Food grown close to home tastes better– and dishes up other benefits for the earth and your community
Modern society has enriched us with remarkable material advantages, but it also sometimes robs us of meaning and connection in our lives. This is often apparent at the dinner table, where we sit down to food which has come from who-knows-where. The vegetables on our plates may have traveled across the country and the fruit half-way around the world, while our meat was produced at a factory farm and the microwave side dishes created in a laboratory.
Eating this sort of food each day raises serious nutritional and social issues, which are now being widely debated. But one thing we know for sure: packaged food shipped into Wal-Mart, Safeway or other supermarket chains creates a lot of pollution on its way to your kitchen. And it never tastes as good or feels as satisfying as a meal from locally-grown ingredients. Whether it’s from a backyard garden, a public market, a community-supported agriculture program, or truck farmers in the area, local food nourishes our souls as well as our stomachs. And it makes a very real contribution to the vitality of our local economy and health of the environment.
Project for Public Spaces has been promoting farmers’ markets for decades, not just as a place for finding tasty food and having fun but as a surefire way to reduce pollution, bring people together, and strengthen communities. Studies have shown that people strike up four to ten times as many conversations in farmers markets than supermarkets.
Beyond instilling community spirit, a number of markets are pursuing ambitious goals involving public health and economic revitalization.
The Camden Community Farmers Market in this hard-hit New Jersey city offers health services and nutrition counseling right alongside heaping piles of wholesome fruits and vegetables. The People’s Grocery in Oakland, California, is a literal moveable feast—a portable market that pings healthy, homegrown food to community centers, schools, and senior citizen centers in poor neighborhoods of this predominantly African-American and Latino city. Oakland’s Fruitvale Village accomplishes the same thing with a stationary market right outside one of the transit station on the Bart train line.
In Espanola, New Mexico, a Monday Farmers Market has provided a shot in the arm for the economy because local growers now have steady customers for their fruits, vegetables and chilies rather than chancing a trip to the touristy markets in far- off Santa Fe. It’s also a boon for residents because stores in this low-income town of 15,000 offer little fresh produce. Panorama City, California, a largely Latino enclave northeast of Los Angeles, has transformed an old shopping center into a Mercado-style market as a lively and local alternative to a Wal-Mart across the road.
In Detroit, and Burlington, Vermont, the story is not just farmers in the city, but farms in the city. Enterprising gardeners are moving onto many of Detroit’s abandoned tracts of land, producing everything from salad fixings and eggs, to alfalfa and goat’s milk. But Burlington, Vermont, takes the prize with six percent of the fresh produce consumed in this chilly northern city grown at a 260-acre organic farm right inside the city limits. It was once a dump and junkyard but has been reclaimed by the non-profit Intervale Center.