Sunday, September 11, 2011

Farmers markets vs old fashioned farm stands

This story about people growing vegetables in the Appalachian foothills appeared in the New York Times a few days ago. The main point of the feel-good story, "Vegetable Gardens are Booming in a Fallow Economy," is that more folks in this region are self-provisioning by growing vegetable gardens and selling the excess, often informally. The story's dateline is West Liberty, Kentucky, population 3,363, in the Appalachian part of the state where the economy has long been depressed. Sabrina Tavernise writes:
Garden plots are dug into the green hills, laid out in fuller force than people have seen in years. People call them sturdy patches of protection in uncertain times.
Tavernise makes the point that while many farmers' markets have sprung up in Kentucky in recent years, people buying food there tend to be looking for bargains, buying in bulk to can and preserve. This is in contrast to farmers markets in urban areas, where the "words 'locally grown' conjure images of affluent shoppers" buying pricey, beautiful food. Speaking of beautiful, don't miss the slide show accompanying the story.

The casual way some of these farmers sell their overflow produce reminded me just how far some contemporary, urban farmers markets are from what I consider to be their forerunner: an old fashioned farm stand (sometimes the back of a pick up truck) where a farmer sells her/his own stuff. Indeed, sometimes the stand is right next to or on the field where the food is grown, which takes the locavore idea to a new height. I'm posting a few photos of how producers sell the fruits of their labor right from their homes, as it were. The top photo is from just north of Polson, Montana, along Flathead Lake, where a family was selling cherries from its orchard, summer 2011. The bottom photo is from near Collinsville, Oklahoma, summer 2011.

Farmers markets--at least those I frequent in greater Sacramento--are, in contrast, highly commercial. As Tavernise points out in her story, part of the draw is the array of goods they offer--not just fruit and veg, but flowers, dried herbs, wine, jams and jellies. Some even have musical performers each week. (And don't forget the fresh--make that live--fish). And the fare isn't necessarily local. Some produce, avocados, for example, may be trucked in from as far away as Southern California, which undermines any claim to being particularly environmentally friendly. I love urban farmers markets, but we should admit that, among other things, they are a form of agritourism.

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