On Tuesday, January 28 the Department of Agriculture announced that Delaware’s community farmers’ markets set a new sales record in 2013, with shoppers buying more than $2.1 million in fresh produce and other goods. Governor Jack Markell and Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee announced the news at an annual farmers’ market managers’ meeting in Dover, praising their work and the work of the many growers and producers who sell at the markets.
“This record-setting year is a perfect example of what can happen when communities, business and government work together to increase economic opportunities and strengthen our neighborhoods,” Governor Markell said. “These markets offer Delaware’s best farm-fresh products to consumers and create vibrant gathering spots in our towns and cities.”
According to the Delaware Department of Agriculture, market sales for 2013, which featured 26 markets in all three counties, passed $2.1 million, up $200,000 over 2012. Four years ago, the 2010 season had 14 market sites and $1.3 million in sales. Produce made up 62 percent of the total sales, with the remainder coming from value-added products such as meats, cheeses, jellies, breads, salsa, eggs or honey. Delaware’s farmers’ markets are all run at the local level, by municipalities, business groups, farmers or market associations, with the Delaware Department of Agriculture providing support and marketing assistance.
The Riverwalk Farmers’ Market in the downtown Milford has provided an opportunity for residents and visitors to buy local produce and products while supporting farm families, agriculture and the environment. The market has also helped to preserve Milford’s small town feel by building a sense of community, raising awareness of environment and health issues and promoting the downtown area as a center for economic activity.
“What makes our market such a success is its people. The great volunteers, the variety of vendors and the customers that support the market each week,” commented Melissa Pingue, member of the Riverwalk Farmers Market Committee. “The market is a place where we come together as a community and as neighbors to meet face to face and have conversations. The market is as much a weekly social event as it is an open air market. I believe it is that personal connection that keeps people coming back.”
The market began approximately fourteen years ago when several downtown merchants decided it would be an interesting addition to the downtown area. Parking their pickup trucks on the banks of the Mispillion River, they began to sell local produce and goods. The market eventually became part of Downtown Milford, Inc. (DMI), and was operated by Jim Cooper for several years before his retirement. During Jim’s oversight, the market expanded to include not only local produce and farm items but also arts and crafts. In recent years a Riverwalk Farmers Market Committee, consisting of ten Milford residents, has been organized to carry out the logistics and activities associated with the market.
In 2013, the Riverwalk Farmer’s Market increased in size, traffic volume and sales, making last year a very successful year for the town of Milford. Although this year the Farmers Market season was shorter, a decision made by the Riverwalk Farmers Market Committee, the overall sales made by vendors increased from $85,000 to exceeding $100,000. In addition to creating revenue for vendors at the market, the weekly event also acts as a way to introduce the downtown area to both locals and visitors.
“Last year the market brought an average of three hundred people each Saturday to Walnut Street,” commented Pingue. “This gives those people an opportunity to see the new businesses that have opened and visit a store that maybe they would not have taken the time to visit otherwise.”
The 2014 Riverwalk Farmers’ Market season in downtown Milford will begin on May 3 and run through October 18, from 9am to 1pm every Saturday. Vendor applications are currently available online on Downtown Milford Inc.’s website at downtownmilford.org by selecting the Farmers Market tab.