After much deliberation, organizers of the Rochester Farmers Market have decided not to return for the 2023 season. The decision was made largely due to a lack of vendor participation and low customer turnout, resulting in lower sales than in years past. With that, the group says they are not dissolving, but rather “hitting the pause button” until a clear plan for a successful return materializes.
Last season, the Rochester Farmers Market started with commitments from 19 vendors for all 20 available spaces. Of those, 84% registered as full-time vendors planning to attend the market for all 16 weeks. Unfortunately, vendor attendance varied weekly, ranging from a low of 9 vendors (only 45%) to a high of 18 vendors.
Vendors offered a variety of justifications for not attending, such as lack of product, health reasons, equipment malfunction, or lack of transportation. In addition, the weather presented challenges. Rain, wind, and high heat and humidity affected multiple market days.
Through individual contact with farmers, organizers determined that of the 19 vendors from 2022, only 5 were interested in participating again in 2023, 4 would consider the option, and 5 do not plan to return. 3 provided no response.
For guidance and advice, the group consulted with similar organizations, like Seacoast Eat Local, which manages several markets in Durham, Dover, Exeter, Portsmouth, Stratham, and Rollinsford. Seacoast Eat Local reported that their markets are also experiencing lower attendance, and therefore a decrease in sales, and inconsistent vendor attendance.
In a last-ditch effort, Farmers Market organizers and City staff met to discuss ways to continue, however, with such a low number of farmers, it was determined that a smaller market would not be enough of a draw to justify the work needed to execute it successfully.
For now, organizers will continue to explore the possibility of restarting the market in 2024. The group remains committed to the mission of “supporting local family farmers and artisans by giving them a viable outlet to sell directly to the consumer, and to enrich the community by creating a safe, clean and fun venue to purchase organic, fresh, nutritious local foods.”