A recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found sales at farmers markets nationwide have declined — and the drop is particularly pronounced in Southern California, long a leader in the market movement.
Sales in Los Angeles County dropped by almost 43 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars from 2007 to 2012, according to the USDA. Total annual revenues in Southern California dropped from $4.2 million to $2.3 million over the same period.
Farmers and market managers have been concerned for several years now that the number of markets has grown faster than the number of farmers to supply them and shoppers to buy from them, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"I think we've glutted the marketplace," said Diana Rodgers, who runs the Mar Vista farmers market.
Total revenue in all markets nationwide declined 1 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars from 2007 to 2012. The number of farmers markets grew at a rate of 17 percent from 2002 to 2007, but the rate has slowed to 5.5 percent per year since.
Many boroughs and communities want a farmers market because they attract food traffic, Rodgers said. "But they don't want to make sure they're valid farmers markets," she said.
Jackie Sauceda-Rivera, who oversees eight markets in Los Angeles, said it will be difficult to grow much further without compromising integrity.
"Any good large market is a good thing for farmers and won't have any trouble," she said. "But the smaller and mid-size markets have to be a little more careful."
The study found areas of growth: Sales to food hubs — independent groups and companies that connect consumers with farmers — have increased 288 percent since 2007. Farm-to-school sales have increased 430 percent.
"Shoppers today have lots of other options for getting the produce that we get at farmers markets," Rodgers said. "Not just fruits and vegetables, but the artisan producers too."