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Turning Farmers’ Market

June 28, 2010

Throughout my travels this summer, I have been exposed to new and various sources of information about and coverage of farmers’ market. Just today I read an article that suggests the increased attendance and popularity of farmers’ markets is causing more and more markets to spring up across (larger) urban areas and has become “one indicator of the increasing interest residents have in buying more locally grown fruits and vegetables.” True. But is it safe and fair to say that an increase in attendance demonstrates a direct correlation to the philosophy of those new consumers?

One of the producers I met in Chattanooga, Tennessee touted the large number of producers waiting for a stall inside the “regions largest authentic outdoor market” – because it is a covered, open air building. We began discussing our status as Clemson alumni and she mentioned the market in Greenville, SC and how it was uninterested in growing – or producers in that area were not flocking to it as they had done so in Chattanooga. If growth is the measure of a market’s worth and impact upon its consumer population attendance, then is the farmers’ market becoming anything more than a glorified specialty foods supermarket?

And for those attending markets on Saturday mornings, sipping lattes from the coffee guy and eating crepes or breakfast burritos and meandering the narrow pathways not purchasing anything other than breakfast, what is their impact upon the market? I’m finding fewer folks purchasing the local produce in favor of the specially prepared foods. Can it be assumed that by getting them there that at some point they will end up becoming more impactful consumers?

What are your thoughts? Do you go to the market as a social event? as a source to purchase local foods and produce? both?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Katie F. permalink
    June 28, 2010 8:29 am

    Hey Adam,

    I’ll bite! I’ve been following your farmers’ market project with interest. I’ve spent the last two years working as a reporter at a small newspaper in Vermont, a state that boasts of the most farmers’ markets per capita of any state in the country. My favorite “beat” here at the newspaper has been writing about agriculture, in large part because I love speaking with farmers about their lives and work. That carries over onto market days; when I go to the market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, I know almost every farmer working a stall.

    In the big scheme of things, my purchases are relatively token. This weekend, I bought a loaf of bread from my favorite baker; cheese from a neighbor and goat farmer; and vegetables from two farmers. All in all, it boiled down to something like $16 worth of groceries — maybe 10 percent, give or take, of what my small household spends on groceries every week. In the big scheme of things, is that really very different than buying a latte and a burrito?

    Your question hinges on the premise that a visitor to a farmers’ market needs to purchase the wares to have an “impact.” I love the market because it is about so much more than the food. Yes, the beets and radishes right now are beautiful at my market. The goat cheese is to-die-for. The growing season is finally picking up speed in Vermont, to my delight. But I’m lucky to have a great natural foods co-op, and I do try to make a habit of buying as much local food there as I can. Even before I’d struck up relationships with the farm community in my region, I loved visiting the market because it was a chance to pet a stranger’s dog, to delight in some toddler dancing frenetically to the folk band, to make a few small purchases but mostly to click in, for an hour or two, to the life of my community.

    Maybe it’s a touchy feel-y argument rather than one driven by economics, or nutrition, or ideology about food; certainly, if my farmer-friends can’t make a living selling their produce, the social aspect of the market would dissolve entirely. But I’m thrilled to hear that you’re seeing more visitors to markets along your travels. Today, a latte. Next week, zucchini? And whatever their purchase, isn’t there tremendous value in creating a space and time for communities to come together?

    Re-reading this now, it’s clear Vermont has turned me into a total hippy-dippy freak. Enjoy your trip (and consider swinging through my fair state’s markets soon!),
    Katie

  2. Tyler Eaton permalink
    June 28, 2010 10:36 am

    I personally go to the farmers markets around my home town for the local produce. I think the produce that you can purchase there is better not only in flavor, but also in quality. When purchasing produce from specialty foods supermarkets you can never be sure about the quality, or even when it was picked. While buying from local markets, you can speak directly with the grower about when it was picked, what techniques and chemicals(if any) where used in the growing process. I have also noticed at the local markets that I currently go to, that the growers will often times help you with your own growing problems. They have always had plenty of helpful tips for me. I think these farmers markets are a great thing, and hope to see them expand their reach even further into society.

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