Farmers Markets: Vendors Often Charge Higher Prices at Urban Locations

Becky Krystal reported earlier this month at The Washington Post Online that, “If you’re a frequent farmers market shopper, you’ve probably noticed how a single item can vary in price among not only different vendors at the same market but also the same vendors at different markets.

“Consider the tomato. We informally surveyed area market managers about what their vendors would be charging for the summertime staple and got answers that were, well, all over the map. The upshot: Vendors charge higher prices, for the most part, at urban markets.”

The article noted that, “Demographics play into another aspect of pricing, said Eli Cook of Spring Valley Farm and Orchard in Romney, W.Va. He estimates his field-grown tomatoes will range in price from $2.99 to $3.49 per pound this summer, depending partly on which items he sends to which markets. At his markets in the city, including Dupont and FreshFarm’s White House location, more customers may want heirloom varieties, which are harder to grow, leading to higher prices. (Cook said his yield on heirloom tomatoes is around 50 percent, while it’s 70 percent on more-standard varieties.)

“Those urban customers are more likely to be single people, Cook said, which means he has to hire more people to work the stand to handle the greater volume of smaller transactions: $7 to $9 vs. the average $30 to $40 in more family-heavy Burke, where Spring Valley also sells. Those wage costs may be a driving factor in higher prices, as well.”

The Post article also indicated that, “Being in the city can affect prices in other ways. Miller said that, for example, when his team comes to sell at the Capital Harvest on the Plaza market at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, parking challenges mean they have to drive a smaller truck that carries less stock. It’s classic supply and demand: less supply, more demand and higher prices. ‘We want to take stuff that’s going to pay the bills,’ Miller said.

Vendors may also vary their prices based on market fees. Fairfax County, for example, manages a dozen markets and charges a flat annual fee of $325 for a 10-by-10-foot tent, with $150 per additional tent.

“Municipally managed markets tend to charge lower, one-time-only fees, Cook said.”

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