Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans1
The Farmers’ Market, A Meeting Place for Localvores
For centuries, old world countries have embraced the tradition of open-air markets and market days continue to be celebrated weekly events throughout the world. Ancient Greeks called it the agora, or marketplace—a setting that has always been the center of communal activity, providing a way for consumers to connect with the land and community by purchasing local produce directly from farmers.
A weekly visit to your local farmers’ market rewards you with a healthy supply of the freshest, tastiest, most sustainably grown produce—topped off with a lively dose of community interaction.
With the rapidly growing consumer interest in eating locally grown foods, the farmers’ market has never been more popular—over 4,000 are currently active in the U.S. Continuing this age-old tradition plays an essential role in the re-establishment of community values and in forging a renewed connection between the American consumer and the farmer.
By purchasing fresh seasonal produce from your local farmers’ market, you have the opportunity to support a local food system. You give small farmers a direct outlet to sell the food they grow for a fairer price than they would garner from selling to a supermarket. In return, you have access to the freshest locally grown produce and an opportunity to interact on a personal level with the farmers who grow your food. At a farmers’ market you not only benefit from a larger selection of produce to choose from, you generally pay a lower price than you would for similar items from a supermarket’s more meager selection. Farmers set their own prices the markets because there is no middleman taking a share in the transaction, and more of the money from your purchase goes directly into the farmer’s pocket.
Supermarket produce has also traveled as far as 1,500 miles from its place of origin and the transportation costs of this lengthy journey are figured into the selling price. Buying locally grown produce reduces transportation-generated fossil fuels and allows farmers to pick the produce at the peak of its ripeness, flavor, and nutritional value.
What to Expect
When you support small local farms, you contribute to the continuation and growth cycles of sustainable agriculture. Shopping at farmers’ markets doesn’t guarantee that everything is grown 100% organically, but most small farmers are committed to producing healthy food that is sustainably grown. A certificate may be clearly posted at the farmer’s stand stating that his or her produce is certified organic, but a farmer who cannot afford the cost and hassle of the certification process may also grow their produce without chemicals. When you ask questions and build a personal connection with the farmers, you get an insider’s perspective on the growth process that brings the food to your table.
When you shop at a Certified Farmers’ Market (CFM), it’s guaranteed that the produce was grown by the farmers who are selling it. Every farmer who sells at a Certified Farmers’ Market must have a certified producer’s seal from their local Agricultural Commissioner, verifying they have grown the food that they are selling. At a CFM all products that are not produced on a farm must be sold in a non-certified area of the market—these might include artisan crafts or items such as baked goods. Some non-certified items may have been made with ingredients bought from farmers at the market. Many CFMs sell a wide array of products, including humanely-raised meats, farmstead cheeses, free-range eggs, and cut flowers. Some markets feature live entertainment or activities for children. These community hotspots are lively places bustling with activity, where people from a mix of generations and lifestyles gather to fill their sacks with nutritious, tasty produce and to soak up the festive market atmosphere.
Farmers’ Market Programs
Two federal programs, in conjunction with farmers’ markets nationwide, have made shopping at the markets especially accessible for seniors and mothers of young children. Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) provides coupons to low-income seniors for fresh produce purchases at participating farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs. Several SFMNP’s provide seniors with transportation to and from markets or they prearrange for growers to deliver produce directly to residences.
Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), in association with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (more commonly known as WIC), issues eligible WIC participants FMNP coupons to be used in conjunction with additional supplemental foods, healthcare referrals, and nutritional education. Programs like SFMNP and WIC are invaluable resources providing the option of a sustainable lifestyle to members of the community who might otherwise miss out these opportunities due to income restrictions.
These community hotspots are lively places bustling with activity, where people from a mix of generations and lifestyles gather to fill their sacks with nutritious, tasty produce and to soak up the festive market atmosphere.
By encouraging more consumers to participate in the farmers’ market community, these programs also promote the growth and continued expansion of sustainable farming. And the more sustainably managed farms that survive through a direct market approach, the more farms there will be practicing methods that maximize the quality of their produce, while minimizing their impact on the planet.
Article Contributors: Julie Reid