According to the CIA world factbook, in 1790 90% of the United States labor force were farmers- today, that number has dropped below 1%. Though there are still about 2.2 million farms in the United States, a lot of the produce Americans consume comes from factories. The fight for local and natural foods and goods has been fueled by the spread of farmers markets nationwide. From 2008 to 2013, the number of these markets have doubled, yielding over 8,000 markets.
Farmers markets, dubbed some of the trendiest places of the decade by the Culture List, provide everything from wool mittens to herbal remedies, beers to maple syrup, and green juices to meats. Featuring local folk bands and spotted under colorful tents, it is no wonder that people are drawn to these markets. “The market offers a sense of community; there is foot traffic; there is dancing; there are families,” says Ekka, owner of the Sweet Sue’s stand at the Waterfront Farmers Market in Troy, New York.
Ekka handmakes each macaron, cupcake, and brownie at her stand and the effort certainly seems to pay off. “When you make your product, you get to know your consumer. I have regulars who love the products and we are on a first name basis!” Like most of the other stands in the market, however, Ekka’s little sweet shop’s prices are higher than the prices at a chain store. For instance, Starbucks sells one macaron for 85 cents while Ekka sells one for $1.75. Though this ninety cent difference may not seem like much for a simple macaron, continuously purchasing most of your produce at a farmers market may cause you to notice a dent in your wallet. Buying a six ounce cup of kale juice? Eight dollars. Buying a pint of maple syrup? Twelve dollars. Buying a local wool hat? Fifteen dollars. It is prices like these that make it understandable why many people are financially unable to shop local.
Ahmed, 25, is a college student who shops at Hannaford’s instead of Troy’s Waterfront Farmers Market. He reasons that, “It is just not convenient to go a farmers market. I’m a student- I can’t really afford to spend what little I make at an overpriced hipster store.” City Data reports that the average Troy New York household income is $38,122 which is $15,000 lower than the average United States household income. Factored in with student loans and meal plans, it is understandable why a student like Ahmed may not be able to regularly shop at a farmers market.
On the contrary, Ekka strongly believes that the price difference is worth it. “You are paying to know where your food comes from. You are paying to know that the people who make the food are getting paid. The reason that at a chain you can purchase your produce for much cheaper is because the workers are receiving minimum wage.” Ekka raises a point that it is of importance to know where your food comes from. Popular companies, such as McDonalds, conceal their business practices. According to ABC news, The Telegraph, and many other sources, McDonald’s has been accused of using child slave labor to increase packaging efficiency. Shopping local ensures that you know where your food comes from.
In addition to the higher prices, time is another reason that people find farmers markets inconvenient. Andy, 40, states “I just don’t have time to go to the farmers market. It is not the kind of place that I could just go in, grab some stuff, and leave. I work all day- I can’t spend an hour or two on my grocery shopping.” Troy’s Farmers Market is only open on Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm, which can be inconvenient for people who have weekend jobs or other obligations, such as a child’s sports game to watch. The open hours are not the only problem with time inconvenience- the time it takes for shopping at a farmers market is another obstacle.
Once at a farmers market, it is difficult to simply purchase what you need and leave. “I feel like I have to stay for a song and clap along and dance and then when I buy something, I will have to talk to the vendors and socialize,” Andy continued. Troy’s market always seems to be buzzing with energy. Being around good vibes for a while does not seem like such a bad thing, but to people who do not have the time to stop and chat every time they need to make a purchase, this sense of community and foot traffic can seem overwhelming. The vendors trying to get more people to support local, homemade, and fresh products will have to take into consideration these barriers that prevent people from shopping at the farmers market. These markets are a great idea for bringing healthy produce to a town; however, accessing these products is not an option for everyone.