A half-century ago, a trip to the farmers market meant one thing: fresh food. Customers ventured to the market every week to see what had been harvested, what was in season, and to talk to their local farmer. It was straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get grocery shopping.
But times have changed. In a retail industry dominated by smartphones, farmers markets have had to reinvent themselves to attract the next generation of locavores. Look out for these four updates at a market near you.
They use mobile apps and QR codes
Many local food lovers can now use their smartphones to find the nearest heirloom tomato or fresh-picked peach. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environment launched a new internet-based app last week that shows the location and hours of more than 200 roadside stands and markets. Shoppers can even filter by vendors that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
And at several markets in Indiana, a new website is helping farmer’s market shoppers learn more about the locally grown produce for sale. When a customer scans a QR code displayed alongside say, broccoli, their phone will pull up the Foodlink website, revealing its nutritional value, how to cook it, and how to store it.
They accept SNAP benefits
For the 46.5 million Americans who rely on SNAP, shopping at a farmer’s market has historically been impossible. Since many vendors don't have access to phone lines or internet, they can't redeem the benefits through the government's Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system. In the last few years, however, the United States Department of Agriculture began providing equipment to markets to allow vendors to connect to the system wirelessly—expanding access to fresh food for millions of shoppers.
They've mastered social media
Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, markets and growers are better able to communicate with their customers about what they’re bringing to the market, where they’ll be, and special deals. You'll also see the “food porn” craze in full swing, with vendors sharing mouthwatering pictures of pear crisps and fresh squash blossoms to woo potential shoppers.
They offer more than just groceries
Younger farmer’s market customers view the market as a place not only to pick up provisions for the week, but to spend a morning or an afternoon. Maybe they’ll browse the selection of handmade crafts, grab a pour-over coffee, then sit and watch a bluegrass band play on a stage nearby before (hopefully) grabbing a bag or two of fresh ingredients for dinner that night.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho