Farmers’ markets play an integral role in the community. They are an essential tool in linking urban and rural populations. Not only are people getting the opportunity to buy fresh locally grown foods, but it gives them the chance to connect with others in their communities.
Founded in 2001 by Bob Pierson, Farm to City with their slogan, “Real Farmers, Real Food,” has been operating producer-only farmers’ markets throughout the city. At these weekly outdoor markets, farms and food artisans showcase their own locally made products while connecting to the community.
“A lot of the farmers are getting off the farms and coming to the city to man their own little produce stand. There is more money to be made selling things retail and directly to the consumer,” said Pierson.
“The food is fresher, it can be picked the morning of or the day before it comes to market,” said Pierson.
Studies have shown that the fresher produce is the higher nutritional value it has.
Since food is local, the transportation distance is shorter and the CO2 (carbon dioxide) footprint of the food is smaller than food coming from California, Florida or overseas.
Purchasing from local growers strengthens the regional economy and it helps small family farms survive from one generation to the next.
Since the program began in 2001, Farm to City has produced more than $20 million in sales for the participating farmers and food artisans in the region. In 2014 there were a total of 16 markets in operation, with a market open everyday of the week.
Nancy McCann-Foy, has been participating in farmer’s markets throughout the city since 2007. “We are somewhere everyday in the city, and two times a day on Monday’s and Tuesday’s,” she says.
The farmers market also allows for people to come face to face with the people that grow their food and ask them questions about how they grow it. “It’s a wonderful social experience at the farmers market,” said Pierson.
Most farmer’s markets in the Northeast are seasonal because of weather changes. So during the winter months, to keep up with the demand for fresh food, Farm to City created the Winter Harvest in 2001.
Winter Harvest is an online buying club, where members can select from more than 500 food items or products grown or produced in the Philadelphia area and have them delivered to one of their drop-off locations.
One of the most significant benefit of these Farmers’ Markets is that they may help fill in gaps in communities referred to as “food deserts” which lack access to fresh and healthy food.
According to research done by New York University, one in four farmers markets in the US accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) formerly known as food stamps.
“In a lot of neighborhoods, the presence of fresh fruit and vegetables means some bananas at your local Sunoco station,” said John Glyn, the farmer’s market program manager.
Here in Philadelphia, a local program, Philly Food Bucks, was implemented in 2010 to encourage SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase from farmers’ markets throughout the city.
For every $5 a person spends using SNAP at a participating market, they receive a $2 Philly Food Bucks coupon for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Many business owners say they would like to sell fresh fruit and vegetables but there just isn’t any money there. They can’t turn the product around fast enough and so it ends up rotting on store shelves.
So, there is a tendency to lean towards processed foods and shelf stable foods that are high in preservatives and sodium.
“One of the things that the farmers market can do is test the market,” Glyn said. “Set up a farmers markets in a food desert, build up a customer base that gets excited about fresh fruits and vegetables.”
This he hopes will help retail and supermarket owners realize that there is indeed a market out there for fresh food and vegetables, and want to make those items readily available in low income neighborhoods.
By shopping at farmers’ markets you can ensure that local farmers can continue farming for the community.
“Check out your local farmers market, get to know your farmers, enjoy the bounty of the season with them,” said Pierson.
– Text, video, map and graphics by Rochelle Brown.