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Similarities and Differences Between the Grinnell and Fairfield Farmers' Markets

A statistical analysis of the data I collected from the Grinnell and Fairfield Farmers' Markets. See my more detailed write-ups of the two markets ("A profile of the Grinnell Farmers' Market" and "A profile of the Fairfield Farmers' Market) in earlier blogs for more information.

The Vendors

Total number of stations:

  • Grinnell: 27
  • Fairfield: 23

Total number of vendors:

  • Grinnell: 34
  • Fairfield: 37

Gender of Vendors:

  • Grinnell: 41% male, 59% female
  • Fairfield: 35% male, 65% female

Distribution of Goods:

See Chart1 in "Statistical Comparison of Farmers' Markets" (attached)

Miles Traveled to Reach Market:

See Chart2 in "Statistical Comparison of Farmers' Markets" (attached)

  • Grinnell average: 22.41 miles
  • Fairfield average: 13.91 miles

Frequency of Attendance:

See Chart3 in "Statistical Comparison of Farmers' Markets" (attached)

Percentage of Vendors who Sell at other Farmers' Markets:

  • Grinnell: 43%
  • Fairfield: 35%

Percentage of Vendors who Sell at Places other than Farmers' Markets:

  • Grinnell: 48%
  • Fairfield: 65%

Estimated Ages of Vendors:

See Chart4 in "Statistical Comparison of Farmers' Markets" (attached)

The Customers

Estimated Ages of Customers:

See Chart5 in "Statistical Comparison of Farmers' Markets" (attached)

Miles Traveled to Reach Market:

See Chart6 in "Statistical Comparison of Farmers' Markets" (attached)

Frequency of Attendance:

See Chart7 in "Statistical Comparison of Farmers' Markets" (attached)

A Profile of the Fairfield Farmers' Market

The Fairfield Farmers' Market is held every Wednesday from 3:30 PM to 7:00 PM, and every Saturday, from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM. The market season starts on the first Saturday of May and end on the last Saturday of October. Like the Grinnell market, most vendors at the Fairfield market sell produce and baked goods, with a few selling homemade crafts, flowers, jams, etc. Unlike the Grinnell market, foods to eat on site (Crepes, egg rolls, wraps) are an important part of Fairfield's market. This is part of a crucial difference between the two markets: the Fairfield market is a social place. Whereas at the Grinnell market, buyers immediately leave after finding what they want, shoppers at the Fairfield market tend to stick around. Many shoppers buy lunch at the market, and sit down to eat it while chatting with fellow buyers. Many children play on the playground next to the market while the parents shop and socialize. Shopping at the Fairfield farmers' market can be seen as much more of an entire "experience" than shopping at Grinnell's market.

All market observations are from Saturday, July 22. The Saturday session of the Fairfield market is much bigger than its Wednesday counterpart. According to most people attending the market, the session that I visited was smaller than normal, as the time I visited is "prime vacation time."

The Vendors

There were a total of 23 stations at the market. Vendors from each of these stations were willing to answer my questions, so each vendor is represented in my analysis.

12 of the 23 stations were operated by one vendor, eight by two vendors, and the remaining three by three vendors. 24 of these 37 vendors were women, while 13 were men. A graph of my age estimates for each of these vendors is located in Chart 5 of the attached Microsoft Excel document "Farmers Market Vendors." The vast majority of vendors were, from my estimations, within the 31-50 age group.

Goods sold by the vendors at the market are divided into five major categories: produce, crafts, baked goods, flowers/plants, and "other." Common instances of items from each of these categories include:

Produce: cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, corn, peppers, beans, zucchini, potatoes, squash, onions
Baked goods: breaks, pies, pastries
Flowers/plants: Self-explanatory
Other: jams, prepared wraps, cheeses

The number of vendors selling from each of these good categories is shown in Chart6 of "Farmers' Market Vendors." Produce was the most popular category, with 13 vendors selling produce items. 17 vendors sold from only one good category, while five sold from two, and one from three.

Vendors came from as far as 40 miles away to sell at the market, and from as close as one mile. On average, vendors traveled 13.91 miles to reach the Fairfield market. Most vendors traveled between 10 and 19 miles to reach the market. A graph of the miles traveled by each vendor is located in Chart4 of "Farmers' Market Vendors." By examining the license plates around the market while the market was in session, I judged that about 85% of vendors were from Jefferson County, with a few coming from Van Buren, Wapello, Davis, Lee, and Keokuk Counties.

Five of the 23 vendors sell at the Fairfield market twice a week, 15 sell once a week, one sells every two weeks, one sells once a month, and a final vendor sells only once a year. The prominence of sellers who sell only weekly can be explained by the low numbers of people who shop at the Wednesday market. "It's just not worth it to set up on Wednesdays," explained one vendor. Eight vendors regularly sell at other farmers' markets, while 15 sell only at Fairfield's market. Those who sell at other markets go to a variety of places: three sell in Ottumwa, two each in Mount Pleasant and Iowa City, and one each in Kansas City, Burlington, Richland and Washington. Of the eight vendors who sell at other markets, six said their profits are about equal in each market they sell at, while one said Fairfield's was the better source of profits (this vendor sells in Fairfield and Ottumwa), and another said they were less successful at the Fairfield market (this vendor sells in both Washington and Iowa City (in addition to Fairfield), regularly). 15 vendors regularly sell their goods at places other than farmers' markets, while eight sell only at farmer' markets. Of those who sell at other locations, seven sell out of their house or truck, two sell to restaurants, two sell to grocery stores, one to CSA (community supported agriculture), one to an art gallery, one to a produce auction, and one sells for school fundraisers. All but four vendors said they have a loyal set of customers who buy from them regularly.

When asked what they like or dislike in particular about selling at farmers' markets, positive responses included: the opportunity to display their wares, the opportunity to see and talk to a lot of people (popular), and being outside. Vendors disliked the weather, and the guessing game they have to play when deciding how much of their products to bring to the market – you never know if you will be able to sell everything.

The Customers

Customers at the Fairfield market were generally in the 31-50 age group. My estimations of customers' ages are shown in Chart5 in the attached Excel file "Farmers Market Customers." Customers seemed to direct the attention evenly between all stations at the market, though prepared foods seemed to be slightly more popular and arts/crafts slightly less popular than other goods. Customers also seemed to know certain vendors well, which helps to explain disparities in vendor popularity. The market started off slowly, with few customers in attendance, but activity picked up as the morning progressed. Though I was only able to observe the market from about 9:00-11:00 AM, I would say that activity peaked around 10-11:00. At its peak period, there were about 50 customers at the market; at its lowest point, there were about 20 customers around. On average, I estimated there to be about 35 customers in attendance at any given point throughout the morning.

Throughout the morning, I asked a random sample of customers to answer a few survey questions for me. Two of the 15 people I asked refused the survey, so my sample size is 13 customers. These customers traveled between a few blocks and 5 miles to reach the market. A chart of the miles traveled to reach the market for each of these customers is shown in Chart6 of "Farmers Market Customers." Most customers surveyed attend the Fairfield market weekly; a graph of customer responses to this question is shown in Chart7 of "Farmers Market Customers."

Customers most valued the fresh, organic, local food that is available at the market. All responses to this question are shown in Chart8 of "Farmers Market Customers."

Farmers' Market Staff

The Fairfield farmers' market is staffed by a single market master, whose responsibility it is to coordinate the daily market activities. This person is selected by the vendor advisory committee for the farmers' market. It is the responsibility of the market master to make sure that only locally grown produce and locally made handicrafts are sold at the market. Meat, dairy products, and all prepared foods cannot be sold without a license is obtained.