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Farmers markets find success with social media

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 11/28/2012 8:33 AM

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ST. CLOUD, Minn. —There's more going on at farmers markets than selling vegetables.

Events like "Farmers Market Under the Stars" or "Farmers Markets at the Farm" are being promoted through social media sites like pinterest, facebook and twitter. Those are some of the trends and events highlighted by Extension educator Terry Nennich at the Minnesota Farmers Market Association's fall conference in St. Cloud.

Farmers markets should center around eating food, Nennich said. A farmers market under the stars is an evening of food, fellowship with cooking demonstrations with local chefs. Another event, a farmers market lunch, offers a $5 lunch with cooking demonstration.

Nennich cautioned markets that may feature music saying it can cause market segmentation where some in the audience may like the music, but others may not.

While farmers markets have a following, it also has its detractors. Vendors need to keep an eye on the regulations that those opposing farmers markets may propose.

"The national grocery industry has said that farmers markets are a thing to watch," said the Extension educator. "They used to look at farmers markets and think they are cute. Now we are a big thing."

Forming alliances can help markets get stronger and survive for the long term.

Some market managers are concerned about the number of markets in an area.

A study done by USDA researcher Louann Mohr looked at market radius. Some strawberry growers use market radius so the markets aren't taking customers from other strawberry markets.

Advertising and promotions are key to getting the word out.

While some markets offer only food items, others allow artisans to sell products. Some markets will vote whether to allow individual non-food vendors.

Plastic is also being used more at farmers markets. Credit card use was up 20 percent over the past 10 years at farmers markets in the United States, Nennich said. Minnesota is looking at increasing its use of technology for all markets.

A Brooklyn Park farmers market is looking at providing the fruits and vegetables specific to the ethnic group that has moved to that area.

Another has partnered with a local business on a wellness program. Employees of the business get vouchers they can redeem at the farmers market. The company then reimburses the growers.