New England Farmers Facing Fuel Cost Challenges

Genevieve Stillman and her husband, Glenn, say they grow just about everything — from tomatoes to peppers to melons — on their New Braintree farm, Stillman’s. But it’s getting tougher to keep up that variety.

“We have four greenhouses for our tomatoes, and this year just the extra heating oil for the winter cost an additional $3,500,” she said.

The bigger question is how much it’s going to cost to get her goods to the 17 farmers markets Stillman’s relies on for 95 percent of its retail sales. On a given day, she has three trucks running to markets across eastern Massachusetts, burning hundreds of gallons of diesel at close to $5 a gallon.

“Definitely the cost of fuel is hurting us,” she said.

Summer and fresh produce are inextricably linked in New England thanks to the blossoming farmers market industry, but that bond is being strained by skyrocketing diesel costs and limited ability to raise prices. And some market organizers are concerned that farmers may be tapped out.

The Federation of Massachusetts Farmers’ Markets, a nonprofit organization of local farmers and market organizers, has watched the number of markets in the state grow to 167 today from 34 two decades ago. David Cole, executive director for the FMFM, said the vast majority are opening, but there are a handful that may not.

The farmers market at Boston’s South Station was shuttered this year because of a lack of funding from the Boston Public Markets Association to pay for police details at loading times. Other markets say finding farmers was more difficult, as farms are less likely to double-book.

“As I was making my calls, some said, ‘Oh, I’d like to come to the market, but I’m already going to one,’ or they already have a farm stand,” said Carolyn Starrett of Sustainable Winchester, host of the Winchester farmers market. “It’s getting a little stretched thin.”

Farmers point to skyrocketing diesel and heating fuel prices as the main pinch as market season begins.

At Hutchins Farm in Concord, John Bemis has seen his fuel costs rise 50 percent over last year to about 15 percent of his operating budget. To cover the costs, the farm would like to raise prices on its produce for the first time in a few years, about 10 percent to 15 percent, “but we’re not sure our customers would support that,” Bemis said.

The rest of the story is at BizJournals.com

I’m surprised that the consumers at the Farmer’s Markets may not be willing to pay an extra 10 to 15% to the vegetable and fruit producers to cover the increased cost of their fuel. I thought that was one of the most liberal and “green” areas in the country. After all, consuming locally-produced food is one of the “greenest” things a city dweller can do.

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