Above: Love is Homemade owner Colleen Dollfusz poses with Morinville Farmers’ Market Manager Korien Sampson at a recent Friday market.
by Stephen Dafoe
The Morinville Farmers’ Market is hoping to see more people coming through the door at their Friday indoor market. Numbers of attendees have been in decline this season, and management have taken steps to find out why.
A recent online Morinville Farmers’ Market survey sought to find out whether it was hours, awareness or offerings that were keeping shoppers away. Full results of the survey have yet to be made public.
But the drop in market shoppers is not a Morinville anomaly. Morinville Farmers’ Market Manager Korien Sampson belongs to an association of market managers and organizers and says other markets are struggling.
“One of the things we’ve noticed is a huge decrease in the number of people attending farmers’ markets,” Sampson said. “We’re trying to figure out why and how we can encourage more people to shop locally.”
Sampson said when the association began looking at numbers, they discovered that less than one per cent of the population in the Edmonton region shop at farmers’ markets.
“Even for Morinville’s market, I would say less than one per cent of the population actually comes out to the market,” she said. “That’s really too bad because we have such amazing producers.”
The annual summer market traditionally saw 500 customers per week in Morinville, but Sampson says the number of shoppers dropped to 300 per Friday last summer. She estimates 50 to 100 customers at the indoor market each week since it kicked off in October, which is 10 to 20 per cent of the number the summer market saw at its peak.
Sampson said she’d like to see more people buying from local producers at the weekly market instead of going to the grocery chains in and out of town. “We need to encourage the local producers so that they keep producing,” she said.
It is a difficult task to accomplish in the winter months, and Sampson is aware there are no fresh local vegetables produced in the January cold. “We’ve learned that people want fresh fruit and fresh vegetables, which unfortunately I can’t bring in during the winter,” she said. She is also trying to find a meat vendor to come to the market each week in response to survey participants who have requested it.
Beyond produce and meat, Sampson has been working to expand her stable of vendors – building on the craft vendors and product suppliers who are regulars at the market. Initial survey results indicated people wanted to see more variety in what was being offered.
It’s a catch-22 situation, however, as it is difficult to attract sellers when there are so few buyers. “If I don’t have enough customers coming to the market asking for meat products, then I can’t show the producer that it’s worth their while to come down to the market to set up a stall,” she said.
Colleen Dollfusz, a Party Light distributor and owner of Love is Homemade, has been finding the market a struggle of late. She has had a booth since January of 2014.
“I don’t know why they don’t want to come out to the market,” Dollfusz said, adding she did find the Christmas season a little busier than other times of the year. “I think that sometimes they just don’t realize what is here. Just getting it out there and telling people that we are here every week would help a bit.”
But matching vendors and sellers is not the only catch-22 the market is facing. Sampson said a limited budget has confined them to promoting the weekly market solely through Facebook, Twitter, and the market’s website. They also get some additional promotion during festivals from The Morinville Festival Society, who oversee and sponsor the market.
Sampson is planning a number of initiatives in 2014 to help add a little sizzle to the market steak, including more children’s events, competitions, and entertainment.
The Morinville Farmers’ Market runs Fridays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Ray McDonald Sports Center. Their website is morinvillefarmersmarket.com.