Tag Archives: Farmers Market

Farm Policy Roundup—August 8, 2014

U.S. Department of Agriculture Announces RCPP Projects for Full Proposals

rcppblogThe U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced that 230 projects will be invited to submit full proposals for program funding under the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). American Farmland Trust is leading or supporting 5 projects in multiple states which are eligible for a full proposal.
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Cultivating Community at Arlington Farmers Market

The Arlington Farmers’ Market is led by a grassroots, volunteer-run organization in the small town in northwestern Washington state. They hand-paint sandwich boards with directions to the market, attend city meetings to cultivate a presence in the community, and they look everywhere–even their own kids’ rooms–for books to read at a story time in the park. It’s fitting, then, that the market was started by farmers looking to expand upon their CSA. Mark and Patricia Lovejoy wanted to bring their fresh, local food to the residents of Arlington, so they simply showcased their produce downtown on Saturdays. Other farmers and crafters joined them. Two years ago the market was turned over to sisters Audrey Houston and Samantha Schuller. The Lovejoy organic produce tent still anchors the market, which has since doubled in size and sales and is recognized as a 2012 winner of the America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ competition.

Vegetables at Arlington Farmers Market in Washintgon

Vegetables from farmers Mark and Patricia Lovejoy, owners of Garden Treasures. (Photo: Audrey Houston)

The market is focused on locally grown produce. In fact, most produce is grown within about 25 miles of the market, expect for the stone fruits grown on the other side of the mountains in Eastern Washington. Houston, who serves as the market director, said “the most popular items at the market are the tiny ones–berries.” During peak season, shoppers buy flats full of berries for jams, pies, or to eat by the handful.

On any given Saturday during the market, some 800 people will shop at the 13 or so vendors. More vendors join during berry season, but there’s always a variety of goods for the happy shoppers. Residents build relationships with the growers and many parents say they are glad they have the chance to model a healthy lifestyle to their kids by shopping for vegetables, spending time outside, and getting their kids engaged in story time and the free activities, Houston said.

“And maybe most importantly, it’s a community gathering space,” Houston explained. “There aren’t too many places in our culture these days where you can bump into your fellow residents without paying an entrance fee. If you stand in the middle of the market, you’ll hear neighbors greeting each other, friends grabbing some fruit for a picnic at the park, and a lot of laughter.”

The farmers at the market build the same relationships. These personal relationships drive their businesses and customers love the experience of not just knowing, but liking their farmers, Houston said. “Our farmers are people who’ve chosen lives of honest, hard work, who love experiences more than material goods, and who are willing to give up their summer Saturdays to get downtown and make connections within their community,” she added. The market offers growers a unique opportunity to sell to residents. As most grocery stores in the area only purchase food from large growers, the smaller, local farms can use the market downtown as a chance to expand their customer base and it provides an outlet for sales.

The Arlington Farmers’ Market also shares a healthy relationship with other local markets in the area. None of them are in direction competition. Instead, Houston said they build one another up, “the same way that the farmers at Arlington’s market don’t actually compete.” The markets spread the word to people of the importance of eating real food and they stress the need of growing our own food, Houston said. “The more farmers’ markets there are, the faster that change in public perception can happen.”

That grassroots efforts of organizing the market has paid off with the award of best small farmers market. Houston said it’s helped create a buzz in Arlington and the surrounding communities. Organizers plan to build on this success and add new vendors next year, including meat, dairy, prepared foods, and even more farmers.

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Sulphur Spring Farmers Market Pairs Live Music with Local Food from Local Farms

The Sulphur Springs Farmers Market offers a unique shopping experience in the revitalized downtown area in eastern Texas. Not only can you purchase local produce straight from growers, but you can also do so while listening to live music on a Saturday night. Fresh strawberries, watermelons, pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peaches are ripe in season and area farmers are quick to show off their favorite picks of the week. The market, as it’s known to locals, serves as a gathering point for the community. With strong support from their regular customers, the Sulphur Springs Farmers Market won the American Farmland Trust’s 2012 America’s Favorite Farmers Market contest in the midsize category.

