As the world is in lockdown and anxiously awaits to return to work, amid the virus going around, many are realizing the essential nature and crucial role that farmer’s markets play in every society around the globe. Countless efforts are being deployed to keep them active, much like a lifeline for food security and the resilience of regional and local businesses. This is a great way to actually aid not only local population, but also mainstream, large scale food production and distribution.
Public farmer’s markets the world over, have been gaining in strength and popularity in the recent years. Artisan products are highly considered, as well as the general principle of buying locally. This relatively recent change originates from beyond environmental considerations. It can be examined from a sociological point of view.
We live in an ever increasingly connected world which is a source of multiple capacities, conforts and securities. This technological progress makes a common standard available from which all can benefit. Paradoxically, it definitively adds value to certain items and phenomena that are outside the circle of it’s activity. This is the case for many products and services which are created with the aim of authenticity, or from an artisan angle. These benefit from the uniqueness and character of rarity, paired with the notion of quality that is conferred to them.
In a time where everything is accessible, one often delights in finding what is not, precisely, accessible; or perhaps even something unique. In modern cities, the farmer’s market is one of those locations where, by definition, we can grasp well crafted products, often considered as coming from somewhere beyond the usual retail circuits.
Born out of necessity
Historically, farmer’s markets have always been a part of the daily scenery of various neighbourhoods. They did, however, decline when the supermarket phenomenon became generalized. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, their popularity was faltering. They have since regained in prestige. Their recent rise in popularity can more or less be retraced to the normalization of online purchases in the middle of the 2000’s decade as well as the multiplication of connected objects on the market since the 2010’s. At the same time, the local food movement began to become more and more widespread.
Since the second half of the 1990’s, more than 2000 new farmer’s markets have opened in the United State’s towns and cities. Of that number, 80 have opened in Oregon state. In that state alone, 60 farmer’s markets have opened in approximately the past seven years, although only thirty have durably survived to this day. There is definitely a sharp increase in the popularity of this kind of activity. However, popularity does not automatically translate into commercial success, as we see that one in two new farmer’s markets close within one year. In order to maintain the durability of a farmer’s market, sufficient funds have to be invested in the salary of the site’s administration. Among the frequently cited causes for the closing of new public markets, are the excessively high turnover rate of the staff, especially the management workers.
Nevertheless, even in the new challenging markets of today’s North American towns and cities, a sizeable portion of new public markets manage to establish themselves, to the delight of local customers. This is good news not only for the small retailers that compose them, but also for the larger supermarkets, because often, the presence of a local food market will actually stimulate the food buying activity at large in that same geographical sector. As most farmer’s market clients don’t necessarily buy their whole weekly food supply in those small markets, most of the time, they will shop for more standard products around the same time, in a bigger supermarket. This is why, in cities like Montreal, or New-York, we can observe big supermarket chains that open around the vicinity of local farmer’s markets.
Farmer’s markets become cultural hubs
North American cities are younger than their European counterparts. Europe’s cities are already much more ridden with farmer’s markets in their various neighbourhoods. Therefore, it is natural to see less openings of new local food markets in European countries. This does not mean that these public markets are less popular in that continent. The local food and artisan product scene is thriving in the various european local markets. Often those same old farmer’s markets restructure themselves in order to cater to today’s differing demand. This is the case of Amsterdam’s Noordermarkt. It has existed for more than 130 years. However, in the 1980’s, as was the case for many local public food markets, business was on the decline. Adri Vallentin was the owner of a cafe located directly on the site. The Noordermarkt was traditionally specialized in the sale of pigeons. The cafe owner was able to appreciate the evolution of the market, and had the great idea of relaunching the market as an organic market. The revised edition of Amsterdam’s Noordermarkt opened in 1987. Today it is Amsterdam’s most trendy market and continues, week after week, to attract young and old customers. Cities like Brussels, Nice, Rome or Barcelona all have their public markets more or less already in place, but these are constantly reinvigorated by the public’s interest in them and the constantly renewed variety in the stalls which are present. In North America, the pattern is different, as the popularity of these markets is more visible through the birth of new ones. However, in some older cities such as Boston and New-York, or Montreal, major public local food markets have existed for a long time, and the increase in popularity of farmer’s markets is made visible by investment and renovations in these well established sites.
Preserving the heritage carried by public markets
Paris is a city with an impressive amount of farmer’s markets in each of it’s numerous neighbourhoods. Most of them have been there for centuries. For example: the Grenelle market is situated in the 15th borough. Grenelle used to be a village, and was annexed to Paris in 1860. Today the market takes place twice a week, roughly where it always has since it’s beginnings. It is deployed under the aerial metro lines of the Lamothe-Picquet -Grenelle metro station. It is a part of the weekly food shopping habits of the neighbouring inhabitants. It is a very vibrant public market and even sells non edible items such as clothing and furniture. It’s restored popularity is visible through it’s younger clients that more and more frequently chooses to buy a few items there. Another example would be the Enfants Rouges market. This is Paris’s oldest covered market which is still active today. During the beginning of the 1990’s, residential development almost had this historic location destroyed. Thankfully, the value of the market was understood, and in the second half of that decade, it was renovated. It is relatively small, located in the 3rd borough of the city, however the atmosphere there is quite active. It’s renewed popularity is also made manifest through an increasingly young client base. It’s commercial renewal has been done through it’s offer sit down meals. Indeed, some shops have transformed themselves into delis or restaurants. The Enfants Rouges market successfully managed to maintain it’s pertinence through adapting it’s offer.
The recent prestige that farmer’s markets, or local food markets have been building up, is a little less visible in Asian markets, or in African markets. This is due to the fact that they have not gone through the setback of the 70’s and the 80’s that the western farmer’s markets experienced in response to the rise of large supermarkets. Asian cities have had a constant presence of local farmers markets that never faltered. To this day, they remain a major factor in regular food shopping habits of those populations. Therefore, there has been no need or demand yet, to renew local interest in them.
It is no surprise that artisanal products and farmer’s markets are more and more vastly appreciated today. The phenomena is due to the increasing need for a comforting hand made, small scale standard in an increasingly common market. It is no small factor either: it is calculated that in the year 2012 alone, the ooutput from farmer’s markets in the U.S.A. amounted to $166.9 billion! The artisanal, or small scale produced goods can actually be marketed in a way which is beneficial to the larger scale commerce. In the long run, one actually stimulates the other. In today’s constantly connected world, having a small presence of less standardized products is most helpful, for it balances the needs of individuals through the appreciation of contrasts in the modern world, and creates a creative space from which star products can spring forth and eventually energize the larger, more global markets. If well organized, both can be mutually beneficial. Let’s hope that artisanal products and farmer’s markets will perpetually complement the rich offer that is found in our modern world.
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