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why farmer’s markets aren’t the answer for local food

This interesting post brought up some important concerns about sustainability of the local food movement that rarely gets mentioned.

We talked about it at length at the BC Farmer’s Market Association’s AGM last year. Joel Salatin was the keynote speaker and talked a lot about the problematic nature of farmer’s markets for both farmers and consumers.

Personally, although we have a vibrant, thriving community of farmer’s markets here in Vancouver, I don’t go very often. When I do its usually to pick up honey, have a treat from A Bread Affair (best bread ever), and people watch.

I haven’t tried to seriously shop there since the time I bought tomatoes to can and one (not very big bag) set me back FIFTY BUCKS. Yes. You heard me right. Five Zero. Fifty.

How can anyone sustain that?

Joel had two main issues with farmer’s markets. First of all, most markets now require the actual farmers to be the ones selling. In fact, here in Vancouver, the main marketing message for our markets is Meet Your Maker.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s a nice idea. And a practical one in terms of protecting the integrity of the market.

However, how many markets would a farmer have to attend each week in the summer to make a living? Two? Four? Five? More? I don’t know. What I do know, is time at the market is time away from the farm.

Not very conducive to farming.

Second, Joel points out that most folks who shop at farmer’s markets are like me.

Graziers.

How on earth can a farmer expect to make a living selling a handful of beans to each customer? Maybe that’s why 10 pounds of heirloom tomatoes cost me 50 dollars.

What farmers need is folks to come by and buy a BUSHEL of beans. Joel says if you love your farmers, that’s what you’ll do. Let them know ahead of time, tell them you’ll take less-than-beautiful product and make his or her day.

Personally though, I’m still happiest buying directly from farmers. I love our meat pickup days. There is something joyfully ironic about a bunch of families waiting in the parking lot of Costco to meet their farmer to buy beautiful, organic, pastured meats.

I get to shake his hand, ask after his family and most importantly,

say thank you.

4 thoughts on “why farmer’s markets aren’t the answer for local food

  1. Growing Up in the Garden

    Thanks for sharing my post! I always wondered that, how farmers could actually make a living selling at the markets. I always figured that they had other venues for selling their produce. I know some of the larger markets in Los Angeles, and specifically, in Santa Monica sell to local chefs and restaurants who put in their large orders ahead of time.

    To be honest I do not know what Los Angeles county requires of their farmers who come to market. I think I will take a look at that.

    Reply
    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      My pleasure!

      I’m sure most farmers probably do plenty of direct marketing to restaurants and consumers. I bet the market for restaurants in your neck of the woods is substantial – we have a lot less people up here.

      I guess the trouble is, how do they manage that if they have to be at the market all the time?

      The food hub idea Lila linked to here is also underway here in Vancouver. We also had a local boutique grocer here for a while, but that went down in flames due to terrible management, unfortunately.

      Reply

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