According to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than a thousand new farmers markets have opened so far in 2011, bringing the total number to 7,175 — almost triple the number that were around in 2000. What this tells me is how much consumers really like the “social nature” of farmers markets and the idea of having a personal connection between their food and the people that grow it.
But why stop there? Why can’t we have the same local/social relationship with other aspects of sustainability, like energy use and recycling, that farmers markets provide? Take a moment and think about how the manner in which we grow and package our food directly influences the quality of our air and water through the type and amount of waste it generates and where that waste stream ends up. Now suppose we could carry the same festive feeling a farmers market creates into our reprocessing of that waste and create local jobs in the process. Imagine the effect of having 7,175 recycling centers that offered rewards to residents while serving as community meeting places. Or how about 7,175 local water sources where, for a nominal fee, people could come and fill up containers with local water that had been purified by silicone or clay filters to taste as good as Fiji or Smart Water?
The proliferation of farmers markets should not only serve as a model for all sustainability initiatives, but one that demonstrates just how profitable they can be. In fact, the truly amazing thing to me is that the prices at the farmers markets I’ve patronized tend to be significantly higher than those you’ll find at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s – but because of the good feelings these enterprises evoke, the customers either don’t notice or simply don’t care.