Farmers markets act as gathering space and local economic engine

Farmers markets are important to local economic development as well as the social and environmental vitality of the community.

Farmers markets are important spaces of connection in your community because customers connect their purchases to an experience and people connect with one another. All of these connections promote the sense of place that is important for individuals to feel anchored in their community. According to Alphonso Morales of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, farmers markets are “sites of informal association in that they bring together disparate groups, exposing them to distinct interactions, renewing community spirit, and reconstituting public spaces by producing fluid places that promote interaction, level social hierarchies, and encourage experimentation.”

Farmers markets can act as an important “third place” or gathering space in your community. These places can cultivate a different kind of connection among people in their community. Managers of farmers markets should consider how their market welcomes people and provides space for neighbors and friends to meet one another.

The access to fresh local produce is becoming more desirable to many consumers because of the ability to meet the farmer who grew it. U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan cited local food as one of the most important trends at all levels in the food industry. The environmental benefits of farmers markets include the reduction in transportation costs and vehicle emissions since food travels fewer miles to get to consumers. Consumers increasingly expect food to be available year round and of high quality outside of the traditional season however, a shift to local and seasonal diets could produce a great deal of local economic benefit.

The impact of farmers markets is important to local and regional economies. Sales at farmers market are increasing. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, in 2007, $1.2 billion was spent at farmers markets up from $551 million in 1997. The Downtown Saginaw Farmers Market reported that in 2011, sales from the Michigan Bridge Card and credit/debit cards have increased more than 13 percent.

In addition to direct sales, farmers markets produce economic spillover effects because money circulates within the region. The Project for Public Spaces created a dynamic model of economic multipliers for markets that accounts for varied population sizes and markets. Using data from the Downtown Saginaw Farmers Market in 2011, including the number and composition of vendors at the market, the spillover from the market was greater than $200,000. That spillover, along with robust seasonal sales, resulted in more than $1.5 million in economic impact for the market in 2011.

Farmers markets also represent anchored capital in the community because they are less likely to relocate and therefore provide stability in the economy. Markets can also act as business incubators because customers are more open to trying new products and because the barriers to entry for new vendors are lower in most farmers markets. Many farmers markets allow daily vending which can allow start-up businesses to test their products in the marketplace.

Markets are anchored in community, connect people with each other and valued commodities, and create opportunities for business. Farmers Markets are an important part of a strong local food system and local economy.