I enjoyed a lovely dinner at the home of some island friends recently and during the evening encountered two remarkable conversations about the Vashon Farmers Market (each prompted by the person’s knowledge that I manage the market).
The first was with a gentleman who picked me out of the crowd before dinner, wondering whether I might be the market manager, because he’d noticed me in what he described as an “in charge” moment at a recent Saturday market. He wanted to introduce himself and to tell me how knocked out he was by the current state of affairs at our market — the incredible abundance, his sense that the Island is fully embracing its agrarian heritage, his excitement to see how much the market has grown, and — without an ounce of prompting from yours truly (and the part that gave my heart a little flutter) — the knowledge that he was “getting full value for every penny” he spends there. Needless to say, that chat made my week.
The other conversation, as I sat trapped at the dinner table, started like this: “As a point of pride, I don’t shop at the farmers market.” It was a proclamation that took my breath away, a statement that took me more than a few beats before I could recover enough to ask why. After a couple of attempts to counter her immutable “the prices are too high” claim, I finally decided I needed a night off and granted the woman the fact that everyone shops for food for differing reasons and with differing goals.
Call me Judas — I know I betrayed the cause at a perfect moment to attempt a convert. What I should have done was fetch the earlier gentleman and have him trade places with me at the table, allowing him to sing his particular market gospel to her.
I know there will always be those who fall into the “no thanks to the farmers market” camp. But thankfully, more and more people are grasping the real value of farmers markets, personally and to the human and environmental community at large. What I wish I’d had the energy to say to the proud non-market-supporter is that farmers markets are more than simply a place to buy locally grown (and actually well-priced, in the final analysis) fruits and vegetables. They are hubs for information and home to thousands of innovative partnerships that teach skills and expand knowledge about food, health, community and agriculture.
In more than 7,200 markets in this country alone, more than three million consumers are snapping up what they know to be the best kind of food, produced by more than 60,000 hardworking local farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that these markets generate at least $1.3 billion in consumer spending each year. In short, farmers markets are a phenomenon at a time when they are sorely needed.
Today’s farmers markets are:
• Promoting good nutrition and healthful habits.
• Spurring business incubation, job development and local spending.
• Growing healthy social capital and engaging thousands of volunteers.
• Supporting agricultural diversity and farm viability, while inspiring a new generation of producers.
• Putting farmers at the center of the system, not at the bottom of the food chain.
• Truly reducing the carbon footprint of your dinner.
Our Vashon farmers are passionate entrepreneurs, right at a time when the national consciousness about healthy eating gives them a passionate consumer. Every week, someone is trying a new vegetable (Piracicaba broccoli, anyone?), discovering how food grows or learning a new skill to enrich his or her life. I consider it a point of pride to be a part of such a positive asset in our community, a community that is the real agricultural deal.
I realize this assumes that everyone reading this piece is a supporter of the market — and that might not be the case. But please consider sharing this essay with one friend who might need a nudge to shop at the Vashon Farmers Market (even if that friend is you.) One visit and I’m betting that friend will discover his or her own good reason — and point of pride — for supporting our Island’s incredible farmers.
— Rebecca Wittman, a writer and designer, began managing Vashon’s Farmers Market this year.