Farmers’ markets throughout the region continue to grow, diversify
By Daniel Meyer
If you haven’t recently shopped at a local farmers market, there is a very good chance you will be surprised at some of the unique items being peddled by neighborhood vendors.
While tomatoes, potatoes, apples, oranges and decorative flowers and plants remain staples, there are many new products available for purchase at farmers markets across Western New York, helping the seasonal marketplaces to grow and diversify in an effort to retain longtime customers while also attracting new patrons.
“Variety is the spice of life,” says Jamie Decker, senior director of marketing and business development for the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, the organization that coordinates weekly farmers’ markets in the villages of Hamburg and Blasdell. “Fresh fruit, vegetables, plants and flowers will always be available, but what we’ve done at both of our farmers markets and what you are seeing at other markets in our region is the introduction of products that are helping to broaden your palate and try something new, and I think that is pretty incredible.”
Vendors who specialize in selling specific foods and other items not previously available at traditional farmers’ markets report positive feedback from their customers.
“There is something for everybody with how things have evolved and changed over the past few years,” says Clara Beiler, one of several family members who owns and maintains Jara Farms in Alfred. “We sell our products at five different markets, including the Clinton Bailey Farmers Market in the city of Buffalo. Some people are amazed at what we have because it’s not your typical fruits, veggies, plants and flowers. I think what I like the most is seeing other new vendors doing the same thing in providing a choice and true variety to people who want to support their local market.”
Among the unique products available at farmers’ markets throughout Erie County include maple syrup, whole grain bread, chicken sausage, quail eggs, rabbit meat, seafood pot pies, gourmet cupcakes, trail mix, homemade dog treats, barbecue sauces, doughnuts, horseradish, homemade pierogies, hummus and made-to-order breakfast crepes.
Specialty beverages are also a new trend, made available in large part to the recent opening of craft beer and winery businesses throughout Western New York.
Diversity at markets
“There are a ton of awesome vendors who aren’t agriculture-based but they provide a quality product or service and there’s no better way to make sales and introduce your company to the public than at a farmers market,” said Kara Schanbacher, who serves complimentary wine samples on behalf of Winery of Ellicottville. “If I can introduce someone to a wine they had never tasted before and encourage them to visit us or check out our website, then I’ve had a good day at the market. You may not expect to see someone pouring wine but after you stop over and we talk and you sample something you will learn that we are a local business selling something just like the local people who are selling fruits or vegetables or hanging flower baskets.”
Ready-to-eat food products prepared off-site are also available at farmers’ markets, a relatively new component for most of the seasonal markets in the Buffalo area.
“People are very busy and many eat on the fly or want to buy baked foods and desserts for an event or party they are going to later that day,” says Linsey Schiavi, who owns Liberty Belle Baked Goods, which is based in Buffalo. “The ability to purchase a vintage homemade dessert at what is essentially an open-air organic grocery store appeals to a lot of people, which is why we have had as much success selling our products.”
The desire of many patrons to avoid the large corporate grocery store chains and instead shop in a relaxed, natural environment provides an advantage for seasonal market organizers.
“All of these relatively new and exciting items make our farmers markets in Hamburg and Blasdell and the other markets around us a one-stop-shop for many people,” says Decker. “The concept of ‘meet me at the market’ has been around for some time now. It is a weekly social gathering for many, a true destination as a casual community meeting space. Being able to buy duck eggs or tart cherry concentrate or gourmet pasta and avoid the same-old, same-old at the grocery store is the best of both worlds. We are seeing farmers markets being taken to the next level and I think we are going to continue to see more vendors introduce fascinating new products in the future.”