Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Connections and the Perfect Farmer's Market

One of the great pleasures of summer is the opportunity to explore the rich treasures of the farmer’s market. Market day and local farmer’s markets have been central to communities large and small around the world for generations. These markets provide income and support for local farmers and artisans while simultaneously providing the freshest produce and food products to the community. The past few years have provided the opportunity to explore a wider and more diverse selection of local and regional farmer’s markets, and I am continually struck by the widely varied experiences of each, and I am led to ponder the factors that make up the best farmer’s markets. While the “Big Picture” elements are vitally important (income going directly to support local farmer’s and producers, healthy organic produce, supporting the perpetuation of rare and heirloom varieties, humanely treated livestock, etc.) it seems that what makes one market experience great and one mediocre or perhaps infuriating is all about connection – connections to the food and to the community.

Beyond the physical items to be found at each farmer’s market it is the connections that these markets provide that make all the difference. In a world increasing dominated by fast food restaurants, shrink-wrapped, and highly processed foods, we have become further and further detached from the sources of our food and frighteningly detached from the food itself. The farmer’s market provides the opportunity to become reconnected with our food, to meet the growers, farmers, ranchers and artisans – hold the food, smell it, sample it, discuss it and understand its peculiarities, seasonality, flavor profiles.

In addition to the wonderful food in most farmer’s markets, there is a truly profound community connection to be found in many of the best of these markets. Market days have always been as much a social event as a shopping trip. Friends, neighbors, community leaders and social butterflies mingle amongst the vendors. The best farmer’s markets understand this community aspect and do everything in their power to promote it and nourish it. These markets offer live music, offer space and support to local artists, they bring in a wide variety of local bakeries, cafes and restaurants to provide additional food stuffs with emphasis given to ethnic diversity. And the best farmer’s markets are places where one can linger, talk, look and of course eat. Too many markets are crammed into spaces much too small, crowds of visitors are funneled into one narrow space between two rows of vendors with no space or ability to stop, much less really look at the food and perhaps talk about it with the grower. Far too many markets are placed in uninviting, uncomfortable parking lots with no space or thought given to those who might wish to simply linger and enjoy the outing, the food, the music, the art and the community. Farmer’s markets, their organizers and the community in general are much better served by markets which are open, comfortable and inviting. With the growing popularity of these weekly markets and the obvious restrictions of the urban environment this can be a difficult type of market to create. The most successful markets have dealt with these and other issues by utilizing community green space and parks. Like the markets themselves, parks have always been a gathering place for communities – the connection seems obvious. Parks allow for greater space, wider lanes of foot traffic for crowds of excited visitors, increased areas for music, arts and crafts. And perhaps most importantly the green space, the physical grass, provides a much more comfortable and inviting environment and allows one to sit down with friend and family and enjoy the great weather, the great food and the much needed sense of belonging to a positive, safe and engaged community.
What makes the perfect Farmer's Market for you?

1 comment:

Andy said...

I think that a great farmer's market is one where good event planning and good vendors meet. You touched on some good planning points in this post and hopefully some folks will take it to heart.

Seating as you mentioned, not only for those who want it, but for those who need it, is a big thing that's often overlooked and undervalued. I think that a true test of a venue would be to see how easy it is for someone using a walker.