Hopeful about the Future of Urban Farmers' Markets
CityLab, a website operated by The Atlantic magazine, recently published a story under the headline “What's the Future of the Urban Farmers' Market?” The article begins with a very clear summation of the issue:
“Locally sourced food, it seems, is pervasive these days—especially in cities. Once only available at a farmers’ market one morning a week in front of city hall, it’s now on offer at most urban supermarkets, many bodegas and corner stores, on converted buses driven deep into neighborhoods, and even delivered straight to the doorstep.”
We have seen this phenomenon in the communities we serve. In the latter quarter of the twentieth century, as the mainstream food system increased its consolidation and homogenization of food choices, farmers’ markets stood as one of the few remaining retail outlets dedicated to authentic food experiences that reflected local food and farming traditions. As time passed it became clear that millions of consumers were passionate about knowing where their food comes from and how it is grown. Many mainstream retailers responded by developing local food sourcing efforts and actively marketing the local farms from which they would buy.
CityLab is correct that locally grown produce, once a farmers’ market exclusive, is now more pervasive. As an organization dedicated to the success and sustainability of California’s farmers, PCFMA celebrates the increased opportunity for farmers to market their crops locally through multiple outlets such as grocery stores; corner stores and the Freshest Cargo Mobile Farmers’ Market operated by our sister organization, Fresh Approach. We believe that the increased availability of locally grown, farm fresh foods does not negate the need for farmers’ markets.
Farmers’ markets serve small scale and beginning farmers who cannot consistently harvest crops in sufficient quantities to meet the demands of mainstream retailers or institutional buyers. While grocers may highlight a few locally grown items, farmers’ markets offer the promise that every product is locally grown; offering a diversity of locally grown products that no grocery store matches. And farmers’ markets offer a community experience that is impossible to replicate. Where else can you discuss golden beets with the farmer whose boots are coated with the dirt from the field in which those beets were grown?
We recognize that as urban communities change, our farmers’ markets will need to continue to evolve and change as well. We are developing processes to better and more accurately measure the health of our farmers’ markets and to be able to respond more quickly to changing demands. And we are investing in new tools to more effectively communicate with our customers and reach new potential customers.
We are committed to our farmers and the communities we serve for the long term. Should the mainstream food system someday decide that local food was merely a fad that has run its course, PCFMA and our farmers’ markets will continue to bring you the best of California agriculture, direct from California farms.