Friday, June 28, 2013

The Decline and Fall of the Binghamton Farmers Market?

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?

11 comments:

  1. Aww, it sounds like they need a creative, passionate organizer to bring it back to life! Farmer's markets are a wonderful source of local foods and it shouldn't be allowed to just go away!

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    1. Yes they do need such a person (are you getting tired of a certain Plains state?). I wish I was that person but I do not have the people skills. I am a "much rather stay in the background and research and write about it" introvert but I would enjoy giving support to a creative, passionate organizer as long as it did not involve working directly with the public.

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  2. It's a confluence of mahy issues...
    1 How many consumers come to buy?
    2. How many local farmers are really left in the area?
    3. Does the community wish to subsidize this process? (Lower taxes than normal, special transportation, free parking, etc.)

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    1. I can't speak to #1 and #3. For #2, we do have local farmers in the area, certainly enough within a 50 mile radius. We have a locavore store in Binghamton (open less than a year but thriving) which sells local milk, local cheese, and locally grown veggies (today, it was snap peas and strawberries, both of which are in season), plus farm baked bread and local meat. Some of these same producers sell at another farmers market that operates in a county park (Otsiningo Park) every Saturday and some also sell directly at their farms, if you wish to make the journey. I suspect the Otsiningo market has a "local only" requirement because I never see the "doubt he sells local" booth there. We do need a "local only"requirement for the downtown Binghamton market. From the next comment, I'm convinced of that now. Another thought, the farmers market in Ithaca, NY does have a "local only" requirement and it is thriving.

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  3. A few miles up the road from us in Hexham the farmers' market has a rule that all produce sold must come from within 50 miles of Hexham. The market is thriving. Everyone knows that the quality is high and it HAS to be local.

    I am part of a small group that set up the Durham Local Food Network (UK not US!)and subsequent local food directory. We have strict criteria about what constitutes local and do not accept all entries and encourage and help those we refuse to rethink their ingredients or whatever has raised the red flag.

    Accountability and transparency have meant that in the case of Hexham Farmers' Market and the Durham Local Food Directory we have created something that peope want to be in because they (the sellers) know they have a kite mark and the buyers know that the sellers have passed a certain bar.

    Hexham was certainly not thriving as well as it is today and it was the "not local not welcome" that turned it around.


    We are lucky in Durham to have an excellent daily indoor market, a monthly farmers' market (wish it were more often) a Saturday market and various specialist one off markets. Some,it has to be said, are better than others. The Durham markets do not have the same strict criteria as Hexham but have become hugely successful because of the variety and the fact that the markets actively participate in events in the town. If there is a festival or event taking place then there will be a one off market as well. Are there any univesity events (Freshers week for example) where the market could go to the university. Christmas markets teamed up with local shops and craft fairs. Specialist markets (we have a Continental market two or three times a year with Italian/French/Spanish/Czech/German foods) Once people get used to coming to a certain place for a market they will come to a farmers market too. You have to make a regular and varied offering and then they will get in the habit of shopping there and start to try some of the other markets including farmers'. Good luck

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  4. Cute blog! I don't know anything about your area Farmer's Market, but I have seen the value they bring to urban areas. When I lived in San Francisco, the Farmer's Market there was fantastic. All kinds of unusual produce, flowers, and plenty of smiling faces. Thanks for bringing back the memory!

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    1. You are very welcome. I've only been in the San Francisco airport (not the city) but I know someone whose daughter lives in the (rural) San Francisco area - and does she ever rave about the farmers markets there!

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  5. Thank you so much for your detailed response - first because it gives me a window into farmers markets in the UK but also because of the wealth of information you gave me. And, for the opportunity to run to Google to find out what a kite mark is. Yes, indeed, we have a University (Binghamton University) in Binghamton and, the Saturday before classes begin in the fall, they have a University Fest (open to the public) on campus to welcome the students. Hmmm.

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  6. Sorry to hear about the lack of your farmers market! We have a great one the DFW area. In fact I can't wait to go...I haven't been in a few weeks and I'm wanting some fresh produce. Perhaps this weekend I can go and stock up!

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  7. I'm chiming in from the Philippines, where we have small and big markets everywhere, although we have very few organic markets, but the number is slowly growing. I hope things work out well for the Binghanton residents.

    Thanks for visiting my blog! Happy blogging!

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  8. I live in Binghamton, and I feel you hit the nail on the head. Location and the hours are not great for sure, but It really needs a creative soul who can get the word out, and energize the market. I would love to see local crafts and artists, brewers and such. Binghamton CAN support a downtown farmers market. A local food store just opened on the South Side of the city, less than a mile away, right across the river from downtown. It is thriving, and constantly adding new products.
    -Shawn

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