The local food movement is driven by a desire for transparency and authenticity within the food system. Customers want fresh, wholesome ingredients, grown in ways that support rather than damage their local economy and environment. So, it’s no surprise that despite the countless ways one can now buy local food—from grocery stores, to drive-through windows, to tapping a smartphone—consumers are still making the effort to head to the farmers market.
You can’t beat buying a peach straight from the hand that grew it. When farmers don’t have to worry about shipping or warehousing their fresh produce, they can select for qualities like exceptional flavor or nutrition. Interested in learning more about how that peach was grown? Wondering the best way to store it? Ask the farmer directly. Farmers markets are phenomenal educational sites because shoppers wanting to learn more about local agriculture or even how to prepare the food they just purchased can do so through a friendly conversation with the man or woman who grew the food.
In addition to fresh, local food, markets offer one of the only places where people from all backgrounds, lifestyles, and income levels interact. They serve as an all-too-rare bridge between rural and urban communities, places where city people still ask how the crop is looking this year, and country people always know what’s going on “in town.” In places where bustling main streets or urban communities have turned quiet or fallen on hard times, farmers markets breathe fresh, new life and create a space where people can meet and enjoy an afternoon with friends and neighbors. It’s no wonder that the number of farmers markets nationwide has nearly doubled over the past decade.
With fewer middlemen and low overhead, more young and beginning farmers are using farmers markets to enter into agriculture and test new products. The most recent Agriculture Census backs this up: 43 percent of farmers selling at farmers markets have farmed less than 10 years—twice the national rates for all American farmers. This is reassuring news considering the gloomy statistic that nearly four times as many U.S. farmers are over the age of 65 as there are under 35.
When local farmers profit, local economies reap the benefits as well. A recent study of the Sacramento region conducted by a team of economists at the University of California Davis discovered that “for every dollar of sales, direct marketers are generating twice as much economic activity within the region, as compared to producers who are not involved in direct marketing.” The study also reveals good news for the job market—for every $1 million in revenue, direct-market farmers create almost 32 local jobs in comparison to only 10.5 created by wholesale growers.
The Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) is a member-based organization that offers many of its resources online for free at farmersmarketcoalition.org. Members receive regular updates on promotional programs like the Power of Produce (POP) Club, the Free SNAP EBT Equipment Program, and FMC’s Market and Vendor Insurance Program, and benefit from belonging to an active, nationwide network of like-minded individuals working to improve the local food system.
While FMC believes it does a pretty good job of providing support for market managers and local farmers, they really rely on you—the customers. Your dedication to making a weekly market trip is what motivates the managers and farmers. Alice White, a farmer from Bluebird Meadows Farm in North Carolina, said it best: “We provide sustenance for our customers, our community, and they in turn provide the same for us.” See you at the market!