Idaho farmers markets have bounced back nicely from COVID
By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
BOISE – Idaho’s farmers markets had a tough go early in the COVID pandemic, but they appear to have bounced back nicely since then and some are reporting record sales, traffic and vendor numbers.
“We have bounced back,” said Tamara Cameron, executive director of the Boise Farmers Market. “We are back to our pre-pandemic figures as far as sales go. It’s been a good year.”
There are 50 farmers markets located throughout the state.
“From what we have been hearing … most farmers markets have rebounded well from pandemic shutdowns and restrictions, and some were actually experiencing record numbers of vendors and shoppers …,” said Ariel Agenbroad, a University of Idaho Extension educator for food systems and small farms in Ada County who also serves as treasurer of the Idaho Farmers Market Association board of directors.
One silver lining of the COVID pandemic is that it really emphasized the importance of farmers markets, said Dawn Larkzeiler, an Idaho Preferred marketing specialist for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture who also serves on the IFMA board.
“People want to know where their food comes from,” she said. During the pandemic, “They were trying to go straight to the source, getting to meet farmers and their families. That was something we didn’t see go away. It’s a blessing in disguise.”
One thing the pandemic did do was force farmers markets to adapt and innovate and in some cases, that innovation turned out to be permanent.
In the case of the Boise Farmers Market, the COVID restrictions resulted in the market creating a drive-through option that allowed people to order online straight from a vendor and then have their items ready in bags to be picked up as they drive through.
“We have a consistent number of customers who love it, for a variety of reasons,” said BFM vendor Janie Burns, a member of the market’s board of directors.
Burns said the market never would have created that drive-through service if not for COVID.
“We had to do it,” she said. “And now it’s easy and we’ve embraced this technology. It’s just another way of reaching customers.”
Larkzeiler said a lot of that type of innovation, including delivery services, has occurred at other farmers markets in the state since COVID hit.
Agenbroad said although many farmers markets are seeing record numbers of vendors and shoppers, they have been hit with a new challenge in the way of “dramatic increases in primary input costs, both for vendors and the markets.”
This is especially hard for markets with vendors who travel to bring produce to their markets in more remote locations or places where the growing season is short, she said.
“Some market managers have been thinking about how to incentivize these vendors to continue making the trip to their market, whether by reducing or eliminating their vendor booth fee, offering them a gas credit, etc.,” Agenbroad said.
She said just about every type of vendor has had to raise their prices to reflect the higher costs of inputs and labor.
The good news when it comes to farmers markets in Idaho is that they are open and appear to be thriving, at least when it comes to crowd counts and the number of vendors.
These markets provide an important income source for a lot of small- and medium-sized farmers around Idaho, and they also provide a lot of food to a lot of people in the state.
With 50 farmers markets in Idaho, “It’s pretty easy to locate fresh produce no matter where you are in the state,” said Larkzeiler.
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