“We are all very excited about the award,” said Shane Shepard, Community Development Director, City of Sulphur Springs. “We felt we would be a winning contender.” But the award verified their hard work and dedication.

Sulphur Springs, Texas Farmers Market video

Watch a video about the Sulphur Springs Farmers Market

Located about an hour east of Dallas, the rural area is peppered with markets. Local farmers often have to pick where to sell their fruits, vegetables, and meats. Organizers at Sulphur Springs saw the opportunity of hosting a market Saturdays from 6 to 10 p.m. as a way to allow vendors to sell at two markets in one day. With live music playing during the warm Texas evenings, it’s not uncommon for the hours to extend into midnight.

“We have communities within 20 to 30 miles–who were also in the competition–but everyone was doing their markets on Saturday morning,” Shephard said. “So we decided to do an evening market instead. Then we encouraged vendors to go ahead and do the other markets. Hopefully it helps the citizens of other towns and also the vendors because they have two chances to sell.”

About four years ago the city started a revitalization project in the downtown district. It was modeled on new urbanism, with narrower streets, and more walking areas. Part of the project was to create shopping neighborhoods full of foot traffic. A downtown farmers market fit perfectly into the new design.

In the first three years, the market was growers only and served as a way to bring fresh food to community members. There are several big agriculture producers in the area, but not as many small farmers. This led the market to shift away from a strict growers-only focus, though this move has indirectly helped the farmers who sell their produce because customers that came for prepared food or artwork also purchase fruits and vegetables.

The market offers one of the only venues in the area that allows residents to buy food straight from growers, so they know what’s in season and what to expect in the coming weeks. Given the rural proximity, residents have to travel quite a distance for healthy food. “This is our way of getting healthy food to consumers,” Shepard said. The Saturday evening market is more than just an opportunity for farmers to sell healthy foods directly to the consumers, it also serves as a promotional tool. One farmer grows delicious strawberries. Shepard said people couldn’t get enough. “People liked it and didn’t want to wait so they found where he was located and they visited him often.”

With an award under their belts, organizers are hoping to build on their momentum and be an even more defining part of the community. Shepard said he’s hoping to partner with the other local markets to create a coalition. “There’s a little competition from the different markets,” he said. “We’re hoping the surrounding towns try to beat us considering how good we did this year.”

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Year-round Local Food Finds at One of America’s Favorite: Winter Garden Farmers Market

The city of Winter Garden, Florida, is so supportive of its local agriculture that it bought and set aside land close to the downtown area specifically for farming and community gardens.  So it makes sense that residents are enthusiastic about the Winter Garden Farmers Market. Set in the charming city center, along brick roads and the pavilion, the market offers residents a chance to interact with local farmers and learn about their food. Patrons are extremely enthusiastic that their votes helped secure the Winter Garden Farmers Market a top spot in the American Farmland Trust’s 2012 America’s Favorite Farmers Market competition.

You can find just about anything at the Winter Garden Farmers Market, from fresh produce, organic meats and eggs, and goods made from locally grown foods. Winter Garden is located just outside Orlando and the climate allows for year-round growing. Florida is renowned for its citrus, so you don’t have to look far at the market to find your favorite variety of oranges, lemons, or tangerines. Fall is one of the best growing seasons for the area, so residents will have an opportunity to enjoy delicious herbs, beets, and even strawberries into the holiday season and beyond.

The market is about four years old. It has moved around to different locations but now has a perfect spot near the pavilion and bike paths, said Shannon Heron, project manager. “The downtown merchants association worked hard to make the old downtown very active and vibrant,” she said. “It has the real great old town feel and it pulls people into the downtown. It’s really an incredible location.”

