Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hunger, Obesity, Food Desserts, the Paradox of choice….Are Farmer’s Markets the ultimate solution?

In class we recently discussed the paradox of choice within the grocery store and how the large number but relatively ‘superficial’ choices cause stress, anger, and frustration every time we shop. But we were also careful not to romanticize the past when there were no supermarkets, only specialty stores for produce, bread, or meat. While the owners and workers of these stores were well informed and often had a personal connection with the food they sold (making the experience of buying food more desirable and informative), we cannot simply eliminate grocery stores and open up these shops. One of the main reasons for this is simply the culture that now favors the one-stop-shop.

It is very important to analyze what we are losing and what we are gaining by making changes, but it is also important to recognize changes in time and culture, what people are willing to grasp, and what they are willing to let go of. Right now most people are not ready to give up our one-stop, low price supermarkets, but it may be possible to get the best of the old and the current, and turn it into something new.

Fortunately, this is already happening. Farmers markets offer the personal connection with the people that produce food, and gives farmers who know what they’re doing, and love what they’re doing, a competitive advantage. In addition to this, one doesn’t have to drive all over town just to get a few ingredients; well developed farmers markets can provide everything you need.

Recently, farmers markets have been popping up in areas where supermarkets previously refused: in low income areas with dense development, where space is limited and expensive. In some cases this has brought fresh healthy food to areas that could have been considered a food desert, in other areas the market provided the foot traffic needed to support surrounding businesses, in other areas it simply made the residents feel more connected and safer within their neighborhood.

While farmers markets are struggling in poorer communities just as any other store, they are much more adaptable. The organizers of markets can move vendors from one neighborhood to another until they find the perfect fit and balance. This is not easy, especially when the need for farmers markets is growing so fast, but there are a couple things that will help the movement along.

For one, as mentioned in a New York Times article, the cities should provide Electronic Benefit Transfer (E.B.T.) cards which allow farmers to easily accept food stamps. Cities should also consider constructing a more permanent space designed to accommodate venders, to prevent further development from displacing the market. When the structure is not in use by venders it can simply act as a shaded place to park.

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