Extension Impact: Emmaus Farmers' Market is Thriving

Posted: September 24, 2014

Penn State Extension in Lehigh County assisted with the initial organization and development of the Emmaus Farmers' Market. The market's story is an example of how Extension educates and empowers community growth.
The community enjoying the Emmaus Farmers’ Market.

The community enjoying the Emmaus Farmers’ Market.

Most people reading this article have heard of the Emmaus Farmers’ Market. Let’s use this well-known, successful community project to illustrate how Extension impacts the communities where it operates.

Well before the Emmaus Farmer’s Market opened in July 2003, an intensive planning and operational effort took place. It all started innocently enough when a Penn State Extension -- Lehigh County educator, a resident of Emmaus, participated in a community visioning activity.

One of the outcomes of this exhaustive day was the concept of starting a community farmers’ market. The small group interested in this project followed through with the idea and started the market we have today.

This initial group included the Main Street manager, two borough council members and the Extension educator. At that time, Extension was the only organization focused on developing these markets and the expertise of the local office was widely acknowledged. Additionally, Extension was recognized as a great conduit for getting information to farmers far and wide. And a group of dedicated, diverse and capable farmers is the key ingredient in a successful market.

Opening day arrived with lots of fanfare and fortunately a huge crowd of enthusiastic consumers who continue to support not only the farmer-vendors of this outstanding market, but also the nearby businesses. As with most businesses, the Emmaus Farmers’ Market has evolved in its 12 years of operation.

Extension is no longer deeply involved in the maintenance and management of this enterprise. Instead, the people directly involved are responsible for the operations and decision making.

Examples of the deep community impact of Extension and lifelong learning include:

  • Our access to safe, nutritious, abundant, local, farm-fresh foods.
  • Enhancing the leadership capacity of farmer-vendors and community members.
  • A growing community social event that brings us together.
  • Associated community development – an e-survey of borough businesses indicates at least a 6 percent increase in net profits due to market-oriented shoppers, and some businesses being open on market day when they were not before.
  • Farmer-vendor training on direct-to-consumer marketing techniques and methods.
  • Lehigh County SEED Farm apprentices having a marketing experience as part of their professional development.
  • Farmers’ market manager training.
  • Farmer net income increase due to greatly increased sales volume.
  • Continued farmer economic success, leading to our community continuing to enjoy the open space and farm culture around us.

The next time you take advantage of the excellent consumer opportunities at the Emmaus Farmers’ Market, take a moment to consider the long-term local impacts of your county Extension connections.