Farmer’s Markets – The salt of the earth?


Preservation.  Of Community.  Of the Environment.  Of Land.  Of Food.

You might have more in common with salt than you think!

Salt’s original and primary purpose was for the preservation of food. Modern canning techniques, Louis Pasteur, Ball and Mason were not only unheard of, they were concepts unknown. The following words were penned more than 1,950 years ago to convey this simple truth.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its strength, how will it’s saltness be restored? It is no longer usable for anything but to be thrown outside and trampled by men.”

No, it’s not a mis-spelling.  It is “saltness” not ‘saltiness’.  It wasn’t about the flavor of salt, it was in reference to salt’s ability to act as a preserving influence; or the preserving effect of salt.  If salt lost it’s “saltness” or it’s preserving nature, then it was basically nothing more than, and as useless as dirt, to be thrown outside and simply walked on.

We may occasionally hear someone today referred to as “salt of the earth.” It’s in reference to the goodness of a person’s character, and when you come across people who run their business in a way that is consistently “good” for others, you can’t help but be drawn to those types of people. They serve as a preserving influence.  On the community, on our hopes that people can be better, on our lives in general.  Now, think about that in reference to the farmer’s market or market’s you support each week.

Having shopped and participated in multiple farmer’s markets across the valley we’ve found one that stands out from the crowd; salt of the earth if you will. It’s not really because of the market itself, but because the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. That is, and always will be, because of the individual’s who started and manage this particular market.

Farmer’s markets are not new, they’ve been around for centuries. They were the original grocery store/ bazaar for each community. If you had produce or wares, you could bring them to town (usually the center of town) and sell or barter them. A simple modest living for most but in a way that was good for the community. It created a sense of togetherness and well-being. It provided a venue to share the bounty of the community with all interested parties regardless of their station in life. Almost everyone had their own plot that they cultivated, or forest that they foraged or livestock that they raised and tended to.

Each community had one cobbler, one blacksmith, one of each of the specialties. There was no such thing as exclusivity, it was simply a matter of supply and demand. If the community already had one, it wasn’t likely to need another and so there was rarely competition. If there was competition the last one standing was most certainly the better artisan.  Supply chain distribution wasn’t an issue let alone a concern.  Produce was always fresh, all the time.

A hundred or more years ago the people of the community were not brought together by a “market manager.” There wasn’t an interested third-party involved looking to take a percentage of every transaction in return for the opportunity to offer your wares. That’s something that has come about because of necessity. Don’t get us wrong, we understand that’s the way it now has to be (within reason) but that’s not how it used to be.

We find it refreshing to work with market manager’s who are more interested in the community than they are their own wallet. They have to make a living too, but they don’t put that above the market itself. How do they do that?

By honoring some of the basic principles embodied in the formation of a community market. First, keep it local (if at all possible). Second, maintain a measure of exclusivity. That’s not a strictly held rule mind you, but a concerted effort to bring you one of each or enough variance between two to allow for diversity. Third, promote the market through the community and the community through the market.

If you were to walk into a market that had a half-dozen vendors and the market manager had a booth or booths for the purpose of promoting their own business ventures, can you really call that a community market?

If you were to walk in to a market that had two or three of the same type of vendor (say salsa) with little difference in the product they offered, would you think the market manager more interested in bringing something unique to the community or more interested in collecting the additional booth fees?

How many communities have residents that live there year round? All of them right? Then why is it that in places like Arizona so few communities have year round markets? (typically it’s because most market managers don’t want to be bothered with a market during the heat of summer)

Interestingly most vendors you meet at the markets in Arizona will go up north or out-of-state to offer their goods when the markets are closed in the Phoenix area. Why? Because their bills come like everyone else’s. . . monthly!

A good market manager provides for the community by bringing those vendors together to begin with. A great market manager keeps them their all year round!

So, what can you do to show your appreciation for markets like these? Here are a few suggestions:

If you are a visitor:

Visit regularly or even weekly if at all possible. (Vendors and market managers love to see solid, regular foot traffic as an evidence of community support.)

Try the various foods that are available to sample. Experience new things.

Ask the vendors about their products. (Use your local market as an opportunity to learn about the various things available there. If the vendor can’t tell you much about their product, ask them why not.)

Encourage your friends to come with you to the market on occasion.

 If you are a vendor:

Share something unique with the visitors. (Make their market experience special. Engage them. Educate them. Entertain them. Give them something that makes them want to come back.)

Leave drama at home. (If you don’t like the market, express your concerns to the market manager or discontinue your participation in the market. Don’t incite bad feelings on the part of others – vendors or visitors – that’s not cool!)

Don’t hate on the success of other vendors. (Take a look at what those vendors are doing, at the market and in their off-site marketing. Try encouraging customer engagement through social media and be engaging with your social media.)

Honesty, consistency and integrity will earn you a great reputation as someone people want to do business with.  (Success is not a sprint or a destination.  It’s a marathon and a journey.)

Meat, vegetables and bread are staples – they are commodities. If you bring them, they will buy. Most everything else you find at a farmer’s market can be made at home – they are luxuries. If you bring those types of items, be prepared to help your visitors understand why they should buy from you! If you are a visitor, it’s reasonable to expect that your vendors can provide this level of engagement. A good market manager will look for vendors who will bring this type of interaction to the market – it’s what makes farmer’s markets different from grocery stores.

A good manager will also look to improve their market for the benefit of the community. As we mentioned at the outset, we’ve been part of some good markets and seen some great market managers in the last 18 months. Our favorite? Dan and Jessa Koppenhofer, managers of Gilbert Farmer’s Market. And, we can say with conviction that the best is yet to come. They continue to work to make this market a foodie-centric market, to bring the community the best of the best that the valley has to offer from artisan crafters and purveyors.

In connection with that goal, they are planning a road trip through the lower 48 states this summer to visit every major farmer’s market in this country. They want to see all they can and learn all they can about how their market compares to the others. What can be built on, what can be improved, what might be added and what needs to change. They aren’t taking off to Europe, or sitting poolside for the summer. They keep working like the rest of us, and THAT is what makes a GREAT market manager!

So, the next time you head out to your local farmer’s market, ask yourself, “Is this place special to me?  Can I find ‘salt of the earth’ people here?