Farmers Markets’ as a Tool for Economic Development and Healthy Food Access

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farmer's marketIn 2014, The Raleigh City Farmers Market began operating each Wednesday outside the city’s Historic City Market building. The market, comprised of fifteen vendors from around the Triangle region, offers produce, meat, cheeses, and other locally sourced food. It is part of a larger trend of farmers markets, which have grown in popularity in recent years, particularly in North Carolina. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently ranked it 7th among all states for growth of farmers markets. The number of markets in the state grew to 240 in 2014, almost triple the 84 markets that existed in 2004. 

There are many reasons for the rapid increase in farmers markets across the state. They offer benefits to the communities they serve related to both increased availability of healthy foods as well increased economic development:

  • Local food – This blog has previously covered the local food movement and the promotion of local food systems. Local foods are generally regarded as fresher and less processed. They are also viewed as more environmentally friendly since they do not require transport across long distances using fossil fuels.
  • Economic development – Given the local focus of these markets, money spent there supports local farmers and producers and keeps cash circulating within the community. Additionally, existing businesses nearby often benefit from the increased foot traffic that the markets generate.
  • Means to promote small business – Most vendors that take part in farmers markets are locally based small-scale farmers and vendors. Markets provide a direct to consumer sales method that can help build a local brand.

A recent focus has been the establishment of farmers markets in food deserts and ensuring market access to low-income residents. In places where no full service grocery store exists, farmers markets can fill a gap in providing fresh food to local residents. For example, WakeMed, a regional healthcare company in Raleigh, began a weekly farmers market last year on the grounds of its hospital campus in southeast Raleigh. The campus is located in a food desert and now provides access to fresh goods and produce to residents that previously lacked access to this type of food. Other markets have sought to provide better access to low income individuals. The Reidsville Farmers Market in Reidsville, North Carolina recently began accepting Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, more commonly referred to as food stamps) benefits as a form of payment.

So how can communities access capital to tackle these issues or simply build up their existing market if that capital is not available at the local level? For starters, the USDA has a number of programs aimed at creating new or expanding existing markets. One program in particular worth mentioning is the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). The stated goal of the program is to “increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural goods and develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets…” Funding from the program is awarded annually and ranges from $15,000 through $100,000 per project. In 2014, more than $660,000 was granted in North Carolina across 8 projects. The program noted above to begin acceptance of SNAP benefits in Reidsville is the product of a PMPP grant. Other grants have been used to help with new vendor training, create of new markets, and promote community-supported agriculture.

Other potential sources of funding from the USDA for specific projects related to farmers markets include the Local Foods Promotion Program (LFPP) and Community Food Projects Grant Program (CFPGP). A map of current USDA projects in North Carolina can be found here.

Steven Reilly is a current graduate student in the Department of City and Regional Planning. He is also a Community Revitalization Fellow with the School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative (DFI).

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