Thursday, August 16, 2012

Farmer's Markets - Are They For Everyone?

I've recently started frequenting one of the local farmer's markets in Nanaimo.  It's part of my desire to support local farmers, and help create food security on our island, where more than 90 per cent of our food is trucked in by ferry. If for some reason the ferry service shut down for more than two or three days, we'd be in big trouble.

But, I have to admit, after shopping there for a few weeks, I have some misgivings.  Are they part of the solution, or part of the problem?  First of all, to get there, you need a car, and you have to drive a lot farther than you do to the neighbourhood grocery store.

Second, the prices are way higher - and yes, I understand that locally-produced, organic food is more labour-intensive, and that farmers on small acreages can't take advantage of economies of scale.

Third, there is a great deal of duplication.  Several vendors sell the same kind of salad mix and the usual array of seasonal vegetables and fruits, plus eggs.  The ones who aren't selling these have high-end products that the average family could not afford or would have on their dinner table on a regular basis.

And finally, the customers are all the usual suspects. Most of them I recognize.These are not your ordinary working Canadians, as the NDP would say. To me, it looks like they are serving a relatively affluent niche market - people with the time and money to drive long distances to buy high-priced food.

So, what's the solution, you ask?  I don't know. It's difficult for local farmers to get their products into supermarkets, because they can't supply them in big enough volumes at the prices average folks are willing and able to pay.

I'll continue to buy produce at the market, because it tastes so good, and I enjoy the camaraderie of the people who go there and the personal connection with the vendors.

But until they become more accessible to people of all classes, I think farmer's markets are more of a food fashion than a food revolution.


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