Consumers flock to farmers markets to support local producers and healthy eating

Supporting the local economy, sustainability and health are three reasons consumers often site for supporting farmers markets and shopping local.

“I enjoy knowing where my food is coming from,” said Maria Thompson, mother of three and supporter of Columbia Farmers Market. “Being able to see the faces of those who grow the food I provide my family gives me ease of mind.”

According to Corrina Rhea Smith, executive director of the market, the Columbia Farmers Market works to help customers cultivate a health-focused mentality and provide the best foods and artisan goods that central Missouri has to offer.

Many of the vendors have been with the market since the beginning.

“The first Saturday was really bad,” said Dustin Stanton, co-owner and operator at Stanton Brothers. “I think it snowed — and we sold half a dozen of eggs.”

Stanton brothers have been vendors at Columbia Farmers Market since it moved to Clary-Shy Park. By the fourth Saturday, they sold 40 dozen eggs and were happy with the turnout. The brothers’ operation now sells to many outlets in mid-Missouri and they continue to sell at CFM.

“Nationwide, the markets and demand for local products have been shrinking — they have kind of capped off and plateaued and had a small decline,” Stanton said. “This market here, however, has grown quite a bit. If you were here a year ago, about 3,500 customers was a good day and now we will see between 4,000 and 6,000 each week.”

A growing demand for food that is easy and quick to prepare has put a damper on those who sell at farmers markets, according to Smith.

“Online ordering, delivery, and pick-up options are services that big grocers offer,” she said. “These have become our biggest competitors in the past few years.”

For the Stanton brothers, egg sales are seasonal. Fall and winter are when they have the highest demand for eggs because people eat at home more regularly, and holiday and seasonal baking are in full swing. This means consumers tend to keep their refrigerators stocked with eggs during the cooler seasons. Usually the increased demand for eggs begins its decline in February.

It’s not just millennials going local. The appeal for locally grown food at CFM is strong across a variety of demographics.

“We see a wide range of demographics including families in their 30s, baby boomers, college students, and both low- and high-income families,” Smith said. Each group is widely represented each week at the Farmers Market.

Though many groups are represented at the Columbia Farmers Market, each demographic may have a different motive for shopping there.

“I have been shopping here for about a year now,” Thompson said. “As a mom, I primarily am looking for fresh produce and meat that is affordable. All the vendors here are so friendly and I look forward to coming most every week.”

Thompson has her favorite vendors, but recommends being open-minded to all, as everyone is looking for something different. Some consumers are looking for specific labels such as non-GMO, organic, no chemicals, etc.

“For me, I get enough peace of mind when getting to talk to the farmers raising my food and don’t pay attention to the labels,” Thompson said. “I am mostly concerned about the price. Just because they don’t advertise their products with the same labels, doesn’t mean that it isn’t safe for my family.”

Consumers want high quality food. Farmers markets, such as CFM, allow consumers to see the people raising their food and learn more about how that food is produced.