It’s not surprising that Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Central Market is a popular place where people meet for social get togethers–Lancaster county’s local economy is heavily food-oriented. What is noteworthy is just how well Lancaster Central Market uses online tools for promotion. They use Twitter, Facebook and they have an excellent website.
The Lancaster Central Market is the oldest continually running farmers’ market in the United States. It was started over 280 years ago and the current building is 120 years old. There are families at the Central Market who have operated their booth, as a family, for over a hundred years. Lancaster County has a strong local economy built on agriculture. It is a rare U.S. county that still boasts many, many flourishing small family farms – that’s Lancaster. Lancaster County is the most productive agricultural county in the U.S. that is not irrigated.
Take Newer Markets To School
Alright, so Lancaster, PA has its farming bonafides…what can that do for other local economies and other farmers’ markets? Well, as it turns out, quite a bit. If you study the Lancaster Central Market’s website and Facebook page, you’ll find all kinds of ideas that could help promote farmers’ markets elsewhere.
For example, along the top menu the “About Us” tab leads a viewer to a list of links that lead to five attached pages. Each of those pages is interesting and worth a visit. Most farmers’ market websites just slam everything they have to say about themselves onto a single page and let it go at that – that’s a mistake. There’s this whole discovery thing that goes on when you use sub-pages that are linked to the “About” page. I suggest you check out “Central Market Media.”
On the media page you’ll find two time-lapse videos that feature the market. One of the time-lapse videos (the one on the bottom) reveals a day at the market in about two minutes- from market set up in the early morning to lights out in the late afternoon.
Oddly this little video tells a whole lot about the life of the Central Market. Because it’s in time-lapse, everything is sped up: people swarm into the isles and vendors race around behind their counters. The video is shot from above (possibly from the market managers office window) and it makes the whole day seem real.
You get an idea how much time is spent in set up, when the market begins to slow down in the early afternoon, and how the booths shut down at closing. Any farmers‘ market could use this type of photography to tell their story on their website. It’s meaningful because it combines visual information that would be boring if it was only done with words. I mean it, go take a look.
Worth – A Thousand Words
I’ve seen other farmers’ markets do contests of various types. Some do food competitions, some do raffles and some do silent auctions – auctioning off vendor services, like a baking class or a flower arrangement session. The Lancaster Central Market has a photo contest that was done in 2010. It lists the winners in several categories and it shows a video of the market and some of the wining angles for the photos.
A photo contest is pretty easy to run and doesn’t demand any free services or goods from vendors – which vendors appreciate. A photo contest also brings people to the market that might not have bothered otherwise; that’s a plus if you can convert a few of those artists into regulars at the market. The winning pictures can be placed on the walls of a local coffee shop or at the library. Those photographs then become publicity for the farmers’ market.
The Lancaster Central Market also uses a local art school to do some of their publicity materials. The young artists get a legitimate client in their portfolio and the market gets art materials for free or at low cost. It’s another win-win arrangement that any farmers’ market could use to their advantage.
A local economy has to have a legitimate reason why it is superior to a non-local economy. If there isn’t a compelling reason why people should make the effort to patronize local businesses, those purchasing customers will turn to the lowest cost and most convenient solution every time. Big box stores and national franchises specialize in low cost and convenience. It’s difficult to compete against them – big boxes are based on economies of scale.
Food is a foundational link in many local economies. People find the taste and nutrition of locally grown food much better than non-local food and they like to have contact with the farmers who grow that food. The two most common attacks against non-local stores and franchises are against 1) the quality of their products and services and 2) lack of connection to a business owner who knows the unique circumstances of the local region.
Farmers’ markets are an important part of revitalizing local economies. People take a lot of pride in local cuisine and unique local eating habits. It’s this local pride and identification with local food that supports farmers’ markets and restaurants and helps make them especially significant in the buy local movement.
It’s an emotional attachment of the public to local vendors that can make such a difference in how well local businesses fare. If there are lessons to be learned from a long established farmers’ market, like Lancaster’s Central Market, then I hope they are used successfully in other places to grow those local economies. Photo contests are fun, good websites are appreciated and support of local young artists is inspirational: If you’re a market manager or know a market manager, take note.