On any given Saturday at the market you’ll find kids playing in the newly installed splash pad to stay cool, dog owners shopping for pet treats, and families enjoying freshly squeezed juice from local citrus. Patrons are completely loyal to their market and many come early in the morning to get the freshest produce. Musicians frequent the market to entertain shoppers and play games with kids. “It’s a really friendly, open sort of vibe,” Heron said.

The vendors also have a tight community. They help each other out if they are short on staff and they work closely with the downtown merchants. “Our produce guys are so busy,” Heron said. “They all watch out for each other.”

The market is home to a third-generation farmer. Through a partnership with the city, he farms about 10 acres of land owned by the city of Winter Garden. Dana Brown, market manager, said the city plans to set aside another 40 acres for others to farm, as well. The city recently bought about 100 acres, which will be set aside for parks and farmland. Brown said the city planner is a visionary with preserving local farmland and the community is in full support. There is even a community garden for residents to grow on their own plots of land.

“This is a new thing for the community, but they are just going with it,” Brown said. “There isn’t a lot of red tape. The city just said let’s do it right and do it big. They are very progressive.”

One of the local farmers plans to host a corn harvest festival to help celebrate the award from AFT. It will give residents a chance to see where their food is produced but they will also celebrate the fall harvest with tractor rides and a corn maze.

The organizers will continue to come up with interesting ways to promote their local growers and merchants and encourage the community to come out and enjoy the wide assortment of goods and food offered at the market. The goal is to build off the success from winning the America’s Favorite Farmers Market award and continue to encourage residents to support the local farmers.

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In Praise of Farmers Markets

It’s National Farmers Market Week, just in time for everyone to enjoy the bounty of summer’s last fruits and vegetables.

To kick off the week-long celebration, the USDA unveiled the growth of farmers market listed in the National Farmers Market Directory, which now shows that there are now 7,175 farmers markets across the country. With 17 percent more markets than last year, the more than 1,000 new markets represent an unprecedented increase.

Why Celebrate Farmers Markets?

Communities are embracing farmers markets and the mounds of fresh produce and other farm products that they provide locally. (Check out the Top 100 farmers market photos from Real Time Farms for a mouth-watering glimpse of farmers market offerings.) But farmers markets usher forth more than healthy farms, healthy food and healthy communities.

In his proclamation to ring in this year’s National Farmers Market Week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack pointed to a number of key benefits. Farmers markets:

  • Serve as an important outlet for direct farm-to-consumer connections;
  • Provide access to fresh, healthy food, an opportunity that is increasingly being made available for SNAP and other nutrition assistance recipients; and,
  • Help support and develop local and regional food systems.

The growth and support for farmers markets helps keep farmers on the land. Direct farm-to-consumer business helps to provide income opportunities for farmers.

At the same time, the rising interest for local food straight from the farm highlights the urgent need to protect farmland to meet that demand! The USDA National Farmers Market Directory lists the top states for growth and the total number of markets. Texas ranked second in growth from 2010 with a 38 percent increase behind Alaska at 46 percent. However, Texas ranks highest for farmland loss at nearly three million acres (from 1982 to 2007), and has been losing more than 360 acres of farmland per day. Similarly, California, which has the most farmers markets in the directory at 729, ranks second for farmland loss and has been losing more than 135 acres per day.

Shopping at farmers markets is one of the best ways to support farms, farmers and local economies.

American Farmland Trust holds the annual America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest to raise national awareness about the importance of buying fresh food from local farms and saving the farmland where it’s grown. As part of the America’s Favorite Farmers Market contest, we have released a real-time listing of the top 20 markets in the country. Vote for your favorite markets and keep track of how they do!


About the Author: Gretchen Hoffman is Manager of Engagement and Communications at American Farmland Trust.  She can be reached at ghoffman@farmland.org.

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Top Five Favorite Farmers Markets in Your State

We’ve released the state-by-state vote counts revealing the five markets in each state that are leading the America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ competition.

