I drive regularly between Payette, Fruitland, and New Plymouth to teach classes, attend meetings with local businesses and governmental agencies or visit local farms and ranches. On these jaunts, the smell of onions is a comforting reminder that I’m in Payette County.
I am still surprised each time I go into the local supermarket and do not find locally grown onions. This seems like a basic expectation, that the crops we see (and smell) outside our front doors would be available to purchase at the grocery store. However, for reasons of scale and economics, many large acreage producers find exporting the region’s foods imperative to earning a decent living and grow their businesses.
We regrettably can’t count on finding regionally grown onions at chain grocery stores, but we do have multiple sources of locally grown and directly-marketed fruits and veggies at the farm stands down the street (i.e., Purdum’s, Henggeler’s, Sunnyside Farms, Crawford’s to name a few) and at the Payette Farmer’s Market at Kiwanis Park beginning July 9.
We can easily enough stop by the supermarket and get all our shopping done in one place, so why bother with the extra trip to farmer’s markets and farm stands? Sourcing directly from the regional farmers and ranchers stimulates the local economy twice that of chain groceries. For every dollar spent on locally produced, direct-market products, direct marketers are generating twice as much economic activity within the region compared to producers who are not involved in direct marketing.
While direct-market farmers rely on you — their neighbors — to grow their businesses, they return the favor. Hidden impacts that these farmers exert on local economies is due to the fact that they source locally. Research shows that 89 percent of direct-marketing producers buy their supplies and inputs from local businesses. By contrast, larger wholesale farms purchased only 45 percent of their inputs from their neighborhood businesses. Because direct-marketing farmers are much more likely to patronize local feed stores, farm equipment dealers, and mills, the dollars that you spend at the farmer’s markets and farm stands stay in your community longer — they may even wind-up in your pocket! Farmer’s markets also represent anchored capital in the community because they are less likely to relocate and therefore provide stability in the economy and community.
Farmer’s markets can also act as business incubators for new and beginning farmers and ranchers since customers are more open to trying new products and because the barriers to entry for new vendors are lower. Lower overhead costs, direct and valued contact with their customer base make for innovative and responsive farmers that can experiment with offering new items more easily. If a producer is able to find the right product mix for consumer demand, they can develop a sound business, create new jobs, and grow successfully.
Additionally, our own Payette Farmer’s Market balances providing access to healthy and affordable fruits and vegetables for low-income families while supporting area farmers and stimulating local economies. How? Double Up Food Bucks provide participants in the SNAP program with a one-to-one match to purchase healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables. (SNAP stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.) New this year, market vendors will be accepting fruit and vegetable prescription vouchers. A preventative health program initiated at local hospitals, where doctors prescribe a healthier diet and provide free vouchers instead of pharmaceuticals.
Perhaps equally as important, farmer’s markets and farm stands are community gathering places. In Payette, neighbors and friends meet one another at Kiwanis Park. When it’s so berry berry hot outside they find reprieve on blankets in the shade, on the cool grass, and still get some shopping done for locally grown or produced products.
Becoming a vendor
If you are interested in being a vendor at this year’s Payette Farmer’s Market, running July 9 – September 10, from 4 to 7 p.m. each Tuesday, contact Liz Amason: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karie Boone is the extension educator for small farms and food systems at the University of Idaho Extension for Payette County.