Farmers markets are an integral part of the urban/farm linkage and have continued to rise in popularity, mostly due to the growing consumer interest in obtaining fresh products directly from the farm. Farmers markets allow consumers to have access to locally grown, farm fresh produce, enables farmers the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with their customers, and cultivate consumer loyalty with the farmers who grows the produce.
Direct marketing of farm products through farmers markets continues to be an important sales outlet for agricultural producers nationwide. As of National Farmers Market Week, (the first full week in August), there were 8,476 farmers markets listed in USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory. This is a 2.5 percent increase from 2014.
For 23 years, all the milk from Jeff and Jill Burkharts’ 80-cow dairy in central Iowa left the farm in a bulk truck for processing and sale in the commodity markets. These days, however, the farm’s milk takes a different route to customers. In 2002, the Burkharts decided to build a bottling plant and start selling their milk directly from the farm.
Today, the Burkharts’ 80-acre rotationally grazed farm has become a regular destination for customers throughout the Des Moines area, attracting 100 visitors a day and up to 400 when they hold a special event. As the Burkharts had hoped, visitors leave the farm with gallons of fresh, pasteurized milk as well as other products.
“Business is booming,” says Jeff Burkhart, who received a grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program in 2004 to test two marketing strategies: an open house event and a Website launch. A year to the day after filling their first milk bottle, the Burkharts premiered their Picket Fence Creamery with an open house that drew more than 900 people for farm tours, children’s activities and special sales offers.