July 13, 2018

New map highlights growing farmer market trends

Courtesy / Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets
Courtesy / Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets
The Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets' new Farmers' Market Trail map features 20 markets along the coast from Bath to Lubec.

The Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets, in Pittsfield, has released a new Farmers' Market Trail map for coastal markets from Bath to Lubec.

The full-color map features 20 markets. In addition, a brochure includes a description of each market, suggestions for free outdoor activities near each and original artwork depicting each market's character.

An earlier version of the Farmers' Market Trail, from 2015, focused on Washington County.

Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets, told Mainebiz the expanded map builds on Maine's strength as a local foods provider.

Maine has ranked No. 2, every year since 2013, on the Locavore Index, which bases each states ranking on number of farmers markets, community supported agriculture programs, direct sales, food hubs and local food grants per capita, plus farm-to-school participation and hospitals that pledge to use locally grown foods. The index was created by the Brattleboro, Vt., nonprofit food advocacy organization the Strolling of the Heifers Inc.

Maine ranked fourth in the index's first year in 2012. Vermont has consistently ranked No. 1.

Although local food represents a small percentage of total food consumption, it's significant that Mainers eat more local food as part of their diets than most people, Hallett said.

"People in Maine are committed to local food and have access to local food," she said.

The map, funded by the Quimby Family Foundation, is one way to let consumers know about local food opportunities, she said. In addition, MFFM's website has an online list of farmers' markets in Maine, searchable by location or day of the week, that's updated daily.

"Say you're on a day trip," she said. "You can find out if there's a farmers' market where you're going. It's a great way to get to know Maine."

Maine's markets follow a tradition of being locally organized on a volunteer basis by the farmers, Hallett noted. Elsewhere, she said, markets are sometimes run by for-profit organizations.

"You'll see what we would consider to be public markets," she said. "It's a great market model, but it's different. There's funding and paid staff behind them."

Maine's markets have an average of 16 vendors. Quite a few have 40 or more vendors.

All together, Maine has approximately 120 summer farmers' markets and 30 to 35 winter markets.

It's difficult to work out the value of the sector because the markets are independently operated at the local level and most sales are cash, making it difficult to collect data, Hallett noted.

"But we do know that every dollar spent has at least a $1.70 value in the community," she said. "When you buy food from a farmer directly, he's using that money to buy grain products or pay farmhands. They're respending it within the community. Whereas if you go to a big-box store, that money typically leaves the state quickly."

MFFM is finding the markets increasingly incubate new businesses — not just new farms, but other businesses like bakery or cheese-making start-ups.

"They can get their licensed kitchen, start small, build a customer base and scale up," she said. "In rural communities, it's a great opportunity for people to start a business."

The markets also contribute to the long-term sustainability of small farms, she said, citing a U.S. Department of Agriculture report from 2016. Nationally, the report said, the number of farms that sold food at roadside stands, farmers' markets, pick-your-own farms, on-farm stores and community supported agricultural arrangements increased 24% between 2002 and 2012. And farmers who market directly to consumers are more likely to remain in business than those who market only through traditional channels. Part of that greater sustainability, the report said, may be that farms using direct-to-consumer marketing may be less capital-intensive, requiring less machinery and land, and have lower debt levels than similarly sized farms with no direct sales.

According to an MFFM news release, the number of Maine markets varies slightly each year, but is seeing a larger uptick this year. New markets this year include Trenton, Windham, Danforth, Dennysville and Winthrop. Some are markets that were closed for some years and are now starting up again; others are new. MFFM is also seeing a trend toward increasing capacity at existing markets, with more vendors and other new features like food trucks, music and activities.

Each market on the map is illustrated with an original watercolor design by Steuben artist Nicole DeBarber. Many of the markets on the map will offer coloring pages based on DeBarber's work, and an exhibit is planned in Machias in late summer.

Copies of the free map have been distributed to farmers' markets and tourist information sites. Request a copy at


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