A trend that is quite widespread in the United States is the Farmers’ Market, a place where farmers sell their produce. It generally consists of tents grouped together in the form of an open market, something akin to the traditional souq of the Arab world.
What makes this concept interesting to an Arab is the produce itself. The food sold at farmers’ markets are organic, as opposed to supermarkets which sell mass produced products.
In Libya, the regular markets sell organic food, and the greenhouse stuff is usually cheaper because no one wants to by it, on account of it not being natural. But in the United States, organic food is actually more expensive.
We first went down to the Safeway to see the type of food they sell. Everything is neat, clean, perfectly packaged and marketed, with reasonably prices. The food almost looks fake, gleaming in the fluorescent lighting with flawless textures.
But the food sold at the farmers’ market looks not only healthy, but appetizing. The displays lack the design and atmosphere of the chain supermarkets, but this is actually a refreshing escape. The market is out in the open, open to all passersby. The type of food sold includes fruits, vegetables, bread and honey.
Another aspect of the farmers’ market that the supermarkets lack is the sense of community and bonds formed in the farmers’ market. The farmers all know each other, and their customers, who usually come every week.
We spoke to some of the customers to get their opinion on the farmers’ market phenomemon. The answers I’ve compiled are an amalgam of the various ones I recieved from different people:
Q) Why do you shop at the Farmers’ Market as opposed to a regular supermarket?
- To support the farmers and local businesses,
- To meet the people who grow the food directly
- To be outside and meet people
- Seeing different varieties, and buying organic, healthier and wholesome food
People also said that they encourage friends and family to buy from the farmers’ market, and that the higher prices was worth the quality of the food their were getting.
We also spoke to the farmers themselves to get an idea of how they supported themselves and this movement.
Q) Why do you participate in the Farmers’ Market?
- To help people get access to fresh produce
- It’s harder as a lifestyle, but much more fulfilling
- Better margins by cutting out the middle man
There is a strong sense of community between the farmers and their regular customers, who are their biggest supporters. There is a very low political presence here, because no one claims that the government really helped or harmed the movement. The big stores are seen to be the biggest opponent, cutting down the farmers with cheaper prices.
But there was one farmer who said that, because of the green movement and the aim towards a more sustainable lifestyle, the farmers’ market movement is becoming more popular and widespread, especially among the liberal communities. He said that Americans do not place much emphasis on food like other nations, instead “focusing on cheap, lousy food.” But he said that now many people are re-evaluating this aspect of their lifestyle.
There was, however, a noticable difference between the two Farmers’ Markets we visited. One was located on H St., and the neighbourhood was largely residential, with less chain stores and more small businesses. The market itself was small, with only a dozen tents or so. The one in Silver Springs was larger and more crowded, but surrounded by large chain restaurants and clothing stores. The neighbourhood was less residential and more commercial. However, the quality of both markets was almost the same.
Besides the Farmers’ Market, there are other options available to farmers, such as wholesale markets, processors, etc. But none of these offer the satisfaction of human interaction, which seems to be the underlying theme of these trends.
On the whole, I think the farmer’s market movement is something that should be endorsed not only by the community but also by the government. An healthy cycle of giving and receiving is created within society, and it has this positive impact on the individuals who visit. Many people I asked said that when a person visits once, they almost always come back again.