Delaware farmers markets achieve record-breaking 2023 revenue

Staff Reporter

Farmers markets in Delaware saw profits break $4 million for the first time in 2023, bringing in a staggering $4.1 in revenue. This means sales increased more than $430,000 from the previous year.

The Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) reports that there are 17 community-run farmers markets across the state. These markets are run by “municipalities, business groups, farmers, or market associations” and receive financial and marketing assistance from the DDA.

“Our farmers do a great job,” DDA marketing specialist Kathy Jackson said. “No matter what you’re looking for, you can probably find it somewhere at a farmers market in Delaware.”

Farmers markets offer a wide range of products. The DDA reports that an estimated 52% of total revenue for 2023 came from the sale of fresh produce, while 48% comprises other products such as meats, cheeses, canned goods, breads, eggs and honey.

Jackson said that the myriad of products and wide selection are one of many reasons consumers have been buying from farmers markets.

“It’s very different from shopping at a grocery store,” Jackson said. “Depending on which market you go to, you may have many different opportunities. The carrots aren’t all in one place. You’ve got one guy selling carrots here and a little bit further down the road, there’s another farmer selling carrots. You get to compare and buy the ones you like best.”

Christina Natalini/THE REVIEW

Another reason for the recent financial prosperity facing farmers is COVID-19, according to Nathaniel Bruce, a farm business management specialist at the university.

After farm sales plummeted to the lowest they had been since 2011 – just under $2 million – farmers markets have made a significant comeback due in large part to the emphasis placed on healthy living, both during and after the pandemic.

With higher taxes in neighboring states, people began moving to Delaware, where they could then use their newfound disposable income on locally sourced goods from farmers markets, Bruce said.

“Since COVID, there’s been a push to know where your food comes from,” Bruce said. “A lot of consumers, even people that grew up here, wanted to know where they were buying their produce from, so a lot of people in the city started looking for farmers markets to attend, and a lot of farmers took advantage of that.”

Evyn Appel, a junior sustainable food systems major, agreed, saying that the pandemic “exposed fears people didn’t know they had” about the truth behind the produce in their local grocery stores. That “Grown in the USA” sticker could mean Delaware, or it could mean California, and when focusing on a healthy lifestyle, that can make a significant difference.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) defines food miles as “the distance food travels from the location where it is grown to the location where it is consumed.” 

Appel, who is also the president and co-founder of the Hydroponics Club, said that post-pandemic, concepts such as food miles have become more important to a general public looking to better understand the intersection of food and health.

Jackson emphasized that lower food miles are better for a person’s health, but they also greatly benefit the environment and are an easy way to lower carbon emissions.

“[At a farmers market,] you’re getting things that are really fresh,” Jackson said. “Often, they’ve been picked that same day or maybe the day before. That produce isn’t traveling very far, so if people are interested in reducing their carbon footprint, that’s the way to do it. If you bring in produce from Mexico, there’s a lot of travel, a lot of petroleum burned to get it here.”

Christina Natalini/THE REVIEW

Ultimately, though, farmers markets are being chosen over grocery stores due to the “quaint” feel of them allowing for a more personalized shopping experience, per Appel.

“That’s something that market managers do – they plan all kinds of activities as part of the market,” Jackson said. “There might be someone playing guitar, some kind of music. There are story hours for kids. One of the markets in New Castle County has a book exchange. A couple of the markets in Sussex County have regular cooking demonstrations.”

Appel agreed that the many attractions within farmers markets are part of their appeal, adding that she has been to markets with booths for anything from tea to candles to chiropractic services.

Jackson said that if any of this sounds appealing, then a farmers market may be a perfect fit.

“I encourage people to try a farmers market,” Jackson said. “Give it a little bit of time and enjoy the experience, and you’ll probably be really, really, really happy with the quality of the produce that you get.”

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