Amber Balakian, a fourth-generation farmer from Balakian Farms in Reedley, about 20 miles south of Fresno, has experienced the deteriorating economics firsthand. Her family sets up shop at the San Francisco Ferry Building farmers' market on Saturdays. While they used to ring up sales of $10,000 per trip, there are so many other markets drawing visitors away that "now we make half that" at the Ferry Building market, she says.
This past year, Ms. Balakian, 24 years old, drove more than 200 miles each week to a one-year-old market held in a Whole Foods parking lot in Mill Valley. The market started at 9 a.m. each Friday, so Ms. Balakian often arrived the night before and spent the night in a hotel before selling the tomatoes, peaches and carrots her family grows on its 75-acre farm. On a good day, she sold about $3,000.
But Ms. Balakian recently tried selling at farmers markets in Pleasanton and Los Altos, where "we didn't make enough to cover our expenses," she says. She adds that she sold "maybe $500" in produce at the Los Altos market.
Let's hope that we keep supporting our local farmers' markets. But as organic and local produce catches on with mainstream supermarkets, and additional permanent organic markets open (such as the new Whole Foods in Mill Valley and Novato), we may see fewer farmers' markets operating in Marin in the future.