Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Importance of Urban Farmers Selling at Urban Farmers' Markets

Now that the farm market season is hopefully upon all of us, I'm going to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart and that is the importance of urban farmers actually selling at urban farmers' markets. I know this sounds like a no-brainer. However, there is a major urban farmer contingent, who thinks and acts otherwise. My friend, Gabe, likened it to one of those rock bands that puts out album after album and never tours.

In this blog, I will discuss how urban farmers' markets affect economic development, local food access, and the basic reasoning as to why some urban farmers ignore urban farm markets. But not in that order. Also to my discredit, this is all my opinion and none of it has been quantified (Sorry, I've been watching way too many X-Files lately, and perhaps is also the reason that I think the City of Cleveland is gunning for my farm).

In the insider world of urban farming, there's a lot of discussion as to how a farmer makes the most sales (and subsequent money) with the least amount of work. It's the classic efficiency scenario that corporations and MBA programs use to rationalize all sorts of stuff. Most of these discussions eventually lean towards restaurant sales being a far superior means of earning money than selling at farmers' markets in the inner city.

And in my experience, this is completely true. Selling a whole cooler of 20 heads of lettuce at $2.50 a head is a pretty awesome feeling. It normally only takes about ten minutes of transaction time, plus gas and driving expense, and it often leads to other sales. In modern capitalism, this approach is heralded.

Let me clarify. I sell to restaurants for the money. I sell at urban farmers' markets for the people. Arguably, the two main tenets for urban farming are economic development and healthy food access. I believe that the practice of urban farmers only selling to restaurants is detrimental for long term economic development and healthy food access for all people. For all people being the key phrase here.

The next statement may shock and offend some people. I think it has been alluded to many times over, but never formally stated. Food should not be about class. However and unfortunately, food is about class.

Let me clarify. I love my restaurant sales. They seriously add-up. But when I make those restaurant sales, I know it's doubtful that any child, let alone an economically disadvantaged one, or even an economically disadvantaged adult will ever eat any of my produce at that restaurant. This is by no means the fault of the restaurants. I feel like they are the very necessary glamorous public relations part of the whole local food scene.

This is why I also sell at an urban farmers' market. You literally have no idea who your clientele will be. I've had city attorneys, lots of single moms, every once in a while, children (especially when I have Mexican Sour Gherkins). The age and racial diversity at Gordon Square Farmer's Market is almost as diverse as Gordon Square itself. The opportunity for the public (especially the economically disadvantaged) to randomly see other members of the public making mostly cash money out of local resources can be inspiring to others in the economic sense.

Seeing is still believing, and that's why being seen at a farmers' market is important. Otherwise, these folks riding the bus are just seeing a farmer work/sweat their crop to no readily seen cash benefit. Which in the words of my mom, "looks like alotta work."

In addition, if as an urban farmer, you want to be supportive of the whole social justice/healthy food access issues, then it is also necessary to sell at urban farmers' markets and food desserts. For most micro-scale farmers, this is the only way to access many of the government/agency food assistance programs. The corollary to that is these urban farmers' markets are the only ways some individuals (with or without assistance) access anything close to fresh produce. Blowing people's minds with a literal rainbow's array of grape tomatoes with the exception of the color blue is an equally great feeling as the $50 restaurant sale.

Farmers' markets have been part of close-knit, interwoven communities since we've stopped hunting and gathering. Middle-eastern medinas and Europe's very artisanal craft food stores are lingering examples of this in modern day. It is something that seems rooted into us. The general camaraderie and technique-sharing, and capitalistic benchmarking are all side effects of farmers' market participation (the same can also be said about sunburns).

Lastly, I've also heard that the want for anonymity is another seemingly valid reason to not sell at urban farmers' markets. To me, this is a completely valid argument as long as it is not inversely negated with incessant Facebook updates.

That's basically it. The picture up top is of my dad and I last father's day weekend at Gordon Square. This week (tomorrow) I will have have soil blocked-beets (they're long and thin), the last garlic scapes, green onions, the last of the speckled like a trout lettuce, Red Russian and Lacinato kale, and my first chard. Food to the people!


  1. I can't believe I never read this when you first published it! Good work.