Join me: Grow more local food champions, incubate new economies
Posted On: May 23, 2012
Early every Saturday morning, the Food Ventures Center at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks is abuzz with food and farm entrepreneurs packing up to sell at the Athens Farmers Market. Bakers are bagging and loading fresh bread straight off the cooling racks, livestock farmers are loading up their coolers with pastured meat products, the tea lady is brewing green tea flavored with fresh mint, the salsa guy is stocking up on ice to demo his extensive flavor selection, the herbalist is packing up her botanicals to debut her new product labels, and the pizza folks are slicing sheets of ready-to-serve focaccia with local cheeses, veggies, and even local spelt crust. This is just the short list of the yummy, local food items I and many other get to enjoy at the Athens Farmers Market later that morning.
Many of these local food entrepreneurs have built viable enterprises because they started at markets, learning so much from their direct relationship with customers and other vendors. When the Food Ventures Center (our shared-use kitchen incubator and food hub) opened in 1996, many of the initial tenants were farmers market vendors interested in producing value-added products. Over time, ACEnet’s facility has enjoyed an especially synergistic relationship with farmers markets. Farmers markets drive consumer demand for local foods, allowing new community food enterprises to start and expand, which provides more product diversity at markets, deepening customer loyalty, recycling more local dollars in the community, encouraging more food and farm entrepreneurs to expand, add value, and invest in season extension, in turn preserving more farmland that strengthens rural communities, and on and on and on…the perfect local food cycle.
Economically, farmers markets play a foundational role in the local food value chain. Before the Athens Farmers Market opened 40 years ago, few consumers were thinking about local food. Now the Athens Farmers Market is the jewel in the crown of Appalachia Ohio’s local food economy, with more than 115 vendors and annual sales estimated at over $3 million in 2011. The Athens Farmers Market is also the community crossroads of our region: farmers, food entrepreneurs, families, chefs, institutional buyers, elected officials and advocates regularly exchange the latest news on policy issues, food trends, and market opportunities.
I have been extremely honored to serve on the Board of the Farmers Market Coalition over the past four years. As a community-based economic development professional, I appreciate the tremendous impact farmers markets play in developing local food economies. Like you, this movement makes a daily difference in the quality of my life. Farmers markets create passionate champions for local food and local communities.
Each and every one of us can play a role in celebrating FMC’s sixth birthday on June 6, 2012 by making a financial contribution that enables FMC staff to connect and serve farmers markets across the country. Our support is the only thing that will continue this vital work in providing the peer learning, support resources, and advocacy for farmers and farmers markets. Please continue to play your role as an “eater-owner” of your local food community and support the farmers market movement.
As a special offer during this, week five of FMC’s annual campaign, we are offering a free copy of How to Fix a Leek, an innovative seasonal cookbook by Sandra Garson, to donors pledging $50 or more. Will you join me in making an investment today, so FMC can continue to grow and serve the growing number and needs of farmers markets?
To all of you who have already contributed during this campaign, thank you. Your support makes all the difference.
Director of Programming, Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet)
Board member, Farmers Market Coalition