Higher gas prices and a renewed hunger for locally grown food have wholesale food distributors and farmers anticipating a strong season at the Capital District Farmers Market this year, where the 75th season of the regional food trade hub begins today.
Gerald Decker, the owner of Decker’s Produce Co., said he’s going to spend six days a week for the next seven months at the Menands market, trading locally produced flowers and produce to farm stands, grocery stores and restaurants. He said the prospects of a good growing season have not been dampened by recession concerns in the larger economy.
“In the flower end of the business and the home-grown food end, I think we’re going to do pretty well because people are more interested in buying locally and people are more interested in coming where they can get a better deal,” Decker said.
Some deals will be there for bargain hunters and gardeners at today’s season opener for the market, which features a community garage sale, live music and free coffee, said market General Manager Fred Cole.
“Our shed is 400 feet long and 30 feet across, and this is the first opening day where we’ve been sold out for spaces,” Cole said.
For 75 years, the Capital District Farmers Market has operated as a wholesale food distributors market, serving a large geographic area stretching north to the Adirondacks, east to parts of New England and as far west as Oneonta. The market was originally founded by 530 Capital Region farmers who sought to develop a comprehensive plan for a new regional market to serve the needs of eastern New York. The plan was based on studies made over a 16-year period of the market needs of Albany and the surrounding towns and cities.
The market’s original purpose was providing a means of concentrating buyers and sellers throughout the region in order to provide the largest possible market for locally and non-locally grown products. In the early days, this meant huge gatherings of farmers and wholesale distributors. Today, the numbers of farmers and retailers have dwindled, making for bigger if fewer deals.
Decker said that just in the month of April, his wholesale company generated $30,000 to $40,000 in revenue.
In recent years,, the market, which is run by Capital District Cooperative Inc., has also started holding a retail farmers market on Saturdays from May to October to take advantage of the consumer buzz associated with local produce.
Monday through Friday, farmers hawk their wares to food distributors, like Decker, who then sell to retailers, but on Saturday, they sell direct to consumers.
“I suspect, given the world food situation and the high cost of energy, we’re going to see a lot more people buying plants for their home gardens this year,” Cole said.
Albert Lansing, owner of Lansing’s Farm Market & Greenhouses in Colonie, said he sells his crops, including flowers, herbs, tomatoes and strawberries, both wholesale and retail.
“During the week, I sell wholesale, and then on the weekend, I sell retail,” Lansing said. “We start off with plants [today].
Lansing said the local wholesale distribution market has shrunk over the years.
“We used to sell to a lot of roadside stands, but those people now have set up their own greenhouses and the mom-and-pop flower shops have gone out of business,” he said. “So I’ve looked for new avenues to expand sales, and retail has helped.”
Decker said local consumers have always sought locally grown products, and now larger grocery store chains are looking with greater interest to tap into that market.
“I’ve been back-door delivering to chain stores since I’ve been in business. [But there is a greater emphasis today] because that’s what they think everybody wants. So that’s what they are pushing, guys like [Price Chopper parent corporation] Golub and Hannaford,” Decker said.
Cole said he expects to have more than 1,500 people at today’s opening event. He said part of the increased attendance should be attributed to a $2,500 television advertising campaign the Capital District Cooperative ran throughout the month of April. He said the state Department of Agriculture and Markets helped the marketing campaign with a $625 grant from the Pride of New York program, which is aimed at promoting locally grown agricultural products.
Lansing said he thinks the state of the economy may be the best promotion for the Menands market.
“I think with the fuel prices, people are going to stay home and garden and go back to having backyard picnics. I think this is going to be a good year,” he said.
Categories: Schenectady County