Photo by Megan Winkler Photography

Farmers’ markets are more than just a fun way to spend your Saturday morning – they’re an essential part of our community, food system, and economy. Don’t get me wrong, just the pure joy of purchasing some fresh sunflowers while munching on hot pierogies is enough to get most of us to the market each week. But in celebration of National Farmers’ Market Week, we’re going to dig deeper than flowers and pierogies. We’re going to get a full understanding and appreciation for why farmers’ markets are so important.

Farmers’ markets are important for many reasons, but today we’re going to hit 4 of the biggest reasons. And for a little extra input, we asked several of our farmers’ market vendors why they think farmers’ markets are so important. Let’s get right into it!

Building a Strong Community

During a trip to the farmers’ market, you will have 15 to 20 interactions versus 1 to 2 interactions at the grocery store. And more than just the numbers, those farmers’ market interactions have far more meaning. Just think about it, when you go to the farmers’ market you will chat with the same farmers week after week. They will get to know your name, your preferences, and might even be so kind as to let you know when they’ll be harvesting your favorites. Is that the case at the grocery store?

Here’s what 2 of our vendors had to say about building a strong community:

“It’s good because you get in direct contact with people, and not only sell them stuff, but you can discuss it with them as well. They learn how you grow stuff, and over the years I’ve gotten to know people on a personal level. It’s nice to come here and meet people in person and hear their stories and explain stuff to them. Farmers’ Markets get you in touch with who really grows your food and it provides a different way of marketing. I enjoy coming here and meeting my friends again.” -Larry Luscheck, Infinite Garden Farm

“We have a lot of customers that we know on a first name basis who have found benefits from using our products. Getting to talk to them and know them makes it a personal interaction. It’s really satisfying to have customers who we’ve seen over the years. As far as the market itself, we have made wonderful friends here – we feel that we have found our tribe. If we aren’t here, we miss the people, we miss the customers, and we miss being out in the meadow on Saturday mornings. It’s part of our lifestyle, and being able to shop and buy things from our friends is great. We have meals where everything is on the table, we know who grew it and where it came from.” -Denise Krall, Turtle Island Natural Soap Co.

Supporting a Sustainable Food System

We frequently talk about the distance food travels to get to the farmers’ market versus the grocery store – that’s because it’s important! In 2021, we calculated that food at our farmers’ market travels 28 miles on average to get to the market. The average distance for food travel across the globe is 1,500 miles.

This will have significant impacts on our environment in the future, but maybe it’s more convincing of an argument if I tell you how it can directly impact your health. Produce have the most nutritional value when they fully ripen on the vine. They also begin to lose nutritional value just 24 short hours after harvest. So, eating seasonally and consuming produce as soon after harvest as you can will allow you to reap all the nutritional benefits. And did you know they also have far more flavor when they’re fresh and in season?

Here’s what 2 of our vendors has to say about seasonality and a sustainable food system:

“Farmers’ markets are great for buying local, fresh, pesticide free produce, just like we have here at front 9 farms.” -Casondra Myers, Front 9 Farm

“There’s always a great opportunity to ask about the product your buying, ask about the apples – we specialize in fruit here at Dillon Fruit Farms, so apples and peaches and berries, so you can ask about the fruit, how you pick it, learn about the seasons that they’re ripe, and we love recipe swaps.” -Katherine Miller, Dillon Fruit Farm

Building a Strong Local Economy 

Another common topic in the world of local food is how the dollar is split when shopping at the farmers’ market versus the grocery store. That dollar spent at the farmers’ market supports your local community while that dollar spent at the grocery store is split many ways and has very minimal impact on your local economy. But let’s take a look at this from a slightly different angle and talk about the number of jobs created per revenue dollar.

A 2016 study found that for every dollar of sales, direct marketers generate twice as much economic activity within the region, as compared to producers who are not involved in direct marketing. The study went on to reveal that for every $1 million in revenue, direct-market farms create almost 32 local jobs whereas larger wholesale growers create only 10.5 jobs.

The saying “vote with your dollars” is so incredibly important here. When you spend those dollars at the farmers’ market, you’re creating job opportunities and a flourishing economy right around you. You’re supporting the continued growth of a strong local food economy.

Here’s what 1 of our vendors had to say about a strong local food economy:

“Hard working people who dedicate their lives to bringing their community and everyone else good healthy food. I grew up in a farming community from a farming family – you’re not going to meet anyone nicer than a farmer. Farmers will always help you out, and they’re always working hard to give everyone else all of the deliciousness, all of the fresh fruit and healthy food that we all need. When you buy from them, you’re supporting a family instead of a chain or corporation. Buying local and buying from a farmers’ market – there is no downside.” -Brandon Krystowski, Erie Shore Seed and Spore

Expanding Food Access & Security

Acceptance of nutrition incentives as farmers’ markets is continuing to grow. Why is this important? This is very important because healthy food builds healthy communities. And don’t just take my work for it, look at the facts.

According to a 2015 study that looked at over 100 scientific articles, data suggested that fruit and vegetable intake is inadequate in many countries and enhancing strategies to promote fruit and vegetable intake are essential to promote health among these populations.

A key piece of what that study suggested is that we need to “enhance strategies to promote fruit and vegetable intake.” That is exactly what we and many other farmers’ markets across the nation are doing. One of our key strategies is accepting SNAP/EBT and offering Produce Perks, which gives individuals on food assistance extra buying power for fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market.

To take this point in a slightly different direction, the pandemic has made us realize how important food security really is for everyone, not just those that can’t afford it. No matter how advanced our transportation methods become, something can come along and cut off the supply chain, forcing us to live off of what is produced in our community.

Here’s what 1 of our vendors has to say about food access and security:

“They bring local produce and local food vendors to people in the area. Especially after this pandemic, people now understand how important local is and farmers’ markets give everyone a venue to buy local.” -Julie Radcliffe, Savory Snackage dba Savoure Kitchen

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