|Green Bexar Farm at the Pearl Farmers Market in San Antonio, Texas, on Oct 24, 2020. Photo: USDA, Flickr Creative Commons. Click to enlarge.|
TipSheet: Farmers Markets Offer Many Local Environmental Stories
By Joseph A. Davis
One reason to go to the farmers market may be to see old friends. Another may be the good food. Oh, yes, then there’s saving the planet.
But perhaps the best reason — for environment reporters — is to find a story.
Food has been an environmental story for a long time. For better or for worse, it has taken on a lot of ideological baggage that your audience may or may not jibe with.
Either way, though, with the vegetable season nearing its peak, journalists may find this a good time to stop by thriving local farmers markets.
Why it matters
Americans don’t always eat in ways that are good for their health — or that are good for the planet.
This is a broad topic, of course, and there are a lot of special pleaders trying to influence how people think about food. Reasons vary: scientific research, better nutrition, less disease, trendiness … and making money.
Just keep in mind that not everything at the farmers market is necessarily good for you. But it’s often less processed, less packaged, fresher, more authentic and purer.
Farmers markets were a thing before there was organic food … or a food movement. The Lancaster Central Market in Pennsylvania started in 1730. In fact, before the industrial revolution, markets were an important channel for people in agrarian societies simply to survive.
In more recent decades, they have seen a resurgence. Many currents in the “food movement” have strengthened interest: concerns about pesticides, the “organic” label, veganism, fiber.
There was a thing called the “locavore” movement that gave shoppers virtue points according to how few (fossil-fueled) miles their food had traveled before purchase.
Today it’s more likely the slow food movement, food sovereignty, food justice, urban agriculture, etc.
Some have asserted that the food
movement is over already. But ever since
the pandemic let up, the crowds have come back.
Some have asserted that the food movement is over (may require subscription) already. But ever since the pandemic let up, the crowds have come back.
Raw carrots are one thing. But be aware that a lot of the money at farmers markets is spent by young urban professionals looking for a luxury, a treat or entertainment. Some markets specialize in “value added” specialties like crepes cooked while you watch.
- Check out several of your local farmers markets. Find out who runs them and talk to the organizers. Do the organizers run more than one market (there are chains)? What “rules” govern the market?
- Find out the “story” of your local market — how it started, how it’s changed, how it met challenges, how its rules evolved, etc.
- What are the “side shows” at your market? Demonstrations? Live bands? Politicians shaking hands or handing out leaflets? Publicity seekers? What are their stories?
- Take time to talk to individual vendors at your market (be respectful; they are busy). Where do they live? Where does their produce come from? How is it grown?
- Ask individual vendors about their pesticide policies and practices.
- Have the “organic” vendors been certified? By whom?
- U.S. Agriculture Department: The USDA has programs supporting farmers markets, including this one. It also has a directory of farmers markets.
- Farmers Market Coalition: This nonprofit advocacy and information group is a good starting point for more information.
- State Agriculture Departments: Your state’s ag department probably has programs to promote farmers markets.
- Food Tank: This nonprofit think tank explores myriad aspects of the food movement. Check out a list of the groups it networks with.
[Editor’s Note: For more on covering food and the environment, see an earlier farmers market TipSheet and a report piece on pesticides, along with a feature on a recent U.N. Food Systems Summit, an FEJ StoryLog on foods of the rainforest, and BookShelf reviews on foraged foods, climate and diet, and the global food crisis. Plus, check out our Topic on the Beat: Agriculture, and the latest food-related headlines and ag-related headlines from EJToday.]
Joseph A. Davis is a freelance writer/editor in Washington, D.C. who has been writing about the environment since 1976. He writes SEJournal Online's TipSheet, Reporter's Toolbox and Issue Backgrounder, and curates SEJ's weekday news headlines service EJToday and @EJTodayNews. Davis also directs SEJ's Freedom of Information Project and writes the WatchDog opinion column.
* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 7, No. 27. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.