Farmers Markets are venues where produce and goods are sold directly by the producers to the consumer. Prices are usually set by the producers, and consumers and producers interact in the exchange so there can develop a personal and relationship element in the transaction. Vendors usually include small-scale farmers, specialty food producers, and artisan food craftsmen, such as cheese makers, bakers, and candy makers. Goods frequently include homemade jams and jellies, salsas and barbecue sauces as well as homemade crafts and local arts.
There are numerous varieties and functions of these markets. They can be sponsored by towns, private businesses, community organizations, or individuals as well as by cooperatives of farmers working together. While their purpose is primarily to provide outlets for small, local food producers and for consumers to buy fresh, locally grown food, they also frequently function as community gathering places. Some markets include entertainment, music, and children’s activities as well as cooking demonstrations and educational programs related to farming and food.
Farmers markets can contribute significantly to economic development and to community building. They can also be an excellent way to promote all four pillars of sustainability, promoting environmentally-friendly production methods, adding the human element back into financial transactions, supporting local cultural identities, and bringing together different social groups.
Remember that like everything else, farmers markets involve people, and people will have varying responses to markets. While many customers are enthusiastic about the social relationships that are involved with markets, others find it awkward. They feel obliged to buy something out of friendship rather than out of need or they feel embarrassed to ask about products. Similarly, they might be unable to pay the higher prices often asked at markets, reflecting the actual time and materials it costs to produce real food. But the money transferred at farmers markets goes to much more than simply purchasing a commodity. It is also supporting local producers, families, and your own community.
To view a short documentary video about farmers markets and CSAs produced by the Center for Food and Culture, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rED52iZeaU.