In a January 2010 letter , Chair Jeff Cole noted that the term ‘farmers market’ was “coveted from marketing and public image perspectives and is not always used with sufficient integrity or in the best interest of family farms.” The task force identified the following reasons for developing a definition:
1) Policymakers’ confusion around what a farmers market is weakens their political and financial support.
2) Consumers’ confusion leads to a lessening of their support of farmers markets and, potentially, local farmers, inhibiting the development of robust social networks within communities. Consumer confusion also allows “big retailers” to subvert local food concepts to their benefit without supporting local family farms and the communities in which they live and work.
3) Maintaining or increasing support for farmers and farmland protection is a core value in farmers markets.
4) Farmers should be encouraged to enter into direct-marketing local food systems. Farmers benefit from understanding the ground rules before entering a farmers market. The sustainability of both market organizations and farm businesses are significantly bolstered when behavior and norms are clear and adequately communicated.
5) Measurements around the effectiveness of farmers markets are significantly clouded when inconsistent or overly-expansive definitions are used in data collection.
The task force acknowledged that a universal underlying factor of the farmers market system is to support farmers and their entrance into the local food system and the community. Providing a privilege for a market to call itself what it is not (a farmers market when there are no farmers) has far greater negative consequences than positive consequences, and should not be endorsed by FMC. Farmers markets must have farmers participating directly in the market and selling directly to the public, and activity beyond mere sales transactions must take place in this context.
In it’s May 2010 monthly meeting, the Farmers Market Coalition Board of Directors approved text proposed by its Definition Task Force:
A farmers market operates multiple times per year and is organized for the purpose of facilitating personal connections that create mutual benefits for local farmers, shoppers, and communities. To fulfill that objective farmers markets define the term local, regularly communicate that definition to the public, and implement rules/guidelines of operation that ensure that the farmers market consists principally of farms selling directly to the public products that the farms have produced.
Rather than dictate exactly what composes a farmers market, this represents a definitive baseline focused on the mission of a farmers market rather than the specific logistics. FMC encourages regional and local adaptation of this baseline to meet community needs as well as continued discussion and refinement as farmers markets exert leadership in defining the “who, what, when, where, why” at the local level.
The Farmers Market Coalition is providing a discussion board for its members to provide feedback and engage in dialogue and continued refinement of a definition for use on the ground.
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