A little while back this author was accused of being overly critical, even whiney, for suggesting that farmers' markets could be even better if more of an effort was made to reduce both plastic bag use and the amount of car traffic that some markets generate. Of course, we are still huge fans of farmers' markets, and local food in general, but we do feel that even great, green, sustainable institutions can strive to be even greener, and even better — after all, we have some major challenges ahead of us, and resting on our laurels isn't an option.
On a similar note, then, we have just come across an interesting article by Guardian correspondent Rachel Dixon, also a big fan of farmers' markets, who dares to ask if farmers markets really work. Rachel's problem is not traffic, nor plastic bag use (she brings her own), but rather, firstly, the fact that many markets are too infrequent to have a real impact on farmers' income, and secondly, that they are still seen as too elitist and expensive. Her article is, however, careful to point out that these criticisms mainly apply to UK markets, and she is also helpful enough to offer some insight into how these problems can be fixed.
On the issue of frequency, and economic impact, Rachel offers two possible solutions. Firstly, she suggests that markets should be made more frequent, and secondly, she suggests that farmers should make every effort to use the market as a marketing tool to attract more business elsewhere:
"Markets need to be held weekly or fortnightly wherever possible. Producers should make shoppers aware of other outlets where their goods are available. Market organisers can help producers forge links with local shops, or even schools, hospitals and care homes. Box schemes can be set up to increase access for less mobile customers. I'm sure there are other ways."
Regarding the question of elitism, the article points out that farmers markets are actually often cheaper than supermarkets when it comes to fresh food. She also praises the model of US farmers' markets, which have long been seen as less elitist than their British counterparts, and where voucher schemes sometimes operate to encourage less affluent citizens to shop local too.