Vitality in the hive

Colorful Texan Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower said it best:
“For me, however, the true measure of a town’s vitality comes down to whether it has three non-corporate essentials: a vibrant farmer’s market, a good local pub (or a coffeehouse), and an independent community-based bookstore.”

When I heard that more than a few years back, I thought how true that was and back then, how rare. These days, it seems more likely to find this combination in my travels. Of course, my travels are most often to those places with emerging community food systems, especially farmers markets. But still, it is the combination of these local places that is really important in his assessment and that combination may actually point to indicators of success for those farmers markets.

For example last week, I was sitting in Durham, North Carolina at an excellent coffeehouse, having walked passed a small locally owned/locally sourcing restaurant a few doors down that my airbnb.com host spoke of proudly. While there, my Carrboro pals Sarah and Ben took me to many meals with artisanal specials also locally sourced and then for the same for after dinner cocktails. They debated a number of choices for both quality and level of seasonality in the food and drink and although Durham is still emerging as successful walkable downtown/ neighborhood destinations, there were clearly options. And if you asked people in any of these places if there is a regular farmers market, my experience tells me that most would be able to tell me where and when the Durham Farmers Market happens.

What begets what? Does the market reach a point in its history where its stability and its steady curation of local joie de vivre and talents gives other entrepreneurs the