Why We Love Farmers’ Markets

By Megan Haley, 2018 HFC Summer Student

Everyday is a great day to visit your local farmers’ market, pick up some fruits and vegetables, maybe even a butter tart.  But what are the benefits of these gatherings, and why do we love them so much?

The sense of community created at farmers’ markets is one of the most amazing benefits. This summer I’ve had the opportunity to visit most of the Farmers’ Markets in Halton and speak with vendors as well as market managers.  I found that the vendors loved chatting about their exciting business - from 4 generation family farms, to Canada’s greenest cheese! Visiting the markets was also a great way for me to explore Halton, as I visited Milton for the first time! The vendors were so happy to welcome me to the city, they were really proud of the market as one of the last Main St. markets, and located in such a beautiful area.  Getting fresh and delicious food as well as meeting such friendly vendors got me really excited about these great local events, and I decided to do some research on the many benefits they offer.

A 2011 article in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics indicates encouraging results from literature review and a study of Ontario farmers’ markets, consumer motivation and markets benefits were studied.  Initial findings from the study showed an interesting aspect of consumer choice and farmers’ markets as an alternative to organic food. According to the study, an informed consumer has a specific definition for organic food, including soil and human health, as well as holistic or ecological farming practices. The review found that because of a growing demand for organic products, there is minimal regulation by the Canadian government. In Canada organic food must be pesticide and/or GMO free, missing the equally important soil and human health factors. This research has found that a distrust in organic food has driven informed consumers to choose to buy local instead of organic. A more holistic alternative is offered through the local food found in farmers’ markets as, among other reasons, it offers a smaller travelling distance to the consumer.

In addition to providing food at a closer to home, the gatherings at local farmers’ markets were shown to have significant economic and community benefits. Local economic activity is increased not just in farmers’ markets themselves, but also in the surrounding communities. They keep local money in the local economy, thereby improving community infrastructure. A 2008 Nation Farmers’ Market Impact Study showed that the markets in Canada derive $1.03 billion in sales, with an economic impact of $3.09 billion. It also discovered that, on average, the work at farmers’ markets provides ⅓ of a vendors’ income.

Informed consumers today also choose farmers’ markets due to their environmental benefits. Local food reduces the need for unnecessary preservatives, transport, packaging, and synthetic re-fortification.  Personal connections between producers and consumers also allow for an informed consumer to inquire about the sustainable production of the food.

The article goes on to describe the methods of study, where 300 consumers were interviewed at two different Toronto farmers’ markets. These interviews consisted of questions to construct a demographic profile of consumers, the frequency of consumers at the market, as well as their motivation to visit. The results were as follows:

  • Demographic Profile of the average patron
    • Female (67.9%) and age 41
    • Married or in a common-law marriage (66.4%)
    • Household income significantly higher than the average in Canada
    • European or Canadian ethnicity (75%)
  • Use of Farmers’ Market
    • 35% use the market weekly
    • 23% were first time customers
    • 73% heard of the market by word of mouth
    • 7% heard of the market by the internet
  • Motivations to visit
    • Supporting the local community as the highest motivator
    • Quality of product

After review and discussion of the results, the article made some exciting recommendations for farmers’ markets moving forward. As informed consumers are driven to farmers’ markets it is important for the markets to increase and maintain a sense of “localness”.  It may be helpful for vendors to advertise where and how food was produced - showing their passion for their product. I found this exceptionally compelling when I met with Fifth Town Cheese at the Oakville Civitan Market. It was inspiring to hear the vendor speaks proudly of their cheese as “Canada’s Greenest Cheese” and be able to tell me they pick their milk up from Ontario’s only water buffalo farm, and drive back to their LEED Platinum certified building (offering excellent environmental and health benefits).  

Other recommendations included for markets to endorse the economic benefits of shopping at farmers’ markets, and to market to their female demographic by offering choices in locally made clothing!  Increasing accessibility of markets is also a major point. This should be achievable by monitoring and lowering prices where possible.

As a young student visiting Halton cities for the first time, the final recommendation was my favourite. They recommend fostering a sense of community at markets, by adding live entertainment, more casual seating and general social areas.

Visiting markets around Halton this summer has been an incredible opportunity to discover these true benefits. I believe Farmers’ Markets provide more than just groceries, but also quality products and a sense of security in my food. As there is increasing consumer awareness, there is an increase in demand for local food, and there has been an increase in farmers’ markets shown already. I hope going forward these markets continue to provide the same quality, while adapting with recommendations from research like that of the consumer choice study.  

Markets are full of families, and great food. Don’t miss out on this great season of produce. Follow us on twitter and facebook for updates and information on the markets of Halton! @HaltonFood #growingtogetherhalton

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Dodds, R., Holmes, M., Arunsopha, V. et al. J Agric Environ Ethics (2014) 27: 397. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.dal.ca/10.1007/s10806-013-9469-4