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Can we improve our Farmer's Markets?

Original post made by Resident 1.0, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Aug 23, 2011

Los Angeles Times food writer Russ Parsons observes that the incredible growth in farmers markets has come ...

... despite what has to be one of the most inefficient business plans ever devised. If you wanted to design a market from scratch, this almost certainly wouldn't be the way you'd do it. Let's see ... it'll be open for only four hours a week. If a customer can't make it, they miss it. Let's just stick the markets wherever we can. And if shoppers can't find a parking spot, they miss it. For farmers, there's the not inconsiderable matter of having to drive hundreds of miles every day to spend hours standing outside, weighing lettuce and making change.


BY TOM LASKAWY
22 AUG 2011 3:42 PM

And it's true. Farmers should farm for a living, not drive. It's for this reason among others that the Union of Concerned Scientists' "Market Forces" report called for investment in regional food infrastructure so that farmers have more sales channels available to them -- whether it's institutional sales to hospitals and schools, "food hubs," or distribution cooperatives.

Indeed, an excellent option for farmers who want to farm more and drive less are groups such as the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative in Pennsylvania, which aggregates produce and meat from multiple small, sustainable farms and sells it to institutions, restaurants, wholesalers, and even at farmers markets. It's still small and local, but every farmer involved doesn't have to spend all day driving and then hawking wares.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! True farmers markets can and should proliferate -- but the fact is that they are a very particular beast and don't on their own represent the "answer" to food system reform. In a healthy food system, there need to be many outlets for fresh produce and humanely, sustainably raised meat. It's even possible that some areas are saturated with true farmers markets, as the New York Times article suggests. What that really means, however, is that demand for fresh, local food is growing fast.

That's excellent news. It also means that we have to get serious about growing more farmers and more infrastructure along with growing more farmers markets.
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