July 29, 2021
Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post authored by Ben Feldman, Executive Director of the Farmers Market Coalition, an National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition member, in honor of the 22nd annual National Farmers Market Week, August 1-7th, 2021.
For over two decades, National Farmers Market Week (NFMW) has been a time of celebration for everyone who supports farmers markets. Declared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the weeklong event always lands on the first full week of August, and highlights the important role farmers markets play in the nation’s local food system. Farmers markets in towns big and small, from coast to coast. work hard to host special events, contests, activities, and more. It’s fun, it’s festive, and it’s a chance to really celebrate all farmers markets do for their communities.
National Farmers Market Week is not just an opportunity to celebrate the myriad benefits farmers markets offer, but also a wonderful opportunity to build and cement relationships with elected officials and decision makers. As NSAC members know, if you wait until you are in the midst of a crisis to meet with your government representative, your chances of success are much lower than if you have an already established rapport.
One of the best examples of this comes from Minnesota, where in 2019 the Minnesota Farmers Market Association took National Farmers Market Week and ran with it. They had zucchini races, they had market managers on television morning shows, and they held a corn shucking competition with their Governor, Tim Walz, and state Agricultural Commissioner, Thom Peterson. Good times were had by all!
The importance of including those officials in National Farmers Market week in 2019 would become apparent just a few months later as the COVID pandemic hit. As soon as the reality of the situation became clear, the MFMA Executive Director, Kathy Zeaman was on the phone with the Minnesota Agricultural Commissioner and as a result, farmers markets in Minnesota were appropriately recognized as essential businesses from day one, valued for their role in safely distributing food at a time when retail supply chains were struggling, and had some of the best, clearest guidance among markets nationwide.
This is not to say that Minnesota farmers market operators didn’t face very real challenges of operating markets during a global pandemic but because of the relationships built back during that corn shucking contest, markets were able to focus on overcoming those challenges and running their markets without the added hurdle of needing to lobby to be classified as and essential business.
Of course, this comes as no surprise to those of us here at the Farmers Market Coalition — a national organization dedicated to strengthening farmers markets — as well as the farmers market operators we represent.
Farmers markets have always been essential. They keep more money circulating in local economies by providing shoppers with an opportunity to buy directly from small, local business and independent farmers and vendors, many of whom practice sustainable farming methods that protect our planet’s water, soil, and air. They increase access to fresh, nutritious food, particularly in communities that lack grocery stores and other food retail outlets, and are a place where friends, family, and neighbors can come to visit with one another, learn about food and agriculture, or just relax and have fun.
And as we have most recently experienced, farmers markets prioritize the health and safety of our communities. As challenging as it has been, farmers markets have risen to the occasion to provide a necessary sense of unity and stability at a time we need it most. In addition to COVID-19 precautions, many market leaders have also taken action to improve equity at their markets. It’s important to acknowledge farmers markets have not always reflected their local communities or provided a space where everyone can feel welcome. Together, market operators and community organizers are paving the way to make farmers markets safe, inviting, and accessible for all.
NFMW offers a wonderful opportunity for farmers markets to celebrate their hard work and emphasize the need to support farmers markets throughout the year. This support can come from those consistent customers that are at the heart of farmers markets, but it can also come from raising awareness of farmers markets with media and elected officials. While interest in local food continues to grow nationwide, the increased costs and time required to keep these essential food retail outlets in operation, especially throughout the pandemic, have been major challenges for markets everywhere.
If there’s ever been a moment to elevate and support farmers markets, now is the time. The national Farmers Market Coalition supports farmers markets through resource development, technical support, advocacy and promotion. During National Farmers Market Week we work to make sure that farmers markets and the vibrant communities that they support have everything they need to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year. The Farmers Market Coalition provides a toolkit for organizations across the country to use to promote National Farmers Market Week and engage their communities in supporting farmers markets and local businesses. The toolkit includes advocacy resources, including templates for proclamations in local areas and invitations for farmers market organizations to invite elected officials to their markets during National Farmers Market Week to join in the celebrations!
We believe that farmers market organizations can be agents for systemic change and market operators should view themselves as community organizers in their communities. Farmers markets are a place for community connection and continue to provide a place for community members to feel empowered to come together around shared values. We are thrilled to celebrate everything that farmers market operators have accomplished in the past year and we look forward to working with markets across the country to continue to grow as welcoming spaces for all, and continue to work with their local policymakers as a core part of resilient local food systems.