5 reflections on farmers markets from Saranac Lake

Juniper Hill's farm stand in Saranac lake just makes you want to shop. Photo: David Sommerstein.

Juniper Hill's farm stand in Saranac lake just makes you want to shop. Photo: David Sommerstein.

It's good to get outside your neighborhood and see how the other half lives. Last weekend after an anniversary night at Liquids and Solids in Lake Placid (yum), Lisa and I happened upon the Saranac Lake Village Farmers Market, operated by the Ausable Valley Grange.

It was the last day the market was going to be outdoors. Most of the summer Adirondackers and leaf peepers were long gone. So it was probably smaller than it is usually is.

IMG_7952All the same, Lisa and I came away really impressed, and convinced other farmers markets have something to learn from this group of growers. Here are five takeaways:

  1. There's something in the water in Keeseville. Fledging Crow, Juniper Hill, Mace Chasm (co-owned by The Dirt's farm journalist, Courtney Grimes-Sutton), North Country Creamery – and soon a brewery – are absolutely killin' it. They're collaborating, pooling labor and product, and working together to make a more attractive offering for consumers. It's the kind of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that young farmers bring to the table. And they'll need it in spades to survive in the ridiculously hard business of farming.
  2. Speaking of Fledging Crow and Juniper Hill, their displays were top notch, rivaling anything you see in Union Square in NYC, one of the nation's biggest farmers markets. Double stands that wrap around with an entrance so it's like walking into a store. Displays that are eye-catching, beautiful, and fun. We loved the broccoli crowns that were placed in the holes of what looked like an old piece of farm equipment. Rare is the stand at the farmers markets I frequent that pay this kind of attention to presenting the produce. Again, this will become more and more important in the 21st century food system.
  3. All that beauty and quality produce comes at a price. The market sure wasn't cheap. Affordability remains an issue throughout the local food IMG_7953movement. Yes, we know industrial commodity food is heavily subsidized by Farm Bill programs. And yes, we know American's expect food to cost next to nothing. But we have the society we have. The local food movement needs to continue to find ways to invite lower income people into the tent while allowing farmers to make a decent living. And that's a very tall order.
  4. My pet pieve: why in heaven's name can't I buy lunch at my local farmers market???? People have 45 minutes to slip out of work mid-day. They can shop at the farmers market…or they can get lunch. Rarely both. (A fine hot dog in Canton is an example of an exception. As are the grilled sandwiches Courtney often sells. I'm sure there are others.) Market managers need to get their growers over the fear of competition and the notion that "there's only so much money out there". Shoppers at farmers markets remain a tiny fraction of the general public. Prepared food will bring more people – and more wallets – to the market.
  5. We loved the Saranac Lake market's orientation. The stands are circled up facing each other, so growers can see one another and shoppers are surrounded by a good market vibe. The Potsdam Saturday market is also like this. At Canton's market, growers are lined up along the street, facing the sidewalk and traffic, not each other. I think that set-up lends to a less-warm ambience.

Every market has its own identity and vibe. And obviously, I *wish* I could get to them all. Maybe next summer, I'll make a complete tour of the North Country's farmers markets.


Kirby Selkirk, also Franklin County's Farm Bureau rep., is lamb-errific (and a regular Dirt reader!) Photo: David Sommerstein


A panorama of the market. Photo: Lisa Lazenby

A panorama of the market. Photo: Lisa Lazenby

So tell me about yours: what's great?  Who's the star grower? What's missing?







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  1. My beef is that the farmer's market closes at 4:30- I leave work at five. I could barely make it there on my lunch, but not if there are lines, or I want to browse. The times I have gone I've bought a lot of the things we don't grow ourselves- but haven't been able to get there for a long timne.

  2. As a market manager, a grower and regular reader of this blog I have a couple of answers for ya.

    There are quite a few barriers to selling prepared foods at markets, and fear of competition is not one of them. Unlike the fresh fruits and veggies and frozen meats sold at farmers markets which are regulated by the Dept of Ag and Markets, food meant for on-site consumption falls under Dept of Health scrutiny. Usually people selling food that is cooked on site need a catering license. Also, I believe that Saranac Lake has additional regulation of vendors on town property.

    You laud the excellence and attention to detail of the growers at the market, yet you want them to sell you their product cheap. These goals are mutually exclusive. According to Bloomberg News, Americans spent 17% of their income on food in 1984; today it is 11%, the lowest percentage in the world. Clearly, if we want farmers to produce quality food we can not ask them to do it for less and less.

    But, you ask, what about those unable to afford that quality? For some, there are programs like Farmers Market Nutrition Program that distribute $4 vouchers to qualifying individuals. But the programs are not well publicized and the return rates are lower than they could be.

    For the rest, I challenge you to do what I have done. When I decided not to buy factory farmed meat, I realized I would pay more per pound. However, I have a chest freezer, so I can buy in bulk. If I buy 100 lbs of meat for the winter, and the difference in price is $2/lb, I am spending an extra $200 dollars per year to buy locally produced, humanely raised beef and pork free of hormones and other dubious inputs, AND support my friends and neighbors. What a bargain!

    Great chart here on the decrease in food prices since 1984: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-02-28/americas-shrinking-grocery-bill

    • Good post Ellen with one exception. ALL meat contains hormones naturally, there's just no way around it.

  3. Ours doesn't close until half an hour before I get out of work- so haven't been able to go in years- only open one day a week, and I can't make it there, browse, and get back to work in half an hour.