September 19, 2011

Farmers’ Markets: Measuring Impact and Reach

Ann Carroll

Ann Carroll

Doctoral Fellow

Center for a Livable Future

The JFX farmers' market, Baltimore, Md.

Also contributing to this post is Anne Palmer, MAIA, director of the Eating for the Future program.

Last Sunday, September 11, was a momentous anniversary and solemn occasion. And yet, we were comforted to see how food bridges cultural divides, and how the pursuit of fresh food and the celebration of a farmers’ market can bring together so many diverse people.

As part of a study, we were counting customers at the Waverly and JFX farmers’ markets, here in Baltimore. Our goal is to determine just how many people visit the markets. In coming weeks, we’ll be counting visitors to the markets and interviewing a selection of those customers to help analyze the markets’ impact and economic reach. Baltimore is one of three cities selected for testing using a methodology developed by New Orleans–based Market Umbrella, thanks to funding from the Surdna Foundation.

Wielding our hand counters, we posted ourselves at the five entrances of the JFX market.  As we admired the quality, diversity and variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as herbs, spices, flowers, and savored the smells of foods being prepared, I (Ann) found myself wishing that the produce at my own beloved Alexandria market was as extensive and varied.

According to the vendors, it was  a slow day at the farmer’s markets—slow, but far from boring. The market attracts people from  all over the Baltimore region. Customers included Ravens fans resplendent in their attire, those returning from worship, as well as the young, old, pierced or preppy on foot, wheel and walkers preparing to shop. Their common goal: the search of fresh, locally grown food.


One Comment

  1. Farmers markets are great in many ways, but they are not a solution for most farmers, as there aren’t nearly enough customers, (even more in the midwest and west!), the marketing costs are huge (ie. compared to bulk farm sales to people with freezers, if you could find enough customers), and farm prices are often too low (as Family Farm Defenders has argued). I sell into Cedar Rapids Iowa. They now have a much larger farmers market once per month, but only 4 meat stands. But reaching out half way toward neighboring cities (Waterloo, Iowa City, Des Moines, Dubuque, Davenport), there are thousands of farmers. Farmers who go to market often go to several of these cities, so costs are even higher. It’s a huge job to replace current farm sales. Is local food going to give farmers an alternative to the many sales barns and grain elevators surrounding Cedar Rapids? Again, it’s great, and a great drama and form of city education, but a tiny solution overall for us here. Globally, can customers living on $1 per day create the needed wealth to overcome decades of below cost US farm commodity exports? We need to convince Republicans (and Democrats since 2002) to stop supporting agribusiness farm commodity buyers, who won policies where the US, the dominant exporter by far, lost money on these exports for a quarter century. Call your Republican Congressman today and insist on US profits, not more subsidization of foreign buyers. That will also help local healthy food as CAFOs don’t get our grain below fair trade levels.

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