When I think about how I want to redefine my food, I think of farmer’s markets. And all the pros and cons that go with them. I think everyone has their own list of reasons why they do or don’t go to farmer’s markets, so I won’t try and create my own list here. Instead, I thought it would be good to talk about how and why farmer’s markets started.
I think a lot of people tend to view farmer’s markets as a newly emerging trend, but they have been around for centuries. “Market Days” would bring farmers and artisans alike to the town center to sell or trade their goods. Farmers brought fresh, in season foods for the people in their communities to eat.
As cultures developed, open air markets began to disappear, but the idea of local food did not. Small local groceries sold both local farm goods and items that traveled long distances like sugar or salt. With the advent of industrial agriculture, farmers could produce mass amounts of food and ship them all over the country, making supermarkets the regular place for foodstuffs. Selling food outside of commercials stores was even outlawed for awhile, and there were tight restrictions on what could be shipped where and how to package food.
Then an excellent peach harvest happened. Farmers in southern California had such a good peach harvest, that they had excess peaches that were rotting in their fields because they couldn’t all be sold in time. After farmers dumped their excess peaches on the state capitol’s lawn, California decided to allow farmers to sell outside of commercial markets. So in 1979, the Gardena farmer’s market began operating in Southern California. Farmer’s markets began to spread with the success of the Gardena market, and soon could be found around California.
Farmer’s markets have grown so much, that in 1994 the US Department of Agriculture reported close to 2000 farmer’s markets around the country. By 2006, that number was over 4000.
While California has played an important role in the growing farmer’s market trend, people all over the country are clamoring and demanding fresh produce. Farmer’s markets have become a staple in most cities and have become a part of the urban lifestyle. They are even spreading to small towns again – like my small hometown in an agricultural area. Its a great feeling to drive past fields and to be able to eat some of what is produced in them.
Farmer’s markets are a great throwback to history, and a great way to slow things down and personalize our food sources. Where’s your local farmer’s market? Why do you go or not go?