Farmers markets in 49 states and the District of Columbia are competing in the third annual contest for America’s Favorite Farmers Markets that began June 1 and runs throughout the summer.  On August 31, four winning markets—one large, one medium, one small, and one boutique—will receive the title of America’s Favorite Farmers Market for 2011.  For the first time this year, the market in each state with the most votes will also receive a prize.

“This is one of the most exciting moments in the contest,” said American Farmland Trust President Jon Scholl.  “It’s fun to find out which markets are leading in each state.  However, as we’ve seen in previous years, anything can happen between now and August 31 when the online voting closes.”

According to contest rules, farmers market customers can vote for as many participating farmers markets as they choose, but they can only vote for each market once.

The contest is designed to promote the value of farmers markets in communities, and to help shoppers make the connection between fresh local foods and the local farms and farmland that supply them.

“There would be no local food without local farms and farmland,” Scholl added. “People can make a real difference in the economic health of their communities by shopping at farmers markets, participating in CSAs and buying direct from the farm.”

Throughout the contest, we are providing participating markets with tools that help them get out the vote through a variety of mediums such as blogs, widgets and e-mail. Sponsors of the 2011 contest include Epicurious.com, Websticker.com, and Square.

For more information about the America’s Favorite Farmers Markets contest or to vote, visit www.farmland.org/vote.

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San Francisco Airport’s Farm-to-Flight – Green and Local

Bustling processions of anxious travelers packed into security lines at an airport are a far cry from the quiet farm fields of crops arranged neatly in rows. However, at San Francisco International Airport, the renovation of Terminal 2 has taken a big step in showing how these two can bend closer together.

The initiative is the first of its kind in the United States, with the airport terminal exclusively seeking vendors who serve locally sourced, healthy food. To date, three quarters of the food offerings in Terminal 2 are comprised of local fare. Included in the local food corridor is Napa Farms Market, a 5,000-square-foot marketplace featuring products from  Bay Area farms. The crisp and airy Napa Farms Market was designed by the same architects behind the renovation of the Ferry Building Marketplace, a tourist destination and home of the well-known San Francisco farmers market highlighting the wealth of agriculture in the region.

The premiere of a farm-to-flight travel experience is a natural fit in California, the nation’s biggest agricultural producer. Our San Francisco foodshed report, Think Globally, Eat Locally, found that agriculture within the Bay Area alone produces 20 million tons of food annually. It is enough to feed the city and surrounding region and, increasingly. the momentum of the local food movement is drawing attention from public and private institutions seeking to source food locally.

A similar farm-to-flight effort on a smaller scale was launched in February at the Silver Diner at Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall airport. The retro exterior of the neon-lit restaurant has more of a 1950s look than a present-day farm feel, but its burgers and buns are purchased from sustainable, local sources. The shift has seasonal restrictions in the nation’s capital where fresh produce is difficult to find in the surrounding region during the winter months. Still, everything from local milk to bread to eggs fill the menu throughout the year.

These and other initiatives to bring local foods into hubs of international travel seek to offer alternative food choices. In return, they expose visitors—whether stopping in on a short layover or on an extended stay—to unique elements of local culture and history. The newly renovated Terminal 5 at Los Angeles International Airport is planning to bring a version of the farmers market on Third and Fairfax in Los Angeles. Dairy farmer turned oil-tycoon Arthur Fremont Gilmore started the iconic market to help farmers during the Great Depression, and it has been serving the city every since, including such famous patrons as Walt Disney and Lucille Ball.

The budding interest in farm-to-flight options has yet to reach a scale where it truly impacts the economic viability of local farms. Nevertheless, these new opportunities are providing a way for travelers to slow down for a moment, take a bite, and use their purchases to support local farmers while savoring the cornucopia of flavors surrounding them.


About the author: Erica Goodman is the Communications Associate with American Farmland Trust.

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Congratulations King George Farmers Market, Winner: Boutique Category

This is one in a series of posts highlighting the four winners of our summer long America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest.

