Fueled by consumer interest and grassroots—or arugula-roots– community organization, farmers’ markets have exploded across the country in the last decade. Businesses and government are now noticing consumer excitement, as well as the practical solutions markets provide, and are getting involved to further the movement.
Andy Alexandre, a chef who volunteers at New York City’s GrowNYC Greenmarket, cheerily spreads hot, fresh, peach jam over a sliver of baguette as he surveys his market. Though it does not belong to him in a proprietary sense, he is so involved in it that to call it anything but “his” would be inaccurate. He emphatically, enthusiastically explains its expansion in the last 5 years, saying, “people realize they want food that tastes good, and then they meet the farmers, and the market grows. The momentum makes it into something that is healthy and growing”.
And this is true not just of Alexandre’s urban, privileged market in Manhattan’s Union Square, but of communities all over the country. The Department of Agriculture has recorded a 400% increase in farmers’ markets between 1994 and 2011, and a 17% increase in 2010 alone.
Alexandre is right: consumer momentum is essential to growth and health, not just for one market, but for the creation of new ones. As long-running farmers’ markets, such as the 51 supported by GrowNYC, have gained attention and customers through simple values, they are proving to have much wider-reaching benefits.
The Farm and Food Policy Project posits the appeal of farmers’ markets, CSAs, and other community-based food programs as lying in “fewer ‘food miles’ and fewer associated greenhouse gas emissions; more diversification and sustainable production; less vulnerability of the food supply to widespread contamination, intentional attacks, and disruption from natural catastrophes; better access to fresh produce; more stable farm incomes; and more jobs and wealth retained in the local economy.”
Ever-clearer consumer excitement and proven benefits have recently pulled a wider range of groups– including non-profits, local governments, and local businesses– into sponsoring new markets for their communities. Planning, coordinating, and hosting new farmers’ markets allows such organizations to tap into grassroots enthusiasm, support local communities, and work towards specific environmental and economic goals.
New York state governor Andrew Cuomo has intuited the growing support for farmers’ markets as a “solution through food”, and launched a FreshConnect Farmers’ Market program on August 9th. Services include recruiting farmer vendors, coordinating with local officials and business groups, and providing marketing, nutrition education, community outreach, and funding of up to $15,000 to each of the new markets in Harlem, Niagara Falls, Mount Vernon, Queens, the Bronx, Utica, Sharon Springs, Brooklyn, Nassau County, and Queens.
Cuomo stated in a press release, “These markets help underserved communities by providing fresh produce, nutritional education, and local jobs. The FreshConnect program empowers all New Yorkers to choose healthy, affordable, locally-grown food. This program is a win-win for farmers and consumers”. Cuomo serves his voters, and his image, by presenting a solution directed at improving health, economies, and communities through food.
Businesses have also sponsored farmers’ markets as a way to show their involvement in and commitment to the community they serve. The farmers’ market in Coventry, Connecticut, for example, has almost 40 business sponsors, ranging in size from “Emma’s Closet” to Whole Foods Market.
“A lot of people involved in the market are customers at our store. They solicit our support and so we want to help them, just because we have a community relationship,” says Matt Miner, who is a manager at Highland Park Market, a Coventry’s farmers’ market sponsor.
Governments and businesses appealing to constituents and customers by supporting farmers’ markets shows just how significant environmentalism through food is becoming. No longer a stigmatized counter-culture lifestyle, the farmers’ market is blooming into something mainstream; a fun expression of the values becoming important to the general public.