Community Legacy of the Farmers Market
In this post, we explore the rich history and community building legacy of the farmers market movement. Apart from being one of the most enduring examples of circular economic models, community marketplaces have had a profound impact on the social and cultural fabric of our cities. For a long time, they’ve served as an ideal conduit to celebrate the culture and diversity of our communities. Today, as social isolation has become a frontline issue in urban housing, community marketplaces can be critical in creating social connectedness, resilience and sustainability within communities. Unlike a visit to supermarkets, which always feel like a chore, farmers markets are an experience - one that fosters social connections and meaningful interactions within the community.
Farmers markets date all the way back to ancient Egypt over 5,000 years ago where farmers along the river Nile came together to sell their fresh produce. Along the ancient silk route, one of the world’s earliest and most iconic supply chain networks, farmer’s markets (also called traditional marketplaces OR "Bazaars") formed the backbone of economic and cultural exchange. In present day South and Central Asia, some of these same markets not only still continue to exist but are at the heart of urban life.
The first farmers market in the US opened in 1634 in Boston and many others followed soon - Hartford in 1643, New York City by 1686, and Philadelphia in 1693, to name a few.
After World War 2, the first wave of urbanization also led to commercializing of the agricultural supply chain, mass consumerism and the rise of retail grocery stores. During this time, partly due to their novelty and convenience, cultural phenomena like fast food and “TV dinners” also became a fixture in the American household. This resulted in a decline of interest in farmers markets - and in hindsight, a shift away from healthy, sustainable lifestyles. The 1970’s began a renewed interest in farmers’ markets in North America, buoyed by social consciousness of the counterculture movement and rampant inflation. During this period, these markets served as a primary mode of cultural connection as well as discourse between rural and urban communities.
Since the 90’s, community marketplaces have experienced exponential levels of popularity, growth and interest. This renaissance, among other things, has been due to a confluence of trends like health consciousness, the shop local movement, urban housing density etc. Such markets have also evolved to include artisanal products, makers & crafts and many other forms of independent entrepreneurship.
Economic and Social Impact
Today, community marketplaces represent a large, rapidly growing economic footprint in Canada and US alike. In Canada, they account for over $9 billion in direct economic impact (including sales revenues, job creation, cost savings etc.) which has grown by about 9% per year over the last decade. In the US, the same number is over $120 billion with an annual growth of 8%.
Farmers markets can also be a vital means of supporting community engagement and wellbeing. On average people who shop at Farmer’s markets can have up to 20 social interactions per visit, compared to about 2 at a grocery store. Studies have also shown that about 55 percent of shoppers consider community marketplaces to significantly increase their connection to a neighbourhood.
Community marketplaces today are also no longer confined to just fresh produce or health food items. The last 5 years have seen the incredible growth and popularity of independent Direct-to-Customer (D2C) sales channels. Driven by relative ease of setting up operations (production, fulfilment and delivery) and evolving consumer preferences; neighbourhood marketplaces have become an ideal means for a wide range of artisanal and impact-based entrepreneurs to tap into the power of real communities.
- Climate Change & Sustainability: An average head of California lettuce travels over 1,500 miles from field to a plate. Locally sourced food and consumer products are 5 times more environmentally friendly and sustainable. What’s more, small scale farms tend to follow organic, biodiverse, and low input growing and grazing practices. This helps to reduce water contamination, protects wildlife, and prevents soil erosion.
- Protecting Small Businesses: Community marketplaces are arguably the most impactful way to support independent entrepreneurs, protect small businesses and stimulate the local economy. By reaching customers directly, vendors in farmers markets can retain up to 90% of earnings vs. 40% in retail. Therefore, neighbourhood marketplaces provide a critical means to level the playing field between independent entrepreneurs and big box retailers - which has been a huge post-pandemic concern.
- Creating Connected Communities: A visit to a farmer’s market never doesn’t feel like a transaction; because it’s not - it is an interaction. You get to meet real people, support real families and make meaningful connections - which makes it one of the of the most genuine and honest ways to support each other.
At Hangeh, we are proud to continue this mission and use our platform to create communities that are connected and resilient. We aim to provide a space for everyone to discover and support the best of their local neighbourhood. It’s also our pleasure to support the long legacy of the farmer’s markets movement and help independent entrepreneurs with a unique way to directly engage with their best audience - their own local community.
One of the most meaningful examples of this is to share the story of one of our early vendor partners in Vancouver - Tayybeh Syrian Cuisine. Tayybeh - which means both “kind” and “delicious” in Arabic is a unique social enterprise and food venture. Their mission is to empower newcomer Syrian women chefs while highlighting their incredible culinary talent and proving an opportunity for social connectedness. As one of Vancouver’s most recognized culinary creations, Tayybeh’s secret ingredient is the spirit of love and respect for tradition that you can experience in every bite. We are so happy to curate and highlight the work of many such impact-based local businesses on our platform.
1) Farmers Market Coalition 2016 (https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/FMC_TalkingPoints_2016.pdf)
2) Dept. of Planning and Landscape Architecture, University of Wisconsin-Madison (https://theconversation.com/farmers-markets-are-growing-their-role-as-essential-sources-of-healthy-food-for-rich-and-poor-157009)
3) Glacier Farm Media 2021 (https://www.country-guide.ca/guide-business/as-farmers-market-sales-in-canada-near-1-5-billion-farmers-plan-for-more/)
4) CBC: From Freezers to Farmers Markets (https://www.cbc.ca/archives/from-freezers-to-farmers-markets-how-past-generations-stretched-their-food-dollars-1.6367621)