Climate Change and Farmers Markets

      Posted On: April 21, 2021

Earth Day has a way of making us reflect on the environment, climate change, and our personal relationship to the natural world around us. At FMC, we’re taking time to reflect on our work and the role farmers markets play in the mission for sustainable food systems. Farmers markets are the site for innovation for new farmers to find shoppers and for communities to reconnect with local food in the region. Farmers markets are often praised as a key aspect of a sustainable lifestyle, but how exactly does your farmers market fit into our fight against the effects of climate change?  

  • Less Food Miles:
    Eating food from the farmers market means it’s as fresh as can be, sometimes picked as early as that same morning. There is no long-distance shipping, no chemicals to simulate the ripening process and no sitting for weeks in storage. Food in the United States travels an average of 1500 miles to get to your plate. This requires large amounts of natural resources, contributes to pollution and generates trash with excessive packaging. Local farmers transport their food shorter distances and generally grow with methods that minimize impact on the environment.
  • It’s In Season:
    Food at the farmers market comes and goes with the season, and for this reason it is always fresh and delicious. Eating seasonally can help bring back our awareness of the earth, the weather and the turning of the seasons as you anticipate asparagus in the spring, savor ripe tomatoes in summer and bake with winter squash in the fall.
  • Your money stays in your community:
    By purchasing directly from farmers at a farmers market, farm stand or through a CSA program, you are directly contributing to a farmers financial success by taking out a middle man. That face-to-face connection is shown to influence farmers to make more environmentally conscious choices on the farm in a response to consumer preferences. Chatting with your farmer can have direct impacts on how they steward their land and their resiliency in changing markets
  • Flexible Outlets: By providing a space to get to know neighbors and farmers, farmers markets provide space for fostering strong community connections that contribute to community resiliency, strong local food systems, and strength in times of hardship. Due to the flexible nature of market locations, farmers markets also offer disaster response and recovery that are often more nimble and quick than other food outlets.
  • Creating Community Connections: Because farmers markets serve as a hub in many communities, farmers markets play a large role in influencing behavior change around shopping and habits. Farmers markets are a place for shoppers to become better informed about the effects of their purchases on their local systems, farmers, and environment. This space for engaging with a local food system via face-to-face connections has shown to be connected to long term behavior change around shopping values and priorities. This organic engagement with the food system at the market may be one of the most important and influential factors in creating new sustainable habits and local food shoppers for life. 

The Columbia Farmers Market in Columbia, MO won the 2020 Mayors Climate Protection Agreement Awards in the Environmental Stewardship category, which recognizes a business or organization that actively protects the land around them and advocates for sustainable land uses. 

Climate change impacts everything, farmers markets are no exception. 

Farmers markets are part of the solution to climate change, and simultaneously  also under stress due to the increased frequency of extreme weather events. Farmers market operators up and down the west coast cancelled market days due to wildfires and smoke in recent years as wildfires continue to grow in size and frequency. Stormy weather that reached as far north as Washington DC has led to market cancellations throughout the hurricane season in the Northeast. These weather events and their frequency continue to build due to the effects of climate change. Planning for climate change related disasters can be an important part of planning for farmers market organizations. We have a collection of disaster resources for markets and vendors to review before a disaster. This list is also updated during current disasters affecting different parts of the United States. 

Advocacy can also be an important part of long-term disaster resilience planning for your market organization. We’ve seen throughout the pandemic that markets who had already established relationships with their elected officials were more likely to be recognized as essential, and with many disaster recovery programs, it is important that farmers markets make their voices heard so they are included in that relief. 

As the climate crisis worsens farmers markets operators will continue to see the impacts of climate change in direct and worsening ways. While the specifics will look different in different communities, farmers markets will be looked to in order to play a role in mitigating the worst of the impacts on the most vulnerable in our communities. Farmers markets also offer potential for strategies to combat climate change and researchers and policymakers would do well to join with farmers market operators in identifying, researching, and sharing these strategies. We all have a role to play and farmers markets are no exception  

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