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  • Sara Aguilar

Help Farmers’ Markets Protect the Planet


Art by Anusha Goswami

From fresh food accessibility to movements for environmental justice and other conscious efforts to protect the vitality of our planet, we have reached a transformative time in our history where intellectuals and economically-incentivized institutions like the capitalist agricultural industry are not the only ones aware of the growing climate crisis that humanity has been presented with. Due to influxes of information from technological avenues like social media, a re-emergence of environmental activism has gained newfound momentum among users of these various online platforms. With more and more people logging on, a grassroots approach to practicing sustainability has spread that encourages the general public to incorporate eco-friendly habits into their daily lives, thus allowing the average person to actively help combat climate change. One of the said habits can be demonstrated by participating in conscious eating, and — in the case of farmers’ markets — mindful spending.

Considering the theme of mindfulness, a similar idea that invites discussion on the relationship between food and man is presented by James Kerwin, with a look at the classification of quality on produce. He explains that, “The needs of communities who inhabit these places cannot, according to activists, be separated from environmental goals.” Adopting this view, it can be seen that society is not separate from the environment, but rather that the dyad works in tandem within natural space. Therefore, it is important to identify areas where there are food resource disparities, and examine how this reveals the lack of economic or cultural support in certain communities. In an effort to address the root of these branching issues, environmental activist groups and researchers alike have dedicated their attention toward pressuring companies who utilize dirty fossil fuels to switch to eco-conscious forms of energy and sustainable methods to continue running their businesses. In addition to the above, another unique strategy to reduce the effects of climate change is made possible by the transactional experience between local farmers and the surrounding community in the form of farmers’ markets. David Huges, a researcher of agricultural economics at the University of Tennessee, presents field-work findings based on an IMPLAN input-output model that points to farmers’ markets’ positive impact on an area’s financial well-being by creating jobs and driving up local revenue. In examining the farmers’ markets of Iowa, Huges’ research estimated direct sales of $20 million and a total economic impact of $31.5 million, along with the creation of over four-hundred full-time jobs. With this in mind, consumers’ money matters beyond just its inherent numeric value. Farmers markets not only boost local cash flow but also create and maintain job security.

Contrary to mainstream belief, farmers’ markets are not a new and have even been dated back to 17th-century America. So then, how does this old take on distributing produce to the public help the environment?

To further stress the need to support farmers markets, we need to take a look at local farmers themselves, and how their choice to utilize sustainable agricultural practices contributes to tackling climate change. By choosing to obtain groceries from farmers’ markets, you are supporting the person and farm you choose to buy from, but — from a wider perspective — you are also refusing to support the overwhelming amount of non-eco-friendly food companies found in commercial grocery stores. This paradigm is supported by the research of Gerard D’Souza and John Ikerd, whose work is published in the Journal of Agriculture and Applied Economics. Having studied the potential of small farms being linked to long-term sustainable farming practices in communities, Ikerd and D’Souva have found that the land utilized by small farm owners is less susceptible to erosion and being exposed to toxic chemicals or pesticide use — all by virtue of their inherent practices. Although larger farms are argued to be more efficient or mechanically advanced, the management decisions that underlie their operations tend to ignore both short-run and cumulative environmental consequences, making them unsustainable now and in the future. As such, the issues contributing to the climate crisis we’re experiencing are made more alarming by the conflicting sentiments between moral ethics and financial gain within the agriculture business. Consequently, it is crucial to take the systemic method of delivering produce to consumers via farmer’s markets into consideration. Because they are locally grown, most produce is displayed in clean containers that effectively do away with the use of single-use plastic packaging and other materials used in commercial transportation; additionally, such direct methods reduce carbon emissions by taking food hauling trucks out of the equation.

A final advantage of farmers’ markets is the nutritional advantage given to the shoppers that have the opportunity to purchase from them. Farmers’ markets produce the opportunity to readily purchase and incorporate trustworthy, fresh, and often-organic whole foods into one’s diet. Despite this privilege, a study conducted by John M. Polimeni to discover the level of awareness among farmers’ market consumers concluded that considerations of the environment and its impact on food quality and their health were not salient among shoppers. This discovery reveals that the individual shopper isn't consciously aware of the extrinsic benefits their spending has. Of those benefactors are the environment, small farmers, and their local economies — and their own physical health and well-being. This is not a definitive case, however, and there are plenty of health advocates who are well aware of the liberty and freedom that farmers’ markets afford them in achieving their desired lifestyle. It must also be affirmed that, with an emerging focus on plant-based diets, research, and studies now have a growing pool of evidence that explains the wide range of health benefits reaped from eating more plants. The introduction of more whole produce such as leafy greens and fruits into a diet can help prevent or manage health issues like diabetes and coronary artery disease, for example.

The culmination of recent environmental, agricultural, sociological, and economic literature makes it apparent that farmers’ markets are not only places for social activity and buying ingredients — they also represent efforts to progress sustainable farming practices and reduce the effects of climate change. With the immense amount of options to create a balanced diet, the opportunity to personally support small-farm laborers, and the chance to help protect our beautiful planet, environmental advocates highly encourage you to check out your local farmers’ markets — you might just find yourself coming back time and time again.

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