When is it not a farmers’ market? (Editorial)

by | Aug 9, 2019

Advertising has long had its “fudge factor.”
We’ve come to accept, maybe even take for granted, a certain amount of truth-stretching coming out of the marketing budgets of big companies.
The fast food cheeseburger in the restaurant never quite mirrors how you see it in the commercial. The sneakers don’t make you jump higher; the sports drink doesn’t make you turn pro.
But when a company calls itself or its product something it is not, a line is crossed.
That’s the case, alleges a farmer’s complaint, with a recently-opened grocery store, Sprouts Farmers Market, in Harford County.
Using the farmers’ market term in its name, says June Jones, part of the county’s Jones Family Farm, is misleading and offensive to farmers who sell food they grow at true farmers markets.
“Very simply, customers believe and trust that when they go to a destination called a farmers’ market, that they are giving their money to the actual producers of their food without any middle man,” Jones wrote in her complaint to the Maryland Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. “In a more complex sense, customers who respond positively to the phrase ‘farmers’ market’ have a sense of the substantive difference between a farmer-customer transaction and a grocery store purchase.”
In the complaint, Jones called for the store to drop “Farmers Market” from its name.
This particular case is working toward voluntary mediation but it also speaks to the broader issue of grocery chains cashing in on the cache of integrity and good will customers find in farmers’ markets, buying products and interacting with actual farmers.
On its website, Sprouts Farmers Market defines “local” as within the same state as the store or 500 miles.
It claims to be “inspired by farmers’ markets,” which sounds just like a movie that proclaims to be “inspired by true events.”
Close, perhaps, but not quite the real thing.
Sprouts isn’t the only one.
Illinois-based specialty food retailer Fresh Thyme Farmers Market has 75 stores spread across the Midwest and now three stores in western Pennsylvania.
Marketing campaigns like ShopRite’s “Wicked Fresh Farm Stand” and Giant’s “Farm to Neighbor” signage are other examples that either push the envelope on marketing in order to give the impression of fresh and local products.
“There’s a marketing push right now and it’s effective,” Jones said. “It’s the aesthetic they want. They want to feel good about what they’re buying.”
And it doesn’t stop at grocery stores.
Ben Feldman, interim executive director of the national Farmers Market Coalition said the “farmers’ market” term has been spotted on a skincare line of products.
Countless housing developments using “Farm” or “Farms” in their name have sprouted, as the subdivisions lure homebuyers with the idea of a farm without the work or risk or running one.
Easement programs protect farmland, crop insurance protects farm revenue and conservation practices protect the soil.
More stringent protection of the names and terms small-scale farmers have created to remain profitable appear to be needed now, too.
Otherwise, in more areas sooner or later, the idea of a farm may be all that remains.

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