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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

July 12, 1999

Freshness, fun drawing people to farmers' markets, study says

People are flocking to Ontario's farmers' markets for the fresh produce and familiar vendors, buying more than $500 million in products annually, a new study by University of Guelph researchers reveals.

When jobs and other factors are added, the total economic impact of farmers' markets exceeds $1.5 billion a year in Ontario, according to the first-ever province-wide study of farmers' markets. Ontario's original farmers' market was established in 1780 in Kingston.

"There has definitely been a rebirth of farmers' markets in the 1990s, led by consumer need for more personal shopping experiences," said Prof. Harry Cummings, School of Rural Planning and Development, who headed the research project. "An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people shop at Ontario farmers' markets each year. It represents a return to the importance of quality of life, as opposed to doing what is most convenient."

The study, supported by Farmers' Markets Ontario and the Canada Agricultural Adaptation Council, included more than 4,600 personal interviews with customers at 19 of 127 markets listed in Ontario's farmers' markets directory. Researchers selected a variety of markets: seasonal and year-round, north and south, rural and urban, big and small, old and new. Vendors, market managers and area business owners were also interviewed. The 19 participating markets were in Brantford, Burlington, Cambridge, Campbellford, Carp, Cobourg, Fort Frances, Flesherton, Hamilton, Lindsay, Milton, Ottawa (2) , Pembroke, St. Mary's, Streetsville, Sudbury, Tillsonburg and Timmins. Individual studies on each market were also conducted.

What draws people to farmers' markets? "Absolutely, the No. 1 reason is fresh produce, there is no question about it," Cummings said. Nearly all respondents said fresh produce was the main reason they shopped at markets. About 80 per cent of people buy vegetables and about 55 per cent purchase fruit. Other popular items include baked goods, honey and syrup, plants and flowers, and craft items.

But buying from friendly, familiar vendors and meeting friends and community members was rated nearly as highly. "There is a strong sentiment regarding the social importance of the market as a place for the community to interact. Markets reinforce a sense of community identity," said Robert Chorney, Executive Director of Farmers' Markets Ontario.

Indeed, nearly 90 per cent of respondents said they shopped at markets to support local growers, with about 70 per cent saying they purchase products from the same vendors each visit. About 64 per cent indicated they shopped at the same market for more than five years. "Both customers and vendors commented at length on the special relationships that have formed between the two groups over the years," Cummings added. "Their interaction is often underscored by lively conversation." Most people shop at farmers' markets about four times a month, spending an average of $20 per visit, the study said. The typical customer is female, and 70 per cent are age 45 or older.

Farmers' markets have significant economic impact on their local communities, the study said. About 24,000 people are directly employed in preparing and selling the goods found in farmers' markets, and many nearby businesses said the presence of the market stimulates additional sales. The study estimates that every dollar spent in farmers' markets generates another two dollars throughout the province.

Contacts: Prof. Harry Cummings, School of Rural Planning and Development (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3637; Robert Chorney, Farmers' Markets Ontario, (800) 387-3276

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3338

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