Early fall is my favorite time to walk through a farmers market in the Northeast: apples and pears share space with the lingering peaches and berries, and the last of the summer produce co-mingles with the first winter squash. The majestic colors and smells of the fall harvest transform city concrete into vibrant community centers where neighbors slow down to share recipes with one another and chat with the farmers whose farms they are supporting.
In addition to the volume and flavor of the fall harvest, these last few weeks have reminded me of why what we do is so important. It seems everywhere I turn the terms ‘local’ and ‘farmer’ are being touted as the greatest thing since sliced bread; just ask the Albertson’s and Safeways of the world, who were recently called on the carpet in the Wall Street Journal. While I make jokes, our integrity is no laughing matter. These values represent and define who we are: small farms building sustainable communities both where they harvest as well as sell their products. Farmers in Washington State interviewed about the ‘grocery store farmers market’ phenomenon seemed dismayed that retail chains “want to attract people and give the illusion that there are all these small farmers there.”
We’ve recently seen the impacts of industrial ‘agriculture’ with the recall of a half a billion eggs. Food is not produced in a factory, and knowing where our food comes from lies at the foundation of our work. So while the Food Safety Modernization Act stalled in the Senate until November, even mass media outlets like CNN and CBS are starting to explain the importance of shopping at farmers markets in the context of this food safety disaster. Michael Pollan was interviewed on both stations, saying,
“I buy farmer’s market eggs…They cost more, but are a better product in every way, including taste and – because they come from small flocks that get to spend time outdoors – are safer as well. You’ll spend 50 cents an egg instead of 13, but this is definitely a case of you get what you pay for.”
Amidst all this, the Farmers Market Coalition is standing with allies in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to urge support for important amendments that would prevent disproportionate burden on small, direct-marketing farms.
Facilitating marketplaces where the food dollars spent go directly to individual producers instead of brokers is core to our mission, and ensuring that all of our neighbors have access to this farm-grown food continues to be our challenge—one that we get closer to accomplishing daily. Every day we see new faces in our markets—people from all backgrounds—who simply want healthiest, freshest food for their families, and take to heart the value of supporting the people and land that produce it.
What’s incredible to me, and why I remain so optimistic about our movement, is that while supermarkets are paying attention to local, so is everyone else. The USDA’s 2010-2015 Strategic Plan now includes performance measurements for farmers markets, and the Food and Nutrition Service, in particular, will be launching an analysis of SNAP and incentive programs at farmers markets this fall, examining why farmers markets choose to participate in FNS programs, and the nature of the interlocking structure and function of umbrella organizations and advocacy groups (see page 4 in the ‘analysis’ link). CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, too, is engaged in researching farmers markets, and incorporating them into their own strategic plan. This is fantastic news, and FMC is proud to be working with these agencies in their efforts. Nevertheless, you can bet that some international agro-industrial firms, wedded to the status quo and sensing a changing tide, are already rallying for a 2012 Farm Bill platform that keeps farmers markets in the ‘small potatoes’ category.
As we learn valuable lessons about our evolving sector through more and more curious current events, we need your support. Celebrating our diversity while combining voices is the only way to affect the meaningful change needed to help farmers markets grow and thrive in the long-term. This fall, as you bite into your favorite local apple variety and think about your own market’s values, we hope we can count your voice among our members. Your membership means a better future for ALL farmers markets.