Alas, poor Binghamton, New York Farmers Market, I knew thee well. I fear I will be writing your eulogy before long.
I believe a downtown farmer's market has become essential to the well being of any American downtown. One example? In the early 1980's I lived in Northwest Arkansas and, for a while, worked in downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas. Their downtown was vibrant and had a vibrant farmer's market. Cause and effect? I don't know but I hear that Fayetteville's market is better than ever. (I hope I can see it again this fall for the first time in almost 30 years).
In 2012, the farmers market in Fayetteville was voted the best in the "large farmer's market" category.
Meanwhile, there is the farmers market in downtown Binghamton, New York, also known as the Incredible Shrinking Farmers Market. It's been a struggle for years. For a while looked like things were improving. For a year or two, booths were increasing.
Now, the market is now down to two or three booths on Friday, their busier day. On Tuesday, the less busy day, it is even worse.
One of the regular booths obviously is not selling local produce. They sell tomatoes out of season (but could have been greenhouse grown). But they were recently selling plums. In June? In upstate New York? Seriously?
Is there a reason this grower posts pictures of their "fields"? I don't doubt they grow some of their own produce, but I will not buy from them because I can't depend on them selling local. If I want supermarket produce I go to a supermarket. I don't trust the Binghamton farmer's market.
Binghamton, New York (population about 47,000.) has a downtown with no nearby supermarkets, and is trying to attract more and more Binghamton University students to rebuild. That can happen (Raleigh, North Carolina) successfully. There are a lot of office workers, in addition to the students and the other people who live in walking distance of downtown, who would love a good farmer's market. This is a downtown trying to come back to life despite the odds. It needs all the help it can get.
I once talked to a vendor who had sold at the downtown market, and left. He told me that the narrow street the market is located on could not accommodate his trailer. That complaint is valid. Has the City thought about relocating the market to another part of downtown that would be more user friendly to vendors?
So, it's time, perhaps for something new. How about local craftspeople like the Ithaca market (an hour away) has? What about offering free
parking with purchase? Theme days? Events that would interest students
when the university is in session? Soon, there will be two downtown microbreweries. Will they be able to sample their wares?
Has the market thought of changing the Friday hours to something like 3-5:30 so that office workers can pick up produce on the way home? Perhaps "take out" food vendors could be brought into the Friday market so office workers could pick up a cooked entree for dinner. Evening markets are rare in this area. I've seen them succeed in other places, such as Asheville, North Carolina.
Vibrant farmers markets are possible. For downtown Binghamton's survival, one is essential.
I'd love to hear from someone who knows more about why the downtown Binghamton farmer's market is failing. I know getting a good market up and running is difficult, and I don't mean this post to be critical - but, rather, an attempt to see what is wrong and have the opportunity to blog about what could be done to fix it.
Did your area have a struggling farmers market that managed to turn itself around?