The value of Farmers Markets to local economies and culture

OK, I believe that Farmers Markets are one of the most direct and possibly important ways for ordinary people to ‘fight back’ as it were against the all-pervasive encroachment, if not outright dominance, of the ‘global-corporate’ way of doing things (everything).

For example – one of zillions I could come up with – I was recently looking at one of the largest brick ovens in North America which happens to be in Whitney Pier, Sydney Cape Breton. The owner, who is the son of Bernie K who built the bakery fifty years ago, is willing to let me have it rent free for 18 months or I could buy it, a large building, and land, and all equipment including a large propane oven, proofing chambers, industrial-size mixers etc for way under $100,000. If I lease it for free, I have to pay insurance, running costs etc. but really, I couldn’t get a better deal.

But am I going to take it? Probably not. Why? Market/distribution. Farmers markets are great but I am lucky if I can sell 100 loaves on a Saturday over 4 hours, and in fact usually only sell 70-80. So what use is mounting an operation with an oven designed to produce about 500-1000 a Bake Day? The only way that can work is if I have access to the main market system in place today which in food means supermarkets. And even if I somehow managed to find supermarket(s) willing to take high quality organic sourdough product line, what is to stop them, some time down the road, calling me up one day to say that unless I drop my price by, say, 35%, they will discontinue or simply make a similar version themselves at half the price. Nothing would stop them, and since they follow the corporate ethic which worships the god known as ‘Profit’ or ‘Bottom Line’ or ‘Shareholder Equity’ above all others, nothing probably will. Which means mounting such a business, unless one can also build a small supermarket and attract one fifth of the local population to come in once a week, is a waste of time.

Pity. I know I could make world class bread and create local employment in the process.

But this post is about how Farmers Markets can help counteract this pernicious disease undermining the health of nearly all communities in the developed West.

Now I don’t know about this topic, so this post is a collection of links from my first Google search. If anyone reads this and has comments or links to better articles, please contribute over time so this thread can be a resource. I believe this to be an important, if under-researched, topic.

I searched for: “Farmers Markets influence on local economy”

Some of the results:

http://crcresearch.org/case-studies/crc-case-studies/farmers-markets-and-local-food-systems

isis.sauder.ubc.ca/files/2009/08/The-Economy-of-Local-Food-in-Vancouver.pdf

www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/farmers_markets.pdf

http://locobc.com/2010/10/21/wall-mart-local-food-sourcing-good-for-farmers-and-local-economies/

http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1903632,00.html

Marin County’s ‘Eat Local’ Guide

Maine’s Organic Farms – Impact Report

 

OK. From the Maine Report, a bit about organic farming in the context of ‘conventional’ farming (which I think of modern agro-business model farming).

“VII. Economic Impact

The Fly in the Ointment

When Clarence Day, preeminent historian of Maine agriculture, concluded his seminal Farming in Maine, 1860-1940, he noted, “the trend was away from general, self-sufficient farming toward commercial farming.” Diversified homesteads had given way to farm “sectors,” primarily dairy and potatoes. In general, Clarence Day lauded the transition from homesteading to commercial farming – Maine’s farmers were more productive and had more wealth.

“But there was a fly in the ointment. Maine had lost 25,000 farms between 1880 and 1940, and more than half the improved land … many because they could not meet the requirements of the machine age … the towns in which they were located lost population and human resources. Their schools were smaller, their churches weaker, their taxes higher, and lilacs grew where once a garden smiled.” This trend of “fewer but larger” that Day observed has only been exacerbated since he wrote. As Maine’s farms have grown in size, they have replaced labor with inputs and machinery, and have come to depend on out-of-state sources for their purchases. This means that smaller and smaller margins of their gross output are returned to their communities in the form of net income, wages, and property taxes. In order to stay profitable against those declining margins, many farmers constantly look for ways to replace expensive, inefficient labor with cheaper, more efficient machines and inputs. Ironically, while policymakers and communities are constantly trying to figure out how to create more jobs in Maine, many farmers are busy trying to figure out how to eliminate them. They’ll go out of business if they don’t.

This is Clarence Day’s “fly in the ointment” magnified. Fewer farms and fewer jobs mean smaller communities and a smaller tax base. Take the conventional dairy industry. In 1961, there were 3,100 dairy farmers. In 1970, there were 1,700. In 2007, there were 396 dairy
farms, of which 66 were organic. Conventional dairying accounted for $124,651,000 worth of gross output, a full 19% of the State’s total – still dwarfing the organic sector’s 6% share. Clearly dairying in Maine will continue to be a very large and influential piece of the state’s farm sector.

But conventional dairying is reliant on importing large amounts of inputs to stay profitable. Farmers and their hired help retained $35,936,000, or about 28% of total output, for their efforts. This is comparable to the 28% of total revenue that they spent on imported feed alone.

Many organic farms return a high margin of value back to the communities they are nested
within. Many organic farms are better at generating and retaining a high margin of value in local economies.  On all Maine farms, net profits, wages, rent for land, and property taxes represent $.34 on every dollar of total output. Economists call this figure, “value added,” because it represents the total value generated by an industry minus the inputs that it imports and manufactures into finished goods.”

I am surely not the only person who sometimes imagines that ‘they’ are deliberately trying to ruin rural culture and thus undermine much that is of value in our inherited societies, that we are going backwards, downwards, ever deeper into a cultural dark age because of all this heartbreaking, not to mention heartbreakingly stupid, destruction.

Here we see in black and white one of the main reasons: agribusiness depopulates rural areas. Not mentioned in the above is how ‘conventional’ farming depletes and then ultimately ruins the soil, essentially destroying it. It’s a disaster all round for all except the banksters who own all these interlocking corporations awash in funny-money-privatized credit which these elite foxes control whilst essentially controlling/channeling most labour ‘inputs’ from living human beings to feed their ever-increasing (paper) wealth.

Bla, bla, bla. The point here is not to complain and rant about the problems, but rather to point out that Farmer’s Markets can help support small local farms and other producers (like me, an organic baker) and in a small, particular but significant way

FIGHT BACK!!

So shop at your local Farmer’s Market!

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