Transition time for farmers and farmers markets

From sunshine to flurries, winter is marked by several transitions. Whether you are a student, professor, or alum, winter is a time to bundle up and brave the elements. For the Stanton Brothers, however, this new season is nothing but business as usual.

Austin Stanton, a student studying agricultural systems management from Centralia, Missouri, has been raising chickens and selling eggs for many seasons. Unlike most of his classmates at the University of Missouri, Stanton’s Saturdays are spent alongside his brother, Dustin, at the Columbia Farmers Market.

“For the most part, working with my brother is rewarding,” Austin Stanton said. “It’s nice working with him because the farm is our family’s. We both hope to raise our own families on it. This is a shared goal and vision. You’ll never find either of us slacking off and we work well together.”

In order to keep up with the demand for their eggs at the Columbia Farmers Market and at grocery stores throughout the state, the brothers implement their own transitions. On their operation, Austin says that the most significant seasonal transition happens right now—from summer to winter.

“Basically, the most important operational change is to make sure that our building stays warm for the chickens,” Stanton said. “It’s mainly regulating the temperature in that building and making sure the birds are healthy. All it takes is a little bit more monitoring and a little bit of adjusting to keep our supply of eggs high and our customers happy.”

When temperatures drop in the fall and winter, the frequency at which hens lay eggs tend to slow down. To keep their supply steady, the Stanton Brothers keep their hens in a lit, heated environment, but it hasn’t always been this way. The brothers used to keep around 20,000 free-range chickens outdoors in the elements. On one wintery day, 13 eggs were laid, and only one egg survived the elements—the others froze in the cold.

In an effort to keep the past from recurring, Dustin and Austin Stanton moved their entire flock indoors where they keep a consistent temperature of 70 degrees. This transition in operation practices gives Stanton Brothers Eggs the supply they need to keep their customers satisfied and their Columbia Farmers Market booth stocked.

As Columbia residents trade their ballcaps for stocking hats and work gloves for mittens, sales at the Columbia Farmers Market are far from finished. During the summer months, the market is held temporarily at the Parkade Center parking lot located on Business Loop 70 W. In the winter, however, the market moves from the parking lot to the south wing indoors. This transition presents more challenges to vendors and to the event as a whole.

“While it’s the same vendors, it’s a whole new event,” said Columbia Farmers Market Executive Director Corrina Smith. “The challenge we see the most is that consumers don’t think of a farmers market on a day when there is snow on the ground. Some consumers just don’t realize that fresh, local food is available all year round.”

Betsy Embree, a health professions student at the University of Missouri, shops the Columbia Farmers Market to find fresh, wholesome foods to propel her through the week. Her favorite season is summer when there are abundant options available for purchase at the market.

“In the summer, I don’t even worry about what I’m going to eat, because I know I’ll have plenty of fresh options at the market,” Embree said. “When it gets colder, though, I tend to go without fresh food, and I feel like my body doesn’t perform as well. I crave fresh produce, and the Columbia Farmers Market is a great place to get it, especially when they adapt to the change in temperature and move the market inside.”

As the Columbia Farmers Market moves indoors, vendors and market coordinators work tirelessly to beef up their marketing efforts. While they adjust their marketing strategies, demand for products from the Columbia Farmers Market remains.

“In the wintertime, specifically during the holiday season, demand for eggs is higher than it is in the summertime,” said Stanton. “The way we adjust our operation practices in the transitional season is good for our customers because they have plenty of eggs to use when they’re baking for the holidays.”

Finding ways to connect what is happening in the community and seasonally helps to engage consumers and drum up interest in the Columbia Farmers Market. Each vendor is responsible for their own marketing and outreach strategies. Engaging consumers and spreading awareness of agriculture is a never-ending task for each vendor.

“Most people spend money to learn like we do when we go to college,” said Stanton. “For our customers at the market, they come to us to get that education. They will spend a little more money than they normally would at the grocery store to ask the farmer face-to-face when they have a question about their food. That’s why Stanton Brothers Eggs sets up a tent, to have that interaction.”

While the seasons will change and customers will come and go, one thing is for sure. The Columbia Farmers Market and Stanton Brothers Eggs both expect to meet the needs of customers like Embree by embracing changes—seasonal, operational, and geographical.