King George County is the quintessential rural Virginia setting, with about 22,000 residents calling the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers home. The county prides itself on its family-oriented community feel, but without a major downtown setting, local schools often act as meeting centers. Now, thanks to the King George Farmers Market, residents have a place to gather alongside neighbors, shopping for the best local produce from the county’s many family farmers.

The market opened in May 2009 thanks to a spark from grower Elizabeth Bewick.  When it first opened, there were just three vendors. Later it grew to about a dozen producers, and during peak season, the Saturday market boasts up to 14 vendors. When establishing the market, a group of citizen-famers and food lovers decided the King George Farmers Market should only allow growers from within the county.

“When we were starting the market we looked at rules for markets in our area,” explains Market Manager DeLaura Padovan. “We had a lot of discussions on how to define local because we wanted to be a grower and producer market only. In the end, we made it only for those within the county. We decided to start small and add more if needed.”

So far, that concept works as the King George Farmers Market won in the boutique category for this year’s America’s Favorite Farmers Market. “I’m still completely overwhelmed we won this contest,” Padovan says.

Given the relatively small size of the region, the farmers market acts as a gathering center for families and friends. The county boasts tremendous community participation, from the various activities at the King George High School to the local YMCA. The market joined events like a monthly family sing-along, a community appreciation day, and a colonial reenactment led by the local 4H Club, to grow community spirit. The local quilting club also shows its support through a raffle of two quilt patterns featuring different fruits and vegetables. Even students at the King George High School helped spread the word about the American’s Favorite Farmers Market contest through Facebook. It’s easy to see that the farmers market truly represents the community-centered mentality of the residents.

“By and large, most of us don’t live in a neighborhood,” Padovan says. “This gives us the common neighborhood in the county. I think people are here because they want to live in the country.”

Many in the county yearn for self sufficiency. To reach this goal, residents rely on the small network of food growers in the area. Padovan says this network is not just for food safety concerns, but also because it ends up being much more relevant for farmers and residents. “If we can take care of ourselves in this county, we are way better off,” she says.

The county-only restriction provides family farmers with the chance to sell their goods to customers looking for healthy, locally grown options. Like most of the vendors at the market, Padovan and her husband operate a farm on less than an acre. “Just about everyone is on an acre-sized backyard garden,” she explains. “For being so tiny, we have a pretty amazing variety of things we sell.”

If you spend a Saturday at the market, which runs from May through Thanksgiving weekend, you’ll find local beef, fish, chicken and duck eggs, spring plants, herbs, and plenty of vegetables. But it’s not just the food that brings people out to the market. Padovan says one of the missions of the market is to educate through various outreach programs. In addition to classes on raising Shitake mushrooms and canning tomatoes, the market hosted a food film series in the winter and had presenters speak about regional feasibility.

Looking to the future, Padovan says, “One of our missions is to grow more growers, starting with kids in the schools.” Fear of big-box retailers moving into the area makes Padovan and others associated with the farmers market even more eager to teach children about the importance of locally grown food.

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Congratulations Falls Church Farmers Market, Winner: Medium Category

This is one in a series of posts highlighting the four winners of our summer long America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest.

Last winter saw some of the most severe weather in the Washington, D.C. area. A handful of major blizzards literally brought the city and surrounding communities to a halt. Despite the impeding snow storms, the famers market in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of D.C., still drew vendors and customers. But even the popular Saturday market was not immune from the treacherous weather; for the first time in its 25-year history, the market shut down for one weekend.

The Falls Church Farmers Market has a large, faithful base of consumers, drawing about 1,000 visitors during peak season. Many have attended the market for 20 or more years, looking for the best produce, meats and goods from area vendors. It’s a place to meet up with your neighbors, chat about food and get hands-on lessons from local growers.

“I think we have a great client base that is very, very supportive of the market and love coming up to the Falls Church Market and bumping into their neighbors,” says Howard Herman, the general manager of community service for the city. “I look at the market as kind of the fabric of the city, and I think the customers also view it that way. To me, it’s a critically important aspect of the city, and something the citizens feel good about.”

