Cumberland Times-News

March 9, 2013

In short supply

Farmers markets could use more vendors

Cumberland Times-News

— In any business, it is possible to be too successful, and to reach a point where the ability to supply a product or service is exceeded by the demand for it. This might seem like a dream come true for business, but that’s not always the case.

Farmers markets provide one example.

Capital News Service reported last week that farmers markets in Maryland are unable to keep up with the demand for fresh produce because there aren’t enough farmers to supply it.

That’s even true in Allegany County, where farmers markets are one of our most successful institutions.

The demand is there, as anyone who routinely patronizes them and is familiar with the quality of available product can tell you.

Jack Miltenberger, a local farmer who has been participating in our farmers markets for the last 22 years, told Capital News Service that even more vendors are needed. Strawberries are particularly in short supply, he said.

Why is this happening? It’s because small farmers themselves are in short supply.

Small farms once were the mainstay of food supply in America, but their numbers have dwindled. They are being replaced by huge operations that are oriented more toward selling to companies that run supermarkets or supply the national brand food these markets sell.

Farming is hard work. It’s not a 9-to-5 job that gives you weekends and holidays off. Also, it’s expensive to be a farmer.

Maryland Department of Agriculture Assistant Secretary Pat McMillan said agricultural land in the state routinely sells for between $7,000 and $10,000 an acre. Add the cost of purchasing equipment, putting up buildings and buying seed or livestock, and the startup cost can be astronomical. The expense of maintaining the operation can be just as enormous, and profits — when there actually are profits — usually are small.

We would be in sad shape without small farms. Patronizing them whenever possible is the best way to keep them in business. Besides that, theirs is the freshest and tastiest product available.