Farmer’s markets and sustainability: Part two

How farmer's markets benefit you, your community and the environment.

Whenever I think of the markets where I like to shop, I think of happy people leisurely scoping out the best-looking vegetables for dinner with relaxing (and sometimes live) music in the background. However, being a small farmer is not all sunshine and smiles like you see at your local market once a week. J.L. Kaufman explains the dilemma in his 2004 article Planning for the Local Food System in the United States: “The principal trends in the changes of the food system are that farmers get less of the food dollar, their numbers decrease and large farms are dominating the farming community. Accompanying changes are high pesticide use, less biodiversity in crops, more use of genetically modified organisms and booming factory farms.” By supporting farmers markets with our dollars and time, it can ease some of the strain smaller farmers face when trying to compete with large-scale agriculture.

One thing that often escapes our mind about farmers markets is how logical they are. Purchasing from farmers who have to live within a close driving distance ensures you are keeping money and jobs in the community. The financial benefits from a farmers market extend far past the sales for the farmer. In a 2002 survey by the Project for Public Safety, 60 percent of customers at farmers markets reported visiting other stores nearby the market on the same day; of those customers, 60 percent only visited those extra stores on days they visited the farmers market. This creates a direct and indirect impact from farmer’s market. For example, the Farmers Market Association of Iowa reported an annual $20 million in sales to the economy with an additional $12 million sales created from indirect and direct economic activity from farmer’s markets in the state. Farmers markets attract people to the area where they are held as well as the specific market event, which can bring business into communities and help them grow.

If you take a deeper look, the advantages also reach sustainability’s third pillar. In Stephen Bentley’s compelling study Fighting Global Warming at the Farmers Market, he explains that the environment benefits may benefit the most from increased participation in farmers markets. Produce grown via conventional agriculture travels on average fifty times further than the produce you can purchase at the farmers market. This has major implications for greenhouse gas emissions, fuel usage, pollution and water usage. He also found that the average total carbon emissions from local farm markets were roughly 119 grams compared to imported agriculture which emitted 11,887 grams of CO2. That is nearly 100 times more greenhouse gas emitted from imports, which contribute to global climate change. Shopping locally has potential to improve human health as well as the health of our planet. Further yet, because the farms attending markets are smaller, they have more appropriate and sustainable habits in agriculture like using less water, less biotechnology (pesticides, herbicides, GMOs, etc.) and diversifying crops to keep the soil fertile. Simply, farmers markets create a healthy, thriving and sustainable community. Make sure you take advantage of the numerous markets in Michigan this summer!

Read Part one: What sustainability means and how it relates to shopping at the farmers market