By Contributing Writer; Aimee Whittington Ph.D.
After the last 2 market seasons, it’s become even more apparent that the Amherst Farmers’ Market is more than simply a place to purchase food. For many, it was the only (or one of a very few) opportunity they had to interact with other people. So as the 2022 season rapidly approaches for the AFM, we’re looking at continuing to strengthen the market’s engagement with the local community.
One of the most common ways farmers’ markets engage is through consumer education. A chef’s stage or other live cooking event, guided market tours and cross promotion strategies between vendors are all tools which can draw customers in, while also providing knowledge and agency for the shopper. As the public becomes increasingly interested in local food, education provides a double win because it both draws in customers and equips them with new knowledge to combat food insecurity.
Social media is another tool markets can use to foster community engagement, especially among younger consumers. Using it for advertising and education is an efficient way to reach a larger number of people. Postings include a mix of short and long form articles, videos, recipes and local news stories.
Special events can be important for bringing markets greater exposure and bring new customers. Additionally, these events have been cited as a way to attract low income customers who often feel like a farmers’ market is an exclusive place. They present no obligation to spend money and offer something fun for young children.
Monthly “festivals” and events based around a specific product - tomato time, for example - are by far the most popular approaches taken by markets. A once a month special event strikes a balance where it’s regular enough customers will remember it takes place but not so often the event doesn’t feel special. For instance, with tomato time, a market might do a tomato tasting and provide recipes and nutritional information.
Lastly, kid’s activities and engagement can attract younger people, making them familiar and comfortable in the market. Which is important because in 10 years, those children will be the household grocery shoppers. Additionally, the more entertained the children of customers are, the longer the shopping experience will take. This is another double win for the vendors and the community. The longer people stay, the more they tend to purchase but also, hopefully, the more opportunities the Amherst Farmers’ Market has to continue strengthening the community.
With only 3 months before the first 2022 AFM, the market staff is very much looking forward to finding new ways to strengthen the bonds with customers we have and forge new ones with customers we don’t have, yet. Building on the momentum of the last 2 difficult but very successful seasons, we look forward to making it the 51st season even better.
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