Supporting local farmers markets all about sharing

Farmers markets, like the Burlington Farmers Market pictured last summer, provide access to fresh healthy food in communities.

While farmers markets are popular in Wisconsin, some markets struggle with profitability or the ability to grow and support more local farmers. New research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Extension points toward ways Wisconsinites can help their local farmers markets.

Farmers markets have increased in number in the state. The United States Department of Agriculture lists 306 markets in Wisconsin in 2017, up from 187 markets in 2009.

While this increase in the number of markets suggests that farmers markets are on an upward trend, markets may not be attracting the number of customers they need in order to grow or sustain themselves. In fact, the new research found that farmers markets are eager for help promoting themselves to consumers. The findings are based on a survey of leaders at Wisconsin farmers markets, most often people in the position of “market manager.”

“If farmers markets want to grow in terms of the number of vendors they support, they need to attract more customers to show potential vendors that the customer base will be there,” said Bret Shaw, Associate Professor in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at UW-Madison and Communication Specialist for UW-Extension. “We think that is part of why market managers are so interested in dialing up efforts to promote their markets.”

The type of promotion market managers were most interested in was encouraging word of mouth between customers.

“Farmers market customers who post about their local market on social media, remind friends and neighbors about the market, or talk up the market at their workplace or with organizations they belong to may be doing their market a real service,” said Shaw.

At the same time, few farmers market managers reported that they receive help promoting their market from their local municipality, such as their city, village, or county government. Only 27 percent of managers reported receiving promotional help, excluding markets that were officially run through their local government.

Consequently, another thing Wisconsinites can do to support their farmers markets is encourage local elected officials and administrators to help promote farmers markets on their websites, in social media, or through signage.

Market managers were also interested in finding local businesses or non-profits to sponsor the market.

“By sponsoring their local farmers market, they can show community support. The farmers market also supports their sponsors by highlighting the sponsors in the market’s promotional materials,” said Kristin Krokowski, who leads the Wisconsin Farmers Market Association and is a UW-Extension Waukesha County commercial horticulture educator.

“Additionally, local business benefit from a nearby farmers market financially.  As farmers markets attract people to a business area, customers visiting the market have been shown to then patronize nearby businesses as well,” she added.

Sponsorships can take different forms. A business can help promote a farmers market through their social media accounts, provide funds to purchase a particular piece of equipment for the market, or offer a service to the market, such as free printing. In return, the market might place their sponsor’s logo on market promotional materials, thank the sponsor through social media, or have materials about the sponsor on display at the market.

The Wisconsin Farmers Market Association, in addition to REAP Food Group, helped the University of Wisconsin researchers with the study by encouraging farmers market managers to take the survey. The survey was released in the spring of 2017.

The full report based on the survey is available at: