Denine Jackson was tired of buying meat and produce at the supermarket, so she started looking for different food-shopping options.
That’s why she was excited to receive an email blast from a North Buffalo community organization about the opening of the North Buffalo Farmers’ Market.
“Maybe we are going back in time, but I like my food to be locally sourced and to support local vendors,” Jackson said while holding a bag of organic, grass-fed beef. “There’s something good about knowing where your food is coming from.”
Jackson has a lot of company these days. The local-food movement has gained prominence in cities all over the country, and local farmers, bakers, and neighborhood associations are taking note. As a result, farmers’ markets are no longer the purview of just suburban and rural communities, and are increasingly gaining a foothold in cities, including Buffalo. This year alone has seen the debut of at least three open-air markets, in Allentown, South Buffalo and on Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo.
Meghan Burley, a farm business management educator at the Erie County branch of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, attributed the influx of urban farmers’ markets to the popularity of the local movement. You see the mantra for the movement in bumper sticker and refrigerator magnet slogans like “Eat Local” and “Buy Local.”
“Millennials want to know where their food is coming from and want to know their farmers,” she said. Farmers are happy to supply that group, typically found in urban centers, with local produce and meat, she said.
Lately, the farmers – and the shoppers – have plenty of options.
• The North Buffalo Farmers’ Market had its grand opening the evening of June 19 in the parking lot of Holy Spirit Church on Hertel Avenue near Delaware Avenue and is there every Thursday.
• The Allentown Farmers’ Market is also a post-work, evening affair like its North Buffalo counterpart. Running for about a month now, it takes place on Fridays at the intersection of Elmwood Avenue and Virginia and Edward streets.
• June 1 was the opening day of South Buffalo’s market, and 1,500 people made their way to Cazenovia Park for the event that South District Council Member Christopher Scanlon sponsored. Since then, the numbers have evened out to about 600 to 800 visitors a week.
Those three join more-established markets in the city, notably the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers’ Market.
Geri Hens can be found at many markets around the area. Her list now includes the North and South Buffalo ones. At the opening of the North Buffalo market, she sold her organic bee products after a full day at the North Tonawanda market. Many children who accompanied their tired parents to the Hertel Avenue location stopped to ogle her dozen or so options of brightly colored honey sticks.
“Different things work for different communities,” Hens said while naming all the flavors to a particularly enthusiastic four-year-old. “Weekdays tend to be a grocery shopping experience. Weekend markets tend to be more social.”
Hens said she has seen more weekday markets pop up in the last six years than there had been before.
“Once a neighborhood sees what’s going on, they want one,” Hens said of the burgeoning trend.
Sam Scarcello, a South Buffalo Farmers’ Market board member, echoed that sentiment.
“A lot of South Buffalonians have come out because they are looking for one of these events as their own,” he said of that market, the largest of the new crop.
But as with any new enterprise, it remains to be seen if the city markets will grow or maintain their numbers. Smaller markets face the challenge of attracting vendors who are used to making a lot of money during a given day at more established venues like Elmwood-Bidwell, said the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Burley.
“Most farmers coming into the city want to be in Elmwood-Bidwell because they know they can sell there,” she said. “The new markets have to create a similar scene, or they may not succeed.”
This already has happened to at least one urban market. Last summer, residents of Riverside and Black Rock could attend the small Riverside Farmers’ Market in their neighborhood. That is no longer an option, as the Sunday market had trouble attracting vendors and customers, according to Debbie Lombardo, community outreach coordinator at Black Rock-Riverside Neighborhood Housing Services.
Last year was the first year Lombardo organized the market, and despite advertising efforts, it did not take off like she had hoped. She said the market usually had two vendors instead of the 10 or more organizers had hoped to attract. She said she isn’t sure what went wrong, and speculated that it could have been that most vendors were otherwise occupied at other markets on Sundays. She hopes there will be enough force behind the market to entice them to come back next year.
Burley said it comes down to a familiar matter of supply and demand. She said she believes smaller markets are good for those farmers who are just beginning to create a clientele. Farmers who already make money in affluent areas might not want to make the effort to participate in a market that has fewer customers who aren’t willing to pay the same prices.
About two months before South Buffalo’s opening day, Council member Scanlon’s team set up a Facebook page for the market. It quickly received 2,000 “likes,” so they took that as a sign that the interest was there.
“We didn’t know how it would be received. We put it out there to gauge interest,” Scanlon said. “The people in South Buffalo seemed to think it was something they needed.”
Scarcello said some vendors initially were skeptical about joining the South Buffalo market but were encouraged after the first day’s crowds.
“Some told me that it was the best market day they had ever had,” he said.
In North Buffalo, opening day was less stunning. While there were waves of customers at various points during the evening, there was no sustained presence of people at the 11 booths.
Jessica Hefferon, a sales representative from Singer Farms in Appleton, said that it took her about 50 minutes to reach North Buffalo from the farm. Traveling that distance may not be worth it for her, considering the day’s small number of customers.
“I’m not sure we are going to be here every week,” Hefferon said.
Despite the turnout, many North Buffalo residents were happy to see the market in their neighborhood. Sarah Piontkowski, 26, lives near the Buffalo Zoo and usually goes to the Elmwood-Bidwell market.
“This is much closer to me,” she said. “I’m super pumped.”
Most of the vendors and customers at the opening of the North Buffalo Farmers’ Market heard about it from Patricia Banning, the force behind the operation.
Banning said she and her colleagues will continue to learn and grow over their season, which ends on Nov. 6.
“I want this to be a community gathering space,” Banning said. “This can be a place where you slow down and talk to your neighbors.”