The Value of Farmers Markets

Farmers markets produce vibrant communities along with farm-fresh food

Woman selecting tomatoes at local farm shop.
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At farmers markets, local farmers, growers, and other food producers or vendors come together to sell their products directly to the public.

What You Can Buy at a Farmers Market

Typically, all products sold at a farmers market have been grown, reared, caught, brewed, pickled, canned, baked, dried, smoked or processed by the farmers and local vendors who are selling them.

Farmers markets often feature local fruits and vegetables that are grown naturally or organically, meat from animals that are pasture-fed and raised humanely, handmade cheeses, eggs and poultry from free-range fowl, as well as heirloom produce and heritage breeds of animals and birds.

Some farmers markets also feature non-food products such as fresh flowers, wool products, clothing and toys.

The Benefits of Farmers Markets

As the name implies, a farmers market offers small farmers the chance to market their produce, incubate their businesses, and supplement their income. Increasingly, however, farmers markets are also helping to create robust local economies and more vibrant communities, bringing buyers to long-neglected downtown areas and other traditional retail centers.

You don't have to be a locavore to appreciate a good farmers market. Farmers markets not only offer consumers the opportunity to consume farm-fresh, locally grown food, they also provide the opportunity for producers and consumers to get to know each other on a personal level. 

Farmers markets also facilitate making eco-conscious decisions. We know that some agricultural practices can lead to nutrient pollution or the use of damaging pesticides; farmers markets give us the opportunity to find out how farmers grow our food, and to make consumer decisions consistent with our values.

In addition, the items we buy have not been trucked hundreds or even thousands of miles, nor have they been bred for shelf-life instead of for their taste or nutrient density. 

Michael Pollan, in an essay he wrote for The New York Review of Books, noted the social and cultural influence of farmers markets:

"Farmers’ markets are thriving, more than five thousand strong, and there is a lot more going on in them than the exchange of money for food," Pollan wrote. "Someone is collecting signatures on a petition. Someone else is playing music. Children are everywhere, sampling fresh produce, talking to farmers. Friends and acquaintances stop to chat. One sociologist calculated that people have ten times as many conversations at the farmers’ market than they do in the supermarket. Socially as well as sensually, the farmers’ market offers a remarkably rich and appealing environment. Someone buying food here may be acting not just as a consumer but also as a neighbor, a citizen, a parent, a cook. In many cities and towns, farmers’ markets have taken on (and not for the first time) the function of a lively new public square."

To Find a Farmers Market Near You

Between 1994 and 2013, the number of farmers markets in the United States more than quadrupled. Today, there are more than 8,000 farmers markets operating nationwide. To find the farmers markets near you, see How to Find Your Local Farmers Markets and follow one of the five easy tips. To choose a market when faced with multiple options, read the organization's mission and rules.

An increasing number of markets only allows vendors within a specific radius, and others forbid the resale of produce bought elsewhere. These rules insure you buy truly local food grown by the person who sells them to you.