Food For Thought: Market Saturation Vs. Sustainability

By Gretchen Morfogen, Culinary Writer

Communities starting up Farmers Markets are all the rage but somewhere in the rush to have an open air market while supporting your local farmer, a sense of propriety and reason must come into play. Having worked as a market master for several area farmers markets, I have the blessed opportunity to know many growers. With that comes the communication of the challenges facing not only the farmers but the small business entrepreneurs that are in the mix at these local markets. In order for these small businesses to thrive the balance of nature (so to speak) is a crucial element in their success.

“Sustainability” (the ability to endure) is the mad phrase of the moment and hopefully once the populous fully understands what it means to operate a business, a community or a farmers market by truly sustainable means, progress will prevail! The ethical consumerism that is required for any methodical sustenance to exist is the cyclic support of the living systems for which we consume. We are on the right track in making this happen but much, much more is necessary before it is fruitfully a part of us.

Our planet, in order to thrive, heal and perpetuate must be treated with the respect and care it deserves. The eco-consciousness of this movement and the growing demand for healthier planetary technologies will merge with our ability to adapt as humans and recognize our survival depends on it. Farmers play a huge roll.

Farmers markets are blanketing many communities and this saturation causes stresses in other ways. The farmers can only spend so much time off the farm. Many communities need more time to establish their markets and procure additional resources before they are sustainable. Right now there is a greater demand for start up markets than there are farmers to participate. “Make the market and they will come” doesn’t always pan out. A community must understand what it means to support a farmer first. The successful markets are ones which have taken the time to educate the market goers, allowing the community to embrace the seasonality, and accept that nature plays the part in whether or not a grower can provide a market with enough resources (agricultural and human) to participate. Also understanding that a farmer is not always a grower but can also be a dairy farmer, cheese maker, chicken producer, pig/cow/sheep rancher, which may seem obvious but comments received from consumers lead me to believe that people are still struggling to comprehend what makes a market and they have formed their own ideas and expectations. Keeping in mind that every community is different and there is no one way to do anything.

Every growing season farmers face challenges: rain, heat, drought, financial, personal, all components affect the lives of these hard working people and their ability to support themselves let alone a community market. Many markets find themselves filling in their booth space with arts, crafts and other small businesses goods in order for the market to appear bountiful due to the sparseness of growers. Absolutely nothing wrong with those dynamics, except I believe they should be considered community markets instead of farmers markets. I also feel that the farm should be represented by a grower or person from the farm that can answer questions about farm operations, agricultural aspects and building the local relationships within that market.

CSA or community supported agriculture is an extremely popular and growing option for people who not only wish to support a grower but be able to reap the successes of the farmer for their own consumption. It allows a farmer to procure capital at the onset of a growing season so they can provide a crop for the CSA shareholders. Whether or not the farmer is able to participate in a community farmers market or not, they can connect with the communities through this method of business.

Looking for ways to support your farming community? Go to www.comharvest.org or www.mda.mo.gov.

Gretchen Morfogen is a St. Louis-based, freelance culinary writer and regular contributor to The Healthy Planet magazine.

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