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Kathy Murray of TerRonKat Gardens near Fair Play weighs a customer's selection of green beans at her booth at the Greater Springfield Farmers' Market in the Battlefield Mall parking lot.
Kathy Murray of TerRonKat Gardens near Fair Play weighs a customer's selection of green beans at her booth at the Greater Springfield Farmers' Market in the Battlefield Mall parking lot.

Local farmers markets generate $2M in annual economic output

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Agricultural businesses have long been a major contributor to the Springfield area economy. Many of those companies, such as Dairy Farmers of America, American Dehydrated Foods and Kraft, are relatively large, but a recent study shows that even small agricultural producers are impacting the local economy – with room for growth.  

Farmers markets, populated by vendors who typically produce goods at small, family owned farms are an expanding part of the local economy, said Arbindra Rimal, graduate director and professor at Missouri State University’s agriculture department.

Following a study of Springfield farmers markets in 2009 and 2010, Rimal pegged the economic output of Springfield’s farmers markets at $2.03 million a year, with gross annual retail sales of roughly $1.2 million. Economic output takes into account the total impact of the markets, including jobs and wholesale sales, in addition to retail sales.

“Nobody really knew the impact of farmers markets,” Rimal said. “This gives us some numbers to go on.”

Rimal sent out 1,200 surveys to farmers market vendors statewide, including 101 in Springfield. He drew 260 responses, 47 of them local. Rimal said he chose to poll vendors to gauge the markets’ impact because some of them sell their goods at multiple markets.

The economic impact of Springfield’s farmers markets lags behind those in other large Missouri cities. In St. Louis, for example, farmers markets have an economic output of $6.2 million and gross annual retails sales of $3.4 million, and in Kansas City, output and gross sales are $5.2 million and $2.9 million, respectively.

Rimal believes there is a way for Springfield to boost local output and sales.  

“There is a potential for a much bigger impact from farmers markets if Springfield were to develop a permanent structure,” he said.

St. Louis and Kansas City both have such structures, and closer to home, there also is an enclosed market in Webb City.

Conversations about a freestanding farmers market in Springfield already are under way, with The Greater Springfield Farmers’ Market and Urban Districts Alliance conducting a pilot program in downtown Springfield.

Since May 19, The Greater Springfield Farmers’ Market has held a market on Thursday evenings at Jubilee Park, at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and St. Louis Street, said Rusty Worley, UDA executive director.

An average of 15 vendors have been selling goods on Thursday nights, Worley said, and while response has been steady, the organization is working to grow the market.

UDA is exploring grant opportunities and working with Community Foundation of the Ozarks to identify funding sources for a permanent downtown farmers market structure, and Worley said Jubilee Park has been discussed as the likely site for a permanent structure.

The Greater Springfield Farmers’ Market’s largest weekly function is in the Battlefield Mall parking lot, where about 92 vendors sell goods each week, said President Steve Madewell. One of eight farmers markets in Springfield, The Greater Springfield Farmers’ Market is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings and Tuesday evenings at the northwest corner of Glenstone Avenue and Battlefield Road.

Madewell said the customer base for the market has grown steadily, with some vendors reporting that their business has doubled in the past three or four years.

“This is a growing segment of agriculture. Customers are wanting more local food,” he said, adding that a permanent structure would be helpful.

Still, Madewell said it may be too soon to tell whether downtown is the best site for such a structure.

“We’re just using (Thursday nights) as a test (to) see what happens,” he said. “All the vendors that have been going down there, they’re happy.”

The race may be on, however, to see who opens a freestanding farmers market first. Eastland Farmers Market, located at 1831 St. Louis St., has room for indoor and outdoor vendors, according to www.eastlandfarmersmarket.com, and the site touts the market as the only permanent farmers market in Springfield. A representative for the market could not be reached for comment.

And Well-Fed Neighbor Alliance is working to open a store on East Bennett Street, though organizers weren’t able to open during the first full week of July as planned.

Rimal suggests that freestanding structures need a full-time manager or management company, as well as space for vendors to produce value-added products to maximize economic benefit.

“It would be best to have a kitchen or some type of production area where farmers could bring in goods and prepare them for sale,” he said.

Rimal predicts demand for fresh foods will continue to increase, and he will next turn his research toward determining exactly what customers want to find at local markets.[[In-content Ad]]

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