the farmers are all booked up. So far, that hasn’t happened.” 
While the popularity of fresh local food is a national trend, New Hampshire seems to have cornered the market on markets — according to the 2007 Federal Agricultural Census, New Hampshire ranked top in the nation for its percentage of farms reporting direct-to-consumer marketing. 
With no sign of slowing down in sight, Mossey expects the 2012 census will again show New Hampshire at the top of the heap. 
“Consumers are saying they don’t want the markets to end, and the farmers are responding,” Mossey said. 
“They’re extending their growing seasons and tailoring their products to the demands of the people, showing up at winter markets and doing good business. In return, communities are tailoring their market dates to accommodate the farmers’ schedules, so they can sell at more venues.” 
Just ask Bev Ferrante, who manages Derry’s year-round farm market, which officially launched last summer. Yesterday she was fielding more calls from vendors asking if she can squeeze them into the lineup at Veterans Memorial Hall gym, where the town’s indoor version of its successful summer downtown venture continues every first and third Sunday. 
“It’s an everyday thing. I have veteran vendors calling, vendors that have nothing to do with our summer market, looking to see if they can plug into our winter market because they need to find income,” said Ferrante, who has been finding space every other week for about 22 vendors. 
“And what I’m hearing from my summer vendors is that they don’t mind if they aren’t making as much money in the winter as they did in the summer — they’re happy to do it for exposure,” said Ferrante. 
There has also been a secret ingredient. 
Interspersed among the tables of farm-fresh organic produce, maple syrup, honey, dairy and meat products are vendors who have brought something extra to Derry’s indoor venue: ready-made food. 
“One success story is Michelle Pillsbury, who took over as the new owner of Paulie’s Butcher Shop. She features all kinds of Mediterranean foods, like tabbouleh and hummus, and since joining the market her Crystal Avenue business has boomed. People who were introduced to her at the market are going into her store now,” Ferrante said. 
Jane Lang, who serves as volunteer market manager for Salem’s inaugural farm market venture, is similarly pumped about the fact that they’ve extended their market into winter, every first and third Saturday at the United Methodist Church on Pleasant Street. 
“The feedback is phenomenal. I have a newsletter that goes out before every market, and we have 500 subscribers — you have to realize that this is a town that never had anything like this before,” Lang said. 
“Scheduling has been the hardest part. I’m finding that local farmers rely mostly on family members to help them run the business, and they don’t always have the help they need to set up at different markets, which is why I had to find a day that a majority of vendors were available that wasn’t conflicting with other markets,” Lang said. 
Her summer market was on Wednesdays, which she quickly learned was also market day for Derry and Atkinson. 
“When I found out we were competing with other markets, I decided to switch it up this summer to Sunday afternoons. I figured we can catch people in the afternoon on their way home from church, or who might just be out on a drive,” Lang said. 
Luke Mahoney, a farmer at Brookford Farm in Rollinsford, participates in Derry’s winter market and will be joining Salem’s winter market starting this weekend. He also is a regular with Seacoast Eat Local Farmers’ Markets in Exeter. 
His winter wares include beets, carrots, winter squash, black radish, flour milled at the farm, raw milk and meat. 
Mahoney says the advantage for New Hampshire farmers is higher demand due to fewer farms. 
“I do think the markets compete with each other — that’s the problem in the summer. Every little town has a market, so it spreads the farmers thin. That’s what’s good about winter markets — there are only 20, but they’re staggered,” said Mahoney, who agrees that exposure to the public has helped him grow his business, which is 20 percent wholesale, 30 percent from farm markets, 30 percent from their farm store in Rollinsford and 20 percent from the CSA. 
“We’re not sure if we’re going to do summer markets — the CSA was good, and I think we’re going to concentrate in growing that for next season,” said Mahoney. “But we’ll likely do the winter markets as long as we can, because it’s good to have someplace to sell in winter.” 

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