In the last five to ten years an industry that had almost entirely disappeared has resurfaced and is revolutionizing the way people in the city think about food, the way farmers think about growing, and hopefully the way we think about public space. Urban farmers’ markets are changing downtowns and as the movement grows city folks’ access to fresh and local produce is continually improving.
There was a time when farmers markets were the focal point of the urban centre. This changed, however, as technologies and transportation improved, fears about cleanliness and hygiene grew and as modernist ideals overshadowed urban mindsets. Instead consumers preferred supermarkets where everything was cheap and most of all convenient. Independent farmers could hardly compete.
The list of reasons why there has been a recent resurgence of urban farmers’ markets is endless. I think the two biggest points to consider are how they improve the individual’s way of life —healthy eating habits, educated food choices, social benefits and lifestyle improvements; and, how they benefit local farmers and the city as a whole —support local growers, improve farming practices, increase downtown consumer activities and fuel local economies.
Knowing where our food comes from, and meeting the farmers who grow it, puts the power to make smart food choices back in our hands. There is a strong social aspect of shopping at the farmers’ market that you miss out on at Loblaws or Safeway. For most of us grocery shopping is a chore. Yet, when I lived in Halifax I thought nothing of spending three hours at the Seaport Market on a Saturday morning leisurely perusing the produce stands and meeting friends for coffee.
Unfortunately, the cost of operating an independent and often organic farm is so great that farmers are forced to charge shoppers exorbitant food prices. This unfairly limits fresh and local food access to those who can afford it. David Roach founder of the West Oakland Farmers Market and modern food renegade is working to change this. He hopes to make locally grown food available and affordable for West Oakland residents. At the same time he uses the market as a space to educate shoppers about the benefits of buying local.
You only have to watch Food Inc. or read one of Michael Pollen’s books to see how terrifying the commercial food system is. Even vegetarians aren’t safe. Soy, next to corn, ironically is the most threatening agricultural crop there is. By buying local we are giving farmers the rights and the means to grow a richer variety of crops. In return, consumers benefit from nutritious produce and healthier lifestyles.
Grow New York City, Eat Local Vancouver, Farmers’ Markets Ontario and the California Farmers’ Market webpages are just a few examples of online resources that help conscious consumers find access to locally grown food.