Assessing the Success of Farmers’ Markets in Northern New York: A Survey of Vendors, Customers, and Market Managers

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Logozar, Bernadette
Schmit, Todd M.
With the increased interest in local foods and the growth in farmers‘ markets (FM), it is important to take the time to examine and understand customer interest and buying patterns at FMs, but also to receive input from vendors and market managers on management techniques, market operations, and ways to improve vendor and overall market performance. The purpose of this bulletin is to describe the results of a project conducted in six counties in Northern New York in the summer of 2008 to examine these issues. In a changing landscape of production agriculture and an increased interest by consumers in having a closer connection to their food, there has been strong growth in both the output value and the number of farms selling direct-to-consumer (D2C). This is true not only in Northern New York (NNY), but also in New York State (NYS) and the United States as a whole. D2C farms are those farms that sell at least a portion of their farm output directly to individuals for human consumption, where FMs sales are one type of D2C sales. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the number of farms in Northern New York has declined by 6.6% since 2002; however, during this same time period there has been a 22.3% increase in the number of farms selling D2C (Table 1).1 It should also be noted that, although the entire region has experienced a loss in the total number of farms, some counties in the region actually had a growth in the number of farms—specifically Franklin and Essex counties that increased farm numbers 13.5% and 3.0%, respectively. All counties in the region have experienced growth in the number of D2C farms operating within their boundaries; however, there is considerable variation across the 6-county region. Franklin County leads in percentage terms with a 68.7% increase in D2C farms over this five-year period, as well a 13.5% increase in the number of all farms. Following next is Essex County with a 28.9% increase in D2C farms, and a 3% increase in overall farm numbers. The smallest growth rates in D2C farms were shown for Jefferson (2.8%) and Clinton (4.5%) counties. While the value of D2C represents less than one percent of total agricultural sales for the region (0.7%), nearly 15% of all farms sell at least a portion of their products in D2C markets (Table 1). Particularly strong growth in the D2C market sector is evident in the increasing number of FMs in NYS, as well as across the U.S. In 1994, there were 1,755 FMs in the U.S., by 2008, this number increased to 4,685 (Figure 1).2 As reported by Adirondack Harvest, 38 FMs are operating in 2009 in the NNY region, up from 34 the year prior3. In fact, there are more FMs per capita in this region of the state than any other area of NYS. Today, farmers‘ markets are an essential market mechanism linking farmers and consumers, and delivering benefits to both groups.
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