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Break Out the Tote Bags: Farmers Market Season Has Arrived

Amid Surging Grocery Prices, Local Farmers Hope to Offer Cost Effective and Healthy Options

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Above image credit: Fruitful Hills CSA sells produce, cheese, milk and eggs. Each family in the collective has a different role. (Cami Koons | Flatland)

Last Saturday, dozens of vendors filled the gymnasium at Johnson County Community College for the Eat Local and Organic Expo.

The event, organized by KC Healthy Kids and the Brookside Farmers’ Market, served as a kickoff to Kansas City’s farmers market season.

According to the Agricultural Resource Marketing Center, the number of farmers markets across the country has increased more than 7% since 2013.

The butchers, florists, grocers and educators in attendance at the Eat Local and Organic Expo have witnessed these increases firsthand. They expect the trend will continue as more households choose to stock their refrigerators with locally produced goods.

The other trend most vendors predicted: minimal inflation at the farmers market as compared to the grocery store. The U.S. Department of Labor reported this week that overall food prices rose 8.8% over the past 12 months, with grocery prices increasing 10%.

Christina Ashie-Guidry moved to Kansas City from Nashville about two years ago and was struck by the number of farmers markets and opportunities to buy local, seasonal produce. Since the move, she’s been feeding her family with local goods.

“It tastes better and fresher,” she said. “My kids love it.”

At the expo, she picked up some ribs and pondered the idea of joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) program.

Mom with daughter and son in a gymnasium. Daughter holds peacock feather.
Eight-year-old Olivia (right) loves apples and peaches from the farmers market. Pictured with mom, Christina Ashie-Guidry and Ethan (6). (Cami Koons | Flatland)

CSA programs are subscription-based services that allow customers to support farmers upfront, and in turn receive weekly or monthly boxes of goods. The expo served as a time for many to find and sign up for a CSA program, which works well for folks who don’t have time to visit the farmers market each week, or who drool at the prospect of consistent grocery budgeting.

Vesta Morris, one of the farmers of Fruitful Hills CSA, said each year the program seems to grow, and she fears they won’t have enough produce to fill all of the boxes. But so far, the Mennonite farm community based in Trenton, Missouri, has been able to meet the demand.

“It’s hard to know yet,” Morris said on the size of this season’s subscriber list. “We’ve had more early bird subscriptions than we usually do.”

Fruitful Hills hires a truck to take the boxes to eight drop-off points across the metro. Each box includes a handwritten newsletter about the happenings on the farm and a recipe using some of the box’s ingredients.

As a CSA, Fruitful Hills doesn’t frequent the farmers markets, but other vendors at the expo expressed their excitement to get back into the community.

Marla Biggs, the owner of Hedgewood Farms, was giddy at the prospect of connecting with new and old customers again.

“We like connecting with people who want to eat good, clean, healthy food,” she said.

Hedgewood Farms prides itself in its pasture-raised meats. Biggs said the prices have increased slightly this year to offset the cost of processing, but “it’s nothing like the supermarket (prices).”

Beyond the potential economic and health benefits of shopping for local goods, these markets and programs present an educational opportunity.

Ashie-Guidry said she loves shopping for seasonal produce at the markets. Her two children understand that strawberries come in early summer, and apples in the fall.

Another vendor, Kathy Adams with Adams ORAC Farm has been selling herb and vegetable transplants at farmers markets for the past eight years.

“It’s more than income,” she said about the markets. “It’s the educational aspect (and) the opportunity to get people nutrient dense food.”

Woman in glasses adjusts transplants on a table

Lindsey Schmidt is a student in the sustainable agriculture program at Johnson County Community College learning to grow and sell produce for upcoming farmers markets. (Cami Koons | Flatland)

Kansas City’s Farmers Markets

Cami Koons covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America. The work of our Report for America corps members is made possible, in part, through the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

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