The Riverwalk Farmer's Market in Milford enjoyed a banner 20th anniversary season this summer.
Sure, you can pick up fruit and vegetables at the Riverwalk Farmers Market.
But the market has grown into a weekly social gathering place, where people get together on Saturdays throughout the summer. They catch up while listening to live entertainment and sampling local fare.
That, said Lee Nelson, executive director of Downtown Milford Inc., is what separates this market from the rest.
Voters in the annual Farmers Market Celebration rankings compiled by the American Farmland Trust agreed – the Riverwalk Farmers Market was selected Best Market in the State and placed 34th in the nation, based on the number of vendors, attendance by shoppers and sales. They were up 30 percent this year.
It turned out to be quite a 20th anniversary for the market, which is organized and promoted by DMI.
“I think there are a couple of things that stand out about it, especially the variety and the size of the market,” Nelson said. “We average between 28 to 30 vendors per session, so we have a lot of variety there, and probably 70 to 80 percent of that is produce – with things that are organic as well as regular produce. Then, about 20 to 30 percent of the vendors sell quality arts and crafts.”
An average 382 shoppers attended the market weekly this year, compared to 317 last year, a 21 percent increase. Weekly sales averaged $6,617 this year compared to $5,343 last year, an increase of 24 percent.
The only down note was the canceled season-ending celebration Oct. 3, due to the nor’easter that hit the region.
“We make a point of trying to make it a community center,” Nelson said. “People come down to the market every Saturday and get a chance to see each other and catch up on things. That’s what makes it different.
“It just helps give them a sense of community and we try to make it interesting as a place with music, live entertainment, and different tastings of various products.”
American Farmland Trust is a Washington-based organization that promotes farming and preserving farmland.
Susan Sink, AFT vice president of development and external relations, said local markets such as the one in Milford not only provide healthy, fresh products, but they help the local economy.
“Farmers markets are critical for new and beginning farmers,” Sink said. “Next generation farmers selling directly to consumers at farmers markets have nearly a 10 percent greater chance of staying in business than those selling goods through traditional retail. And when family farmers thrive – our community, economy and families thrive.”
American Farmland Trust also rated markets in five categories, including: People’s Choice (Milford at 39th nationally), Focus on Farmers (37th), Healthy Food for All (39th), Pillar of the Community (37th) and Champion for the Environment (38th).
The Delaware Department of Agriculture notes there were 23 farmers markets operating in the state this season. The 2014 market season posted a record $2.6 million in sales, double that of five years ago. This year’s final figures have not been released.
And while the season-ending celebration at the Riverwalk Farmers Market might have been washed out, there is one more opportunity to check it out this year. There will be a Fall Market on Nov. 21 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“That will be focusing on the fall fruits, veggies and Thanksgiving-type things,” Nelson said. “It should be fun.”