Sustainable Farmer’s Markets

Farmers Mar

By Jeremy Werner

Should farmer’s markets embrace sustainable practices? Are they even sustainable in their current form? Most of us are now familiar with the idea of Farmers Markets in our communities. They are a great place to find fresh produce and locally made foodstuffs. They offer an opportunity to socialize with friends and vendors building on a valuable sense of community. But, do farmer’s markets proactively seek to promote sustainable concepts?

The trend is picking up with new markets popping up constantly. Some markets do in fact promote sustainable concepts like locally or organically grown. Many and arguably most, however, do not.

While farmers markets are also frequently associated with the concepts of a more sustainable community, very few of them do not incorporate hardly any of the core values of sustainability. The majority do not proactively seek for example to reduce our community’s carbon footprint or ensure sustainable practices for the goods sold in the market. Most cannot even ensure that the produce is even locally or naturally grown. In short, they are not “Sustainable”.

A Sustainable Farmer’s Market not only aims to provide the basics of any local market, but seeks to achieve additional core goals in sustainability such as reducing our community’s carbon footprint. Additional goals include ensuring community partnership in local food production, to educate the local community regarding food security and health. Finally, they serve to reduce our dependence on corporate interests in our food supply.

But, the basic question still asked by most is, “What is Sustainability?” Quite simply, sustainability is providing for the needs of today without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to provide for theirs. The three pillars of a sustainable model are: Profit, People and Environment or what is referred to as the “triple bottom line” (TBL). A Sustainable Farmer’s Market model can make a meaningful contribution to this end.

First, consider profit. Already, locally grown or organically grown food fetches a premium. A dozen industrially produced eggs sells for as little as a dollar while locally raised organic eggs can sell for as much as six dollars a dozen. A growing health conscious public is willing to pay a premium to know how and where their food is produced. These are the concepts at the heart of the organic food (non-GMO) movement. Producing and selling food locally supports local business. A market which supports the sustainable model will attract more and better customers. This is good news for producers, vendors and operators alike.

People, however, make the Triple Bottom Line possible. People are not just buyers and sellers, but educators and aficionados too. A sustainable Farmer’s Market model aims to educate the local community on sustainability issues, most notably food production by making the community production partners.

Markets can offer classes on urban and suburban natural gardening while providing information and materials, on how to grow food, what to grow and when and teach people how to compost their organic waste. This makes people both consumer and producer. Surplus food grown can be off-loaded to the local market to earn the household additional income, perhaps mitigating production costs, not just the grocery bill.

Classes would not just focus on the supply side of the concept, but also on the demand side. Cooking with seasonal and local fresh ingredients is a fast disappearing practice. Local chefs can offer cooking lessons at the market on how to prepare a variety of easy to prepare tasty dishes made from locally grown fresh ingredients.

People can learn the benefits and ease of cooking with fresh locally grown ingredients. As a result, one could assume that more people would be doing so. Benefits include important contributions to better health and living, lower grocery bills and stronger community involvement.

Benefits to the environment are also numerous. More local food production means less dependence on importing it from somewhere else. The global supply chain is one of the world’s most carbon intense economic activities and reduced shipping reduces part of the carbon footprint that “business as usual” food production imposes.

A Sustainable Farmer’s Market advocates naturally, organically and locally produced food. This reduces the amount of pesticides, fossil fuel based fertilizers and chemicals used which are released into the environment wreaking havoc on ecosystems. This has far reaching benefits including reducing dead zones in delta areas and the protection of our “life support systems” like rivers, watersheds and wetlands, forests and estuaries. Less land is needed to be cultivated leaving more for wildlife habitat. Composting organic material combined with recycling efforts greatly reduces pressure on landfills.

A Sustainable Farmer’s Market will ensure a more abundant, diverse and healthy food supply for the local community. Market operators, producers and vendors alike will benefit from better profits.  Markets serve as an engine for education about local sustainability issues. They foster a deeper sense of community and responsibility to each other.

These markets can lead the way to foment urban and sub-urban food production and the excess produce can be sold at the market. This reduces dependency on the high-carbon footprint model of depending on imported food from outside the region, reduces grocery bills and provides modest additional income for participating households. A Sustainable Farmer’s Market is a part of the “global problem, local solution” of how to feed potentially 9 billion people and in a healthier way while promoting local and seasonal food. 

Jeremy Werner holds a Post Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Development from the University of Massachusetts (UMass), Dartmouth and a BBA in Marketing from Schiller International University. He specializes in the applications of Sustainability to our food supply and is a strong advocate for the Sustainable Farmer’s Market model. “Sustainable Farmer’s Markets” was inspired by his course work at UMass and sustainability consulting in this area.


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