Farmers markets in New Castle County are open for business again. Five county-run markets started a new season last week.
The Route 9 farmers market, the smallest of five New Castle County-run markets, has begun its first season at the Route 9 Library & Innovation Center.
Michael Begatto coordinates the New Castle County farmers market program. He says since launching the Route 9 market two years ago, the county struggled to attract vendors to its previous locations at Garfield Park and the Bowl-a-rama parking lot across from the new library.
But food assistance programs like WIC have helped the market retain the one farmer that sold there last summer.
“Matter of fact, a great majority of the revenue he was able to generate throughout the season came from WIC vouchers,” said Begatto.
The Route 9 market is adding William Penn High School’s Penn Farm program as a second farm vendor this year.
Begatto hopes the Route 9 Farmers Market’s new library location will attract more vendors, and more customers. He says its opening week already saw a bump in attendance over last season.
Others throughout the county are also setting up shop again - including a new one organized by Old Brandywine Village, Inc. at the Brandywine Mills Plaza in Wilmington. It opens next month.
New Castle County’s Begatto supports new ventures, but worries the county could be nearing a saturation point. He says that’s the trend nationally, evident in the growing competition for USDA farmers market grants.
Sarah Lester of Wilmington’s Cornerstone West Community Development Corporation has managed several farmers markets. She says the primary issue facing Wilmington markets is finding vendors, who might prefer to sell at the urban fringe, where the distance from farm to market is shorter, or who aren’t making a profit selling in the city.
But she’s confident innovation can keep Delaware’s farmers market sector growing.
“That’s the beauty of the model of the farmers market is that they can adapt to kind of what the market is telling us,” she said.
She says examples of innovation can be seen around the state. The Historic Lewes Farmers Market has a matching program for SNAP benefits. The Bellefonte Farmers Market happens monthly rather than weekly. And the new Village Market plans to have a beer garden.
Lester notes that food assistance programs can go a long way in making a farmers markets profitable for vendors.