We applaud the explosive proliferation of farmers markets in the USA. In 1994, there were approximately 1,755 farmers markets in the United States. In 2006 their numbers have more than doubled — to more than 4,385. More than 3 million consumers shop and more than 60,000 farmers sell at these markets annually. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that these markets generate approximately $1 billion in consumer spending each year.
Somewhere on the way to the 21st century, these ancient mechanisms swung back into favor. From diverse quarters, new leaders have emerged to take the risks to bring these institutions back to life. If you shop, sell, or live near one of these farmers markets, you’ll know what we mean: They’re neither red state, nor blue; urban, nor rural. Instead, due to their magnificent simplicity, they enable disparate groups to coalesce and knock down the silos that keep folks from one another.
We are driven by three complimentary goals. We call it our triple bottom line. Throughout the USA, farmers markets are achieving these goals. Some are doing it better than others. While we too are dazzled by the bigger markets which assemble hundreds of vendors and thousands of shoppers, size is not our only measure of success. Sometimes, it is the smaller farmers market operating in a challenging neighborhood that achieves this triple bottom line.
What does success look like? Farmers earn fair prices for the fruits of their labor by selling directly to consumers. Consumers gain access to healthy, fresh, local produce. And communities? They regain a figurative “town square” back to families, foot traffic and all of the happy and healthy outcomes from animating public space.
Are farmers markets succeeding? Yes, it’s exciting. The reinvention of this tradition has come from so many varied places: Farming communities have taken risks and joined hands with Main Street advocates, “slow” foodies, environmentalists, chefs, new immigrants, and so forth. The very diversity of who has come to invent and at times reinvent farmers markets is a sign of health and progress. This growth has come about despite the massive trends to centralize food production and distribution, despite the obesity epidemic in the USA, and despite the fact that no single funding mechanism exists to spurn their development.
Together, we are the social entrepreneurs who are growing new institutions that serve farmers, consumers, and communities.