According to the National Grocery Association’s 2014 Consumer Panel, 87.2 percent of consumers said that availability of locally grown produce is a major influence on grocery shopping decisions.
Consumers have found ways to meet their needs for fresh high-quality produce by shopping at local farmers’ markets.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service began tracking farmers’ markets in 1994, and the number of markets in the U.S. has grown significantly since then. By 2013, the number of markets in the U.S. had grown from 1,755 to 8,144.
Farmers’ markets provide consumers with the opportunity to put a “face” on who is growing the product, which they do not usually get from traditional retail food outlets.
Jacinta Marlo, clinical laboratory assistant at the University of Missouri, has purchased locally grown produce for almost five years since her family moved to Columbia. Marlo and her family visit a grocery store that sells produce from local farmers.
They signed up to receive two boxes of food from the store once a week; one is full of different types of produce, and the other has dairy and meat products.
“We like eating fresh food and organically grown by local farmers,” Marlo said.
If the family needs specific items that do not come in the box, they will visit some other type of natural grocery store in town.
“It helps us avoid processed food, which is important to us,” Marlo said. “We also get to support the local farmers.”
The Columbia Farmers’ Market in Columbia has experienced tremendous growth over the last few years. According to their website, weekend customer counts regularly surpass 4,000 and membership has expanded to include nearly 80 local farmers, producers and artisans.
The mission of the Columbia Farmers’ Market is to provide both the local farmers and consumers with a reliable, regulated marketplace for the direct exchange of high-quality and safe food. The market strives to meet the needs of the local consumer while encouraging sustainable agriculture.
The Veggie Patch is a locally owned and operated fruit and vegetable business that has been a vendor at the Columbia Famers’ Market for 20 years. Jim Thies and his family established The Veggie Patch in 1995 and have been supplying consumers in the Mid-Missouri area with high-quality produce ever since.
The Veggie Patch grows around 50 different types of produce on just nine acres. They raise numerous varieties of berries, potatoes, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and more.
The Veggie Patch provides its customers the opportunity to be a part of a share/subscription program called Community Supported Agriculture. This program supplies customers with freshly harvested produce each week from May to October. A small share will feed two adults who eat a vegetable based diet of 200 to 250 pounds of produce every season.
Participants with CSA contracts can receive seven to 12 varieties of vegetables that change with the seasons. The USDA reported in the 2007 Census of Agriculture that 12,549 farms had marketed products through CSA.
Thies said that CSA customers have a supply of locally produced vegetables and fruit at a discount price that is reserved for them. Thies benefits from CSA because he has a paid customer up front who actually gets a share of what he produces.
“They also get to know how the farm works and what we do,” Thies said.
Shoppers perceive that local food is a better quality than what they can buy at the supermarket. They also have the opportunity to learn about farming practices and support agriculture and small business development in their local communities.
Laura Denker, CAFNR coordinator student services, will purchase a CSA share from The Veggie Patch soon for the second year.
“I heard about their CSA program through social media, as I am friends with Mr. Thies’ daughter,” Denker said.
Denker decided to participate in the CSA program just for fun, and to try something new.
“I do still buy some produce from the store, but I try and pick up my CSA box first and then create my meals,” Denker said.
The Veggie Patch also works with other groups like Slow Food Movement, which promotes local food production and teaches children how to grow, prepare and eat healthy food.
“I really think that if I kept track of the number of questions and time I spend on how-to- prepare-food inquiries, it would add up to about 25 percent of my time at market,” Thies said.
Diane Gorski is another member of The Veggie Patch’s CSA share. She said the produce is fresher than anything she buys at the store. Groski also purchases grass fed beef at the farmers’ market along with her produce.
“I always learn something new about food and food production,” Groski said. “It is just fun to go to the farmers market and see people I know.”