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NC Farmers Markets: Incubators of Innovation

Why are farmers markets important to our community? The following is an excerpt from presentation by ASAP’s Executive Director Charlie Jackson to the NC House Committee on Food Desert Zones.

North Carolina farmers markets are incubators for starting businesses. The relatively low barrier of entry into the marketplace provides entrepreneurs and innovators a place to try new things, create new products, start bakeries or other food businesses, and many then expanding to other market venues like restaurants and grocery stores.

Historically, markets have been the crossroads of commerce from which our cities and communities emerged.  They continue to serve that function today, being the place that farmers and entrepreneurs can come together with the community to generate new businesses, businesses that are grounded and connected to their communities.

Increasingly in NC and across the country markets are recognized as providing a community benefit that extends far beyond the opportunities for the farmers and other small businesses that sell at the markets. Markets bring people to town, benefitting other businesses. They provide opportunities for people to access fresher foods and to develop healthier eating habits. They create transparency in the food system and connections in the community. They bring rural and urban areas together toward shared goals and benefits.

Markets are also the face of farming and local food. They are the place that most people are most likely to meet a farmer, to learn how and where food is grown, to learn about seasonality of production, and to learn about the challenges of farming and bringing food to market. This is extremely important because many of our food related health problems can be traced back to a fundamental disconnect from food.

And they provide the opportunity for children, as well as adults, to engage in a positive way with food. Children, and their parents, can learn about food and come to understand that food comes from farms and farmers and not just in bags or through drive-through windows.

The great opportunity for farmers markets is to build these connections and to become places of transformation for communities as they address the issues of preventable food related diseases and hunger and community disconnect. Many markets are actively engaging with the public by making sure that they have fun learning opportunities for children and adults, that they are accessible to low-income families by accepting SNAP and other supplemental nutrition programs that may be available to them, they’re inviting chefs to do cooking demonstrations, and coming up with new ideas every day.

There is the opportunity for our markets to not only be gathering places for community, to not only be seedbeds for growing businesses, they can also be the centers of community change.

Read the full text of the presentation at Improving Access at NC Farmers Markets – NC Food Desert Committee Presentation.