In its early days, the Falls Church Farmers Market struggled with attracting both producers and customers. But it wasn’t just luck that brought prosperity to the market. Herman explains that the market was heavily advertised after its early years, a time that saw only about six producers. The market was originally seasonal, but for the past four years the market shifted to a year-long event, drawing in about 45 vendors during peak season and dropping to 30 in the winter.

Winning a top award in America’s Favorite Farmers Market was a tremendous honor, Herman says. “I love the market. It’s one of those things that is hard to articulate what it means to the city and what it means to me.”

In addition to being general manager of the market, Herman is also a vendor. He sells honey and has always had an interest in farming. He considers the market to be his baby. “I think it’s a tremendous honor,” he says about winning the award. “From my perspective, on behalf of the city, I loved getting the email and was thrilled about it.”

The market saw a shift about 10 years ago when it became more diverse. Herman says the goal of diversifying the market was to make sure vendors were not just selling peaches, apples, tomatoes and corn. Now you can find baked goods, cheese, meats like sausage, beef and poultry, and other vendors there were not originally available at the market.

“It’s a result primarily of us seeking out a more diverse product line,” Herman says. “But I also think it’s recognition that there are farmers who produce or grow things other than fruits and vegetables. There are quite a few beef, pork and lamb producers out there that we weren’t even touching at the market.

The market allows producers from within a 125 mile radius of the city of Falls Church. That means the market is filled with growers and producers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia.

“The more diverse we’ve gotten, the more popular the market has been,” Herman says. “You can do one-stop shopping here. You can get everything here—produce wise—that you can get at any super market, and the fact it’s locally grown produce is a huge plus.”

These local farmers markets help keep family-owned farms in business, Herman believes. While the locally grown food movement may have seemed like a fad 25 years ago when the market first opened, today it’s clear people yearn for food grown by people they can interact with. Farmers can sell directly to the consumer and not have to go directly through a wholesaler.

“I frequently hear from farmers that the local farmers markets have allowed them to stay in business,” Herman says. “I have one (farmer) up in Pennsylvania who says his family would probably be out of the farming industry if it weren’t for the local markets.”

For consumers, the market gives them a chance to talk directly with the farmers who produce their food. You can walk right up to a vendor and ask them about their okra or heirloom tomatoes, and see if they have any recipe ideas.

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What Is a Farmers Market?

Beginning in October 2009, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) assembled a group of their board members to answer the question: What is a farmers market? The FMC Definition Task Force investigated existing markets, their self-proscribed labels and their connection to local farmers to help find an answer, releasing the result this past May. The definition that took shape through their extensive efforts states:

A farmers market operates multiple times per year and is organized for the purpose of facilitating personal connections that create mutual benefits for local farmers, shoppers and communities. To fulfill that objective farmers markets define the term local, regularly communicate that definition to the public, and implement rules/guidelines of operation that ensure that the farmers market consists principally of farms selling directly to the public products that the farms have produced.

Jeff Cole, chair of the Farmers Market Coalition Definition Task Force, answers a few questions about the project and its future implications. The owner and operator of Silvermine Farm in Sutton, Mass., Cole is also the Executive Director of the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets, a position he has held since 2000.

A Conversation with Jeff Cole

Q: How did your process of developing the definition begin and who was involved?

A: It began with our membership asking us what a farmers market might be defined as. At the same time, the FMC board came to understand that federal, state, and local authorities were struggling with defining a farmers market as well. The full board and membership were involved at the outset. After over a year of formal and informal member and board discussion in October of 2009 the board felt there had been enough research and input to assign the work to a task force for dedicated consideration.

Q: The FMC Task Force found that a core value of the farmers market system is to support farms and farmers. As a ninth generation farmer, how do you think this definition will help farmers to enter and stay in direct-marketing local food systems and, in general, support their sustainability? Or, more simply, how do you believe this definition will impact the future of farming?

