The Power of New York City’s Farmers’ Markets


In a populist sense, a farmers’ market is like the gastronomic version of a town hall; citizens come to barter with other citizens, trading locally grown strawberries instead of talking points. Every day of the week, you can find one of these fine establishments in almost every borough. It is a trend of the Great Recession: swap the supermarket for the cheaper, more utilitarian alternative. And, according to a report just released by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, New York City is steamrolling this food upheaval forward as farmers’ markets slowly take over public spaces.

The report states that there are now 138 farmers’ markets in the Big Apple – a number that, statewide, has doubled to over 500 in the past decade. And this isn’t just a metropolitan thing anymore: across the country, there are more than 7,000 farmers’ markets operating daily; in 2000, there were about 2,000. Why such a spike?

“Farmers’ markets boost local communities and promote a healthy and sustainable food system,” DiNapoli said. “These markets enhance communities and the lives of those who live nearby.”

So let’s take a quote from Bill Clinton to answer that question: it’s the economy, stupid.

To catch just a glimpse of this dramatic shift of where and how we obtain our food, yesterday, the New York TV station ABC7 reported on a farm school in Bushwick run by a group called Ecostation. According to news anchorwoman Lauren Glassberg, the urban farming educators have been overwhelmed by applicants; for 15 slots, they received about 150 applicants for their two-year farming certificate program. In other words, New Yorkers from all walks of life are lining up in swarms to learn the ways of agriculture.

These urban farms share what they grow with the farmers’ markets, cafeterias and surrounding communities. For example, the Battery Urban Farm in Battery Park sets up a stand once a month and sells its produce to Downtown Manhattan while also giving a bunch to neighboring elementary schools. It’s a cycle that transforms the corporation-customer relationship into a farmer-neighbor dynamic.

What separates the farmers’ market from the supermarket is where the profits are headed. In corporate food politics, the profits are spread out across the hierarchy, with most of the money going towards the top of the ‘food’ chain. Contrast that with local food politics: when you have a farmers’ market reaping profits, that money is going directly into the hands of the local community – the farmers, the workers, etc.

It is the lasting achievement of the DIY movement in the food aisle: communities trump corporations.