We’ve worked in a lot of markets all over the world but we’re really amazed by the enthusiasm of local Prague governments and NGO’s behind the explosion of farmers markets in their city. In just twelve months, the number of farmers markets featuring local producers in the Prague has grown from zero to more than twenty!
This April, over 50 market managers and coordinators took the next step and came to a PPS-led training program at the American Center in Prague to connect to each other and learn more about what makes a farmers market great.
Unlike other European cities with continuous, centuries-old public market traditions, in Prague, for the last few decades, there were few places to buy fresh, locally produced food. Establishing farmers markets can be daunting anywhere but the legacy of communism in Prague presents unique challenges.
Since 1994, PPS and our partners, including the Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation with support from The Rockefeller Brothers Fund with the German Marshall Fund, the Trust for Mutual Understanding have been promoting the value of farmers markets in Central and Eastern Europe.
Farmers Markets Forge Strong Ties between City and Countryside
This resurgence of farmers markets in Prague highlights the complexity of the urban-rural linkages that sustain markets in cities everywhere: under communism, most Czech farms were collectivized- there simply weren’t many small scale farms geared to grow goods for sale at markets.
Last year, farmers were just learning what customers wanted and often ran out of popular products. This year, opening for their second season, local farmers started growing produce specifically to sell at markets. Farmers are pleased with the change since selling directly to consumers means a healthier profit margin than wholesale.
The market’s impact far exceeds the city’s limits: at one popular market, the longest line is almost always at the bakery, whose owner, Štefan Zdeněk begans traveling toward the market at 2am each morning from his home in Luková u Lanškrouna in East Bohemia.
In an interview with Radio Praha, Zdeněk explains: “everything is made according to traditional recipes. I like these markets because i am in direct contact with the customers- I can find out what people like and whether we should make more of certain products. It’s great.”
Using Placemaking and Public Markets to Revitalize Dysfunctional Spaces
These markets provide the programming to bring new life to some of Prague’s neighborhood public squares which, until the markets were established, had not really thrived as community centers. Markets have even become a draw for tourists, as the The New York Times reported last October.
For many years this dramatic vista on the Vltava River (above) overlooking the Prague Castle just outside the main tourist area wasn’t living up to its full potential as a public space. Because the esplanade frequently floods, building a permanent structure to host activities in this area was out of the question. Creating a farmers market is a great way to turn this space into a multi-use public destination since it doesn’t require any permanent construction.
Now that the area has recently been re-cobbled and fitted with bike lanes that connect to a Greenway extending over 20 km south of Prague, many shoppers can arrive by bike.
PPS and Placemaking in Central and Eastern Europe
The April workshop led by PPS staff Elena Madison and Steve Davies built on almost two decades of work in the Central and Eastern European regions: in 1994 PPS, with the support of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, began working on public spaces in the Czech Republic to promote Placemaking as a way to aid countries transitioning to democracy.
PPS has also created a lasting partnership with the Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation (Nadace Partnerstvi) around issues of public space and community participation in planning, design and decision-making. The partnership has been an important behind-the-scenes supporter of the development of farmers markets around Prague. Additionally, with support from the Trust for Mutual Understanding, PPS has participated in many educational exchanges to boost understanding of how to create successful markets.
The Future of Farmers Markets in Prague
After PPS’ involvement, there’s a new buzz about creating a markets association in Prague which would open a dialogue between the different groups managing the markets to coordinate their efforts, and to learn from PPS, and share new knowledge with each other. Market managers at the most up-scale market in Prague are now asking PPS how to revitalize an adjacent public space- a great sign that the link between successful markets and successful public spaces is becoming clear.
How PPS Can Help Markets Thrive in Your City
To PPS, markets are always more than just places where goods and money change hands. Markets are places where people come together- and they’re some of the best public spaces in the world.
Learn more about PPS’ approach to markets at this month’s training session in New York this Friday and Saturday, May 20 and 21! Register now.
Have you overcome obstacles to establishing farmers markets in your neighborhood? We want to hear about it!