Jul 9, 2024
Insights from the 2023 Benchmark Survey of farm markets

Farmers markets and retail farm markets play a crucial role in connecting consumers with locally sourced produce and goods, fostering community engagement and supporting small and medium-scale farmers and artisans. 

As part of a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant, we reflect on the challenges and triumphs of the past year, and we conduct an annual survey of markets. The results of the 2023 Benchmark Survey of farm markets offer valuable insights into the trends, innovations and opportunities shaping this dynamic sector.

Brian Moyer quote from his article on Farmers Markets and Agritourism in Fruit Growers News.

Ownership and market types

The survey revealed that a majority of respondents (94%) own or manage a market, showcasing the dedication and involvement of individuals in sustaining these vital community hubs. Among the various types of markets operated, open-air farmers markets had the most responses (56.76%), followed by retail farm markets/on-farm markets (27.03%) and indoor public markets (8.11%). 

Business expansion and improvement

In the face of evolving consumer demands and market dynamics, farm market operators demonstrated resilience and innovation in expanding and improving their businesses. Respondents reported various strategies for growth, including adding new products (28%), expanding existing markets (21%), refreshing layouts (13%) and enhancing marketing strategies (20%). These proactive measures reflect a commitment to enhancing the customer experience and staying competitive in a dynamic marketplace.

Employment trends and challenges

The survey highlighted the importance of human capital in the success of farm markets, with respondents reporting diverse employment arrangements. While some markets relied on volunteers, others hired multiple full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. However, challenges such as staffing shortages persisted, with 35% of respondents indicating difficulty in hiring the required number of employees in 2023. Addressing these challenges will be critical in ensuring the sustainability and growth of farm markets in the future.

Vendor representation and customer engagement

Farm markets serve as vital platforms for local farmers and vendors to showcase their products and connect with consumers. The survey data revealed a wide range of vendor representation, with some markets boasting over 100 vendors rotating. This diversity not only enriches the offerings available to consumers but also strengthens the local economy and supports small-scale producers. Moreover, the survey indicated a positive trend in customer engagement, with a mean percentage change of 11% in customer numbers compared to the previous year.

Business performance and growth

Despite the challenges posed by external factors such as supply chain disruptions and weather-related impacts, farm markets demonstrated resilience and growth in 2023. Respondents reported a mean percentage change of 17% in gross sales compared to the previous year, indicating robust performance and economic contribution. This positive trajectory underscores the enduring appeal of farm markets and their ability to adapt to changing market dynamics.

Brian Moyer
Brian Moyer

The findings of the 2023 benchmark survey of farm markets provide valuable insights into the trends, challenges, and opportunities shaping this vital sector. As farm market operators navigate the path to growth and sustainability, proactive measures such as business expansion, workforce development, and customer engagement will be key drivers of success. 

By leveraging the lessons learned from the past year and embracing innovation, farm markets can continue to thrive as vibrant community hubs that celebrate local agriculture and foster connections between producers and consumers.

Written by Brian Moyer

Brian Moyer is an educational program associate with Penn State Extension. As founder of PA Farm Markets LLC and founder and manager of the Skippack Farmers Market, Moyer specializes in assisting farmers markets, retail farm markets, direct-to-consumer sales, and new and beginning farmers with marketing, business and regulatory issues.

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