In honor of National Farmers Market Week the newest piece in the 31 Days of Urban Agriculture series depicts…a farmers market.
So why is a farmers market “more fun than the grocery store?”
Unlike most big supermarkets, farmers markets naturally build communities. Ever since there have been cities and trade people have gathered in open-air markets to hang their shingles and sell their wares. They didn’t only do this because market stalls were cheaper and more mobile than having one’s own shop. That part is true, but it’s not the whole story.
Meet and greet and eat
Urban open air markets have traditionally also had a “festival day” association, since farmers and artisans would come in after harvest or the curing of goods to sell them in time for celebrations, with the market day itself being a kind of festivity.
Maybe it’s just a little bit the legacy of those more festive occasions that give farmers markets today the feel of doing something special. Or maybe after nearly a century of industrialized society turning every product into its corporate counterpart — with food largely becoming notional food as low in nutrition as it is on taste — that today we long for not only real, fresh, food raised near us but also we want it to come from people we can meet and chat with.
Reviving local economies
Farmers markets aren’t always the most efficient for farmers themselves — anything that takes them out of the fields and barns and into a booth can cost valuable production time. But with the help of farm apprentices along with new services that help farmers share transportation to market, attending the farmers market will remain a vital way for farmers to cut out the middle-man and sell directly to consumers, thus keeping more of each dollar spent on food.
Markets work for both growers and eaters, as shown by the rapid growth in markets around the country over the last few years. According to the USDA in 1994 there were about 1,755 listed farmers and public markets in the United States. By 2013 they list that number as 8,144!
Market Umbrella did a study that shows the tremendous impact on local economies this makes. Testing several market sizes they found the following boon to localities:
- Annual Economic Impact on Vendors: $52,000–$40,594,000 per market
- Annual Economic Impact on Nearby Businesses: $19,900–$15,765,700 per market
- Annual Economic Impact on the Community: $72,000–$56,360,000 per market
Farmers markets also offer an easy way for new entrepreneurs to test the market and possibly scale up to larger local businesses. And markets have also proven to be a place where people in rehabilitative programs — ex-offenders, at-risk youth, and single parents living in poverty — can become growers and sellers, learning and showcasing new skills as they rebuild their lives.
Food and fun
As a citizen, I love all that. But as a consumer, I just like shopping at farmers markets. It’s fun!
I like running into my friends. I also like smelling the fresh food and flowers, grabbing a bite from someone doing prepared food and then loading up my reusable bags with meat, eggs, cheese, wine, fruit, berries, and veggies. And as an artist, I really like markets that include agriculturally-based artisan crafts and local art. It gives me an easy way to take home something beautiful while supporting the work of my fellow artists and crafters.
My latest piece celebrates all the wonder of farmers markets, drawing inspiration from a photo from 2008 in the New York Times that looked at farmers markets in small cities. I hope you enjoy it!
— Lindsay Curren, 31 Days of Urban Agriculture