Jul 2, 2012
Farmers’ market association educates consumers

One of the missions of the Colorado Farmers Market Association (CFMA) is to educate consumers across the state about the value of fresh, locally grown produce.

In the wake of the tainted cantaloupe outbreak that was traced back to Colorado’s Jensen Farms, CFMA decided to use that as an opportunity to teach, said Annie Catura, CFMA board president.

“While none of the affected cantaloupes were sold in farm markets, we did use the opportunity to educate consumers on how to properly use, clean and eat produce sold at farmers’ markets,” Catura said. “We hope to add more training in the future.”

Educating and training consumers is just one of the challenges facing CFMA, Catura said.

Colorado farmers’ marketers are playing catch up with the rest of the country when it comes to marketing and telling their story. The reason for this, she said, lies in how the state population is distributed.

The Rocky Mountains control the state geographically, and most of the agriculture is centered on what is known as the Front Range, the part of the state to the east of the mountains. These agricultural centers, however, are quite a distance from the population centers. Adding to that challenge is the extremely high cost of land and limited water supply, Catura said.

“There is a huge demand for locally grown produce, but growing it and getting to the consumer is a serious challenge,” she said. “When we can make that connection, the result is invaluable to not only the growers and the market, but to the community.”

David Morton, owner of Morton’s Organic Orchards in Palisade, Colo., grows organic peaches, sweet cherries, apricots and some nectarines. He, like many other fruit growers in Colorado, is located on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains, but travels to the Front Range area for markets in the larger population areas.

“When first getting into selling my fruit, I started with wholesaling, and quickly discovered that the people I was delivering to often made more money than I did,” he said. “I discovered farmers’ markets in the early 1990s and eliminated the middleman.”

Morton attends markets in Boulder, Longmont, Fort Collins and Arvada, as well as the Lafayette Peach Festival in August.

“We have quite a following at each market we attend, and often have a line of customers waiting for our truck each week,” Morton said. “I think the contact with the ‘real’ customer, rather than the wholesale buyer, really opened my eyes to what people really wanted – organic, very tasty and very fresh fruit. We strive to give them what they want, and haven’t looked back.”

Finding the vendors is just one challenge, Catura said. Getting the right type of personality to manage is a key element to a farmers’ market’s success.

“Getting the right manager makes for a good market,” she said. “You want one who will recruit growers and spend the time, energy and money to really tell the story and bring in the customers. We’re very lucky that all of our member managers are really excellent. Each market is proving to have a definite economic impact on the community they are in. A recent economic impact study of the Crested Butte market showed a dramatic boost to the local economy.”

Catura feels a strong connection to the Crested Butte market, where she got her start.

There were 96 markets enrolled in CFMA last year. For a $70 membership fee, each market gets listed in newsletters and other publications. There is also a market finder and mapping feature on the CFMA website as well as tips on starting a market and other features for growers and consumers.

“We offer collective insurance plans and help with understanding all of the laws pertaining to farmers’ markets,” Catura said. “We recently had a cottage foods law passed and we’re working with the state to see what that will mean for our members.”

Catura said CFMA is working with Colorado State University and the Rocky Mountain Farmers’ Market Association to ensure that the structure of the association best suits the needs of the members. They are also working on getting WIC benefits into the markets and expanding the SNAP program.

“We want to make sure we’re doing the very best we can for our member markets,” she said. “We all love farmers’ markets. They bring communities together.”

By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor

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