Autumn is well under way, but there are still a few weeks left in BYU’s own farmers’ market. While students might not necessarily think of that market as important to their experience here, it can in fact provide them with multiple benefits, not the least of which is a greater sense of community. Research is beginning to show that that sense has started to erode with the explosion in popularity of online shopping, and is something that many scholars, including Professor Michael R. Cope, in our department of sociology, have studied. In that sense, farmers’ markets in general could be seen not only as a boon to students, but also a solution to societal problems.
Benefits to Students of Farmers’ Markets
- connecting with your local community: You see other students on campus every single day, but you might not often get the chance to interact with local families and businesses. This is one way to immerse yourself in the experience of college life, a period most often experienced only once in a lifetime.
- getting access to fresh produce: Now that you’ve been back at BYU for a month, you’re probably ready to eat something besides ramen or spaghetti. Give your physical health a boost by adding fresh produce to your diet.
- experiencing local culture: In addition to offering produce, the farmers’ market includes booths for baked goods and arts and crafts. There are often live music performers present, so you can also become more familiar with the local music scene. It’s a way to “live in the experience,” as Michael Featherstone, an alum of our Economics department, said in their most recent magazine.
- making grocery shopping fun
- making a difference in the community
BYU’s Farmers Market takes place every Thursday afternoon through October 26 in the south parking lot of the LaVell Edwards stadium.
What other value do farmers’ markets provide?
The Sociology Behind Farmers’ Markets
“As our local communities increasingly shed their traditional production and consumption functions,” said Professor Cope in a 2016 study, “they may also increasingly fail to imbue their residents with identity and connections to larger social realities.” In other words, the less goods a community produces and the fewer goods bought within that community, the higher the likelihood that its residents will feel “hyper-individualized.” The good news is that research strongly suggests that farmers’ markets tie communities together as civic-minded people converge. The Local Food Movement (LFM) is a project that champions that cause and backs many of the 8,000 farmers’ markets around the country. It aims to help communities develop more self-reliant and resilient food networks, improve local economies; and have an impact on the health, environment, community, or society of a particular place.
From a sociological standpoint, their objectives are admirable, possibly even necessary. The bad news: despite that, farmers’ markets aren’t always inclusive. The number of female shoppers is significantly higher than the number of male shoppers, and shoppers are disproportionately white and highly educated. But it’s important not to view the LFM as an egalitarian movement taking on the Goliath of agribusiness. Instead, Wheaton College sociologist Justin L. Schupp suggests that “the more interesting prospective framing of the LFM could have the movement admitting its potential for intra-group stratification while working further toward its stated goals of the democratization of food access.”
Vendors and shoppers at farmers’ markets have the right idea, but they would increase their community impact if they operated in more low-income neighborhoods and attracted a wider variety of people.
The Geography Behind Farmers’ Markets
Common sense tells us that farmers’ markets bring communities together, but it doesn’t fully explain how or why that happens. Interacting with other people fosters a sense of community, but can geography teach us something about farmers’ markets as well, their benefits to students, and their role in creating more unified communities? While shoppers can find farmers’ markets all across the United States, there is geographic disparity in their distribution. There are higher percentages of farmers’ markets in communities in California, New York, and Midwestern states than in southern states; farmers’ markets are also more common in urban areas than in rural areas. Are those communities more tight-knit or egalitarian? Do many students shop at farmers’ markets?
While research doesn’t yet point to direct answers to those questions, it does show that those who do shop at those markets tend to not visit the markets nearest to their own homes, and that the LFM has a ways to go in terms of helping to establish farmers’ markets in more low-income and ethnically-diverse neighborhoods (Schupp, 2016).
The Status Quo of Farmers’ Markets
Be that as it may, farmers’ markets continue to grow not only in number but in symbolic value. From 1984 to 2001, farmers sold goods in a large market at the base of the World Trade Center, but the morning of 9/11 was the market’s last day of operation — until June 20, 2017. The newly reopened market is located next to the Oculus. Security is tighter than you’d find at another farmers’ market, but vendors are fairly optimistic about its future.
In fact, the entire future of American farmers’ markets is bright. The number of markets has boomed since the 1970s, and it doesn’t look like they’re going out of style anytime soon.