More customers, vendors at area farmers markets this year

Thursday, September 29, 2011
Janna Sweitzer, left, of Cobden, Ill., assists Cindy Gosnell of Commerce, Mo., with her purchase of cucumbers at the farmers market Thursday in Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

Increasingly health-conscious consumers are flocking to farmers markets looking for fresher produce they can feel good about buying.

Organizers of farmers markets in Cape Girardeau and Jackson say they've seen increases this year in both the number of vendors and the number of customers.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture's farmers market map lists 203 markets throughout the state, and in Missouri there has been about a 10 percent increase in the number of markets each year over the past decade, said Christine Tew, spokeswoman for the department.

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that more than 1,000 new farmers markets are operating throughout the country this year -- a 17 percent increase over last year, when there were 6,132 markets.

"We've had real good support from the community this year," said Marilyn Peters, who coordinates the Cape Girardeau farmers market, held each Thursday from 2 to 6 p.m. in the Plaza Galleria parking lot. "It is definitely growing. We've got more vendors than we've ever had. Customers still coming real regular. In the past, it's dropped off after school starts."

The market this season has averaged about 25 vendors each week offering an array of produce, meats, baked goods, honey, soaps and plants. The Cape Girardeau farmers market is an incorporated business where vendors rent spaces either for a for a full or half-year. Participants elect a president and market manager and use rent collected to pay for expenses including insurance and advertising.

Due to this success, this year for the first time the market will be extended through Nov. 17, Peters said. Typically, the market closes for the season in October.

"People are much more aware of where their food comes from, what kinds of chemicals and processing that's being done to foods put out by big companies," Peters said. "They want locally grown foods. They want to ask the person they buy from, 'Has this been sprayed?' and 'With what?'"

The Jackson farmers market, now in its third year, is also growing, coordinator Grant Gillard said.

The market is now held from 3 to 7 p.m. each Tuesday at the Jackson City Park Shelter 5 off Independence Street. It will continue through Oct. 25.

This year the Jackson farmers market has averaged about eight vendors each week and had about 30 vendors participating throughout the season, Gillard said.

The Cape Girardeau Alternative Farmers Market is open from 8 a.m. to noon Wednesdays at Capaha Park Shelter 1 through October.

Depending on the type of produce and the time of year, shopping at the farmers market can also cost less than a trip to the supermarket.

Last week, apples, sweetcorn, peppers and tomatoes were less expensive at the Cape Girardeau farmers market than the average price at local grocery stores. Honey, fresh-baked pies and bell peppers cost slightly more at the farmers market.

"I think sometimes it's a little less. Plus, you're getting it fresh off the vine, within 24 hours," said Dimple Bridges, who shops weekly at the Cape Girardeau farmers market. "There's not a week that I'm in town that I don't come here."

The fresher produce is, the healthier it is for you, she said.

"There is nothing, nothing like this fresh food. I know a lot of these growers. I know how they grow. I know they don't label it organic, but I think it's as close to it as you can get," Bridges said.

Jeanne Brumleve of Cobden, Ill., and her family operate a 55-acre farm, growing sweet corn, peaches, watermelons, squash, peppers, tomatoes, green beans and more.

Brumleve goes to four farmers markets each week, and other family members attend other markets, too, for a total of eight markets each week her farm participates in.

"We used to ship produce quite a bit, but when you ship produce, you don't know what price things are going to bring at market," she said. "Here, you pick it fresh, you sell it fresh and you're upfront about what price you're going to get."

The fruits and vegetables she brings to the Cape Girardeau farmers market each week are picked that morning, she said.

"Customers are getting a better price for the quality of fruits and vegetables they receive," Brumleve said. "The key is just to pick things as fresh as you can from a nutritional standpoint, from an appearance standpoint and just for the health of it."

Farmers market vendors and customers also develop relationships that makes a trip to the market feel more like a family reunion. Swapping recipes or cooking techniques is commonplace.

"You have a regular clientele, you get to know them and you get to know their family," Brumleve said. "It's neat when parents will have children visit and they'll bring them to market and say, 'This is Jeanne, she's the one I get the tomatoes from' or 'This is who I get the corn from.' You get to be part of their family, too."

More information about Missouri's farm markets can be found at www.agrimissouri.com.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

2001 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

Independence St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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