top of page
  • Bec Sloan

Stirrings in the Marketplace

By Bec Sloane


Farmers markets are changing the way we scale up.


They cast a brighter light on our local producers in communities seemingly walled off from where agriculture occurs and in homes where good, wholesome food is hard to come by. That spotlight enables them to offer more of their produce and stories, nourishing, educating and inspiring more consumers. These consumers spark conversations that stir up paradigm shifts, cultural integration, policy change and demand. 


The exponential growth in the number of farmers markets cropping up across the United States - from under 2,000 in the 1990s to over 8,600 registered today (USDA) - can be attributed to several factors. One could suggest that among the reasons is consumers’ growing understanding of the associated benefits for producers and communities; our societal response to the COVID-19 pandemic reflected as much, elevating the status of markets and their operators to “essential.” But it is organizational support that directly feeds the public’s understanding of the role farmers markets play in effecting change in our communities, food system, environment and wellbeing.


I recently earned the privilege of joining the remote yet seamless team comprising the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC), a national 501(c)3 organization supporting farmers markets with the triple-bottom-line approach of benefiting farmers, consumers and communities. While celebrated among market operators and values-aligned groups, they are hardly a household name outside of their established network, and the breadth of their work is little known to those not directly impacted by it.


This new perch revealed to me an alternative sense of scale, and while “scaling up” is a term more often employed as an industrial approach, the phrase in this context may also reflect how big-picture change can be implemented by these smaller players, buoyed by peer-to-peer, community and organizational support en route.


A deep dive into the resources, policy work and technical assistance FMC proffers to all who may benefit upends the notion of farmers markets as something niche or trending, and instead as a key player in implementing systemic change. FMC’s program work spans everything from nutrition incentive programs to sharing legal resources. It delves into the thorough incorporation of diversity, equity and inclusion - words that may have lost their luster to some but are integrated in this space at a high level.


That work has materialized in the form of accessible toolkits, action in government and grant-funded initiatives. FMC’s 2023 National Farmers Market Week Toolkit - a plethora of free resources and a roadmap for operators to promote their markets - has generated over 3,000 downloads thus far. Across the country, government proclamations recognized the significance of farmers markets in their regions.


Furthermore, August 6 – 12 was officially designated as “National Farmers Market Week” through a first-ever Congressional Resolution (S. Res. 324), co-sponsored by Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA). The resolution acknowledges markets' vital role in local economies, health and wellness among low-income individuals, increased demand for fresh and locally sourced food, and the bridges built between urban and rural communities, contributing significantly to public understanding of agricultural and sustainable practices.


Yet another critical resource, the Anti-Racist Farmers Market Toolkit, was created in 2022 by Black food systems leaders and intended for market managers to implement more inclusive practices considering Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) members of their communities. The week it was released, the toolkit had over 1,000 downloads: proof of market operators’ interest in this growth area.“[...] The toolkit was never meant to be a stand-alone tool - the process of unlearning and learning racism, prejudices, and bigotry that is normalized in American culture is far too deep and pervasive for a PDF to undo,” stated Nedra Deadwyler and Nino Budabin McQuown in a joint blog post expanding upon the toolkit’s implementation. A Community of Practice (CoP) was held to follow through with market managers’ adoption of the toolkit in a supportive environment. Incorporating CoPs has also been employed in FMC’s policy and advocacy work, data collection and evaluation, and local food system responses to national crises: an illustration of the coalition’s consistency in scaling up their initiatives with intention. 


Among many values-aligned partners, FMC also collaborates with state-wide farmers market organizations who themselves champion impactful messaging: Alaska Farmers Market Association is highlighting the way they experience community and connect with the land, while Vermont’s market vendors and operators are forging deep connections with their communities through responses to natural disasters. Coloradans are celebrating the impacts markets have on food access and sustainability, as Illinois highlights how farmers markets are innovating how we access culturally diverse and healthy foods and how we support small businesses, producers, and local economies. Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association spotlights how farmers markets are leading the way in their state with week-long festivities culminating in a celebration at the Winona Farmers Market to honor that market's 50th anniversary.


Those who have interacted with farmers and market operators in any capacity understand that producing, transporting and selling food doesn’t afford spare time or energy to communicate such themes or implement these big-picture changes - not without the proper support and resources, at least. 


Behind the scenes of farmers market organizations and other such entities are teams of dedicated individuals navigating the nuances of data evaluation, technical feasibility, politics and public interest that spin that mad web that is our food system. They work to illustrate that given the necessary tools and sufficient support, market operators, consumers and the communities they serve can find everyone a seat at the table.


To delve deeper into the vast network of resources, programs and advocacy, visit www.farmersmarketcoalition.org.


Resources & Links



Anti-Racist Farmers Market Toolkit:



Bec Sloane is an Agricultural Research Associate at the Snyder Research and Extension Farm in Central NJ, as well as Communications Manager for the Farmers Market Coalition, and can be reached at bec@farmersmarketcoalition.org

24 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page