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Notes from a study of Iowa Farmers Markets

The following are some interesting pieces of information from an article entitled "Consumers, Vendors, and the Economic Importance of Iowa Farmers' Markets: An Economic Survey Analysis," by Dr. Daniel Otto and Theresa Varner, Iowa State University (March 2005). All figures are from a 2004 survey.

  • Approximately $20 million in total Iowa Farmers Market sales were estimated through consumer reporting, while a more conservative estimate of $9.8 million originated with vendor reports.
  • An estimated $31.5 million of gross sales and $12.2 million of personal income effects were directly or indirectly related to farmers' market activity.
  • Approximately 55,000 consumers and 1600 vendors gathered for at least one weekly market session.
  • The typical market consumer was 51-65 years of age, buying mostly fruits, vegetables, and baked goods. The average consumer made approximately 13 market visits per season.
  • The average vendor was also 51-65 years of age, and received the most revenue from produce and baked goods.
  • Evidence suggests that market participation might be increased through the targeting of urban consumers and participants approaching retirement age, as well as the development of new strategies to attract younger consumers and those who have little experience with farmers' markets.
  • In the state of Iowa, the number of farmers' markets has increased more than 60 percent over the past ten years. Iowa has the greatest number of markets per capita in the country.
  • Iowa markets were open for an average of 1.4 days for an average of 21 weeks, and featured an average of 13 vendors. Twelve new markets emerged in 2004, while over half of established markets were over 10 years old. Nearly 55,000 Iowans attended at least one weekly session of a market. Approximately 135,000 consumers attended a market at least once during the season.
  • Consumers reported spending an average of $11-20 per market visit
  • On average, vendors planned to attend two different markets per season. Average per vendor sales in 2004 were $2,501-5,000, while average costs were $1,001-2,500.

The article is available at



The research here suggests that the typical vendor is 51-65 years old; the typical consumer is 51-65 years old; the typical farmer's market size is about 13 vendors.

From your past visit to the Grinnell Farmer's Market, how typical did you find the Grinnell Farmer's market to be?

According to the data I included in my earlier post, I would say that Grinnell's market is fairly typical of an Iowa Farmer's Market. The average age of vendors--51-64 years--is right on, though there were several younger male farmers who brought their fresh produce in, selling from the back of a pick-up truck. There were a few more vendors--about 17 total (hard to say exactly because there was some turnover)--at Grinnell's Market. The average age of consumers was substantially lower than the number from this study; I would guess the average age to be about 40 years. While there were a substantial number of consumers that fit into the 51-65 age bracket, there were many more who were younger. This might be typical of a college town; many of those youner consumers I recognized as Grinnell College students and faculty.