A: We found that a core value inherent in farmers markets is to support local farms’ and farmers’ entrance into the local food system, as well as to contribute to their sustainability. This is because farmers markets simultaneously serve the needs of shoppers, communities, and farmers. There is no success without doing so and thus sustenance of the system itself and each of its elements- farmer, shopper, and community becomes the core value.

This definition is just the first step in putting in writing some critical societal values. I call it food with a face. It allows farmers and other individuals in our society to align their values, and to use a localized economic system for mutual benefit. In other words, successful farmers markets provide us all with opportunities to help each other thrive. Farmers, most of whom have a primary mission to grow flavorful and nutritious food, need a marketing system that allows them to sell that food in a manner that sustains the farm, the farmer, and all the benefits they provide to society. The future of farming is impacted by reinforcement of a system that serves people and takes power away from corporate giants, placing power back in shoppers’ hands- where it belongs in an economic system such as we have in the U.S.

Q: By focusing on the mission of farmers markets, FMC has established a broad definition to follow. Why was it important to leave the details for the local level?

A: Every farmers market is a unique and inseparable blend of farmer, shopper, and community. Each must be free to establish details of operation that address their unique needs. Yet there are still general principles and basic services that farmers markets must provide to be useful in facilitating mutual sustainability and in bringing control back to individuals in a community. We hope the definition meets those criteria, even if it is not perfect.

Q: An array of interests, including increased political and financial support and the lessening of consumer confusion, drove the research conducted by the Task Force. Why are these considerations particularly poignant at this time?

A: As a society, we have finally re-awoken to the fact that food production, and control of it, is critically important to our personal, social, and economic health. We now generally see the vast ill effects of our past food systems and I think at some level we understand that individual choice and control (versus corporate control) is required to create the healthful checks and balances needed in a complex and thriving society such as we enjoy.  Yet some food corporations have seen the shift in society and have decided to cloud the system by co-opting the term, which goes against a basic tenet of most farmers market systems- clarity and honesty. So at the beginning of this year, I wrote a piece called ‘What’s in a Name?’ for the market beet, FMC’s newsletter, outlining some of the challenges faced by the farmers market sector stemming from recent efforts by retailers to use the ‘farmers market’ term to their advantage.

Q: What were some of the most surprising discoveries made during the process that could impact the sustainability of local food systems? How might the process inform future investigations seeking to adequately represent farmers markets?

A: Most surprising to me was how vastly varied in operational details farmers markets are, and how passionate about their solutions (systems) individual markets are. Second most surprising was how difficult it is to be clear and yet short and simple when communicating a definition. For example, coming from a state where farmers markets are almost universally producer only, I took our phrase “farmers market consists principally of farms selling directly to the public products that the farms have produced” to mean that a farmers market may have other types of vendors in it such as bakers, cheese makers who are not farmers, or even non food producers, not that produce resellers are allowed. But our definition has sparked an interesting and appropriate debate over what that phrase means, could mean, and what values we are really trying to communicate. Hopefully, once the universal values are further established, we will find the correct and simple terms to communicate it clearly.  And maybe that means we embrace diversity among markets by beginning to define different types of farmers markets. However for me there is one clear floor to our system – no farmers, no farmers market.

Q: How might this new definition affect the relationship between market managers and the local farmers?

A: I hope it improves the understanding between farmers and managers about their shared values, and allows them both to do a better job of communicating those values to each other, as well as to their shoppers.  Participants in any farmers market share some core values, so I hope the language we have offered will engender transparency about the areas where there may not be full agreement, so that they can work together towards a shared long-term vision and market sustainability.

Q: What are the next steps with the definition? How do you think this definition can be used in shaping the future of farmers markets in America?

A: Next steps are to continue to establish mutual core values and to refine the definition accordingly. We see the definition not solely as an end unto itself, but an impetus to better understanding within our sector, as well as a pathway to mutual support with the public at large. The best outcome of this process for the future of farmers markets is continued dialogue that brings forth action that allow each farmers market to best serve the needs of its locality, which is the basic recipe for sustainability.

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