|A pop-up community space in Medford|
2. New food business incubators - Farmers markets have a very low barrier to entry. If you make a stellar set of salsas, all you need is a tent, some tables, health permits and the registration fees to start bringing your salsa to market. You don't need to start a marketing campaign to get your item into the grocery stores, and you don't need to plop down thousands to open up a brick-and-mortar facility of your own. A handfull of the vendors at the Medford Farmers Market just started business less than a year ago and view the market as a way to sell their product, but also as a way to get the word out and continue to build their brand from there.
|Copley Square Farmers Market, photo by Atlas Farm|
What's not so good
|A farmers market can't compete with this. |
image from How Stuff Works.
2. Changing the food economy - Direct to consumer sales get a lot of press for decreasing the number of middlemen between farm and plate and increasing the amount of money that goes directly back to the farmer. However, in Massachusetts only 8.6% of the $489 million in agricultural sales came from direct to consumer sales (The totals for the whole US are $297 billion in sales, $1.2 billion of which are direct). One could argue that this means that there should be more market opportunities so that more farms could participate in direct-to-consumer sales, but from an economic standpoint I'm not convinced. Farmers markets take time away from the farmer to do what they're good at - farming, to spend time doing something that they're not as good at - marketing. Add that to the amount of time that it takes to set-up and break-down the market each day (3 hours at Copley for only a 7 hour market day), the time it takes to drive from farm to market, and the additional staff hours surrounding the market stand, its easy to conclude that farmers markets aren't a pinnacle of economic efficiency. In terms of promoting local foods, I like Food Hubs a lot better, and to decrease the amount of farm and staff time CSAs are better. This is all a matter of opinion, of course, and I'd welcome your critique.
3. Diversifying the food movement - I've heard a number of people timidly approach my market stand and mention to their friends that they've avoided farmers markets because they are overwhelming and intimidating. The rush of people, the unusual atmosphere of the locale and the perception that organic and local food is for white, upper-middle class people, my markets can sometime lack the diversity I'd want to see in a truly thriving communal space. Some attempts to appeal to more diverse audiences have been made, such as making traditional crops like calalloo and tsoi sim available, which is definitely a start. I'd like to congratulate both farmers markets for going through the process to be able to accept food stamps, as well. However, farmers markets don't seem to be the point that grabs people to the cause - they are a place for pocketbook activism rather than movement building.
In the end, farmers markets certainly hold a lot of merit, but will not revolutionize the food movement on their own. And no one ever claimed that farmers markets were the be-all-end-all in local food procurement, but its been great to be able to come to these conclusions on my own. If you've got an observation of your own about them, or would like to dispute something above that I said, please do! I'd love to start a healthy dialogue.