Farmers’ Markets: Past, Present, Future

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By Christy Vanderwende

Part I – Getting Started

Did you know there are 27 farmers’ markets in the First State? Many are opening this weekend, including the Western Sussex Farmer’s Market in Seaford. They’re popping up everywhere! So, have you visited one yet? If not, you might be missing out on what has become the nucleus of most downtown’s thriving economies. Last year, with only 16 markets, sales totaled $1.8 million. It’s like having your good old corner store, with a produce section, in walking distance of your favorite coffee shop, restaurant, bank, and bakery shops. I bet there’s one near you, with 12 new locations opening this summer. Check out the Department of Agriculture’s directory for locations and times.

But believe it or not, the idea is not new. Many markets such as Lewes and Milford began over ten years ago. I’ve had the pleasure to participate in several through my work with my parent’s business, Little Wagon Produce. I got the call to help my Mom in downtown Milford five years ago, as she could no longer handle the volume by herself. In 2001, she began to transport fresh produce to Milford every Saturday morning. It took years for her to establish the LWP  name in Milford and I’m proud to witness and learn from it.  The work  and time required has not been easy. In order to build this market over a decade, Mom had to be dependable, communicative, educative, collaborativeand embedded in the community.

The best part about farmers’ markets is getting to know our customers. He or she could be the town mayor, a local school teacher, or a retired grandparent. They then go out into the community and tell everyone to go downtown for the “awesome sweet corn” from Little Wagon. Word of mouth truly is a small business’s best advertisement.

Personally, the market has afforded me many opportunities. I feel embedded in the Milford community myself. I have met several people I now consider friends, such as the local postmaster (he likes to hug me), a local news reporter (she likes to talk about running), and a fellow co-worker’s dad (he likes to pick on me and calls me “corn-girl”).  I love to be outside and I admit, its great exercise, too. Do you know how hard it is to pack and unpack two box trucks?!! It’s also my way of staying involved in the family farming business. I love to help customers understand the seasonality of produce and how to pick it. It’s great to be able to spend time with my family. Not only do I get to learn from Mom but I also get to see my grandfather, Pop-Pop Bob. He doesn’t like to miss a Saturday and gets several hugs and kisses from customers. I also have a good friend, Wendy, that shares my love for the market and comes every week to help us.  My younger sister, Amber, has recently joined in on the weekly ritual as well.

I plan to continue writing about farmer’s market activity throughout the summer. But I can’t end this article without saying thank you to all of our farmer markets’ customers. We appreciate your time and business and I hope my family can continue to serve local communities with fresh, local food for a reasonable price. In today’s world, I truly believe we take our easy access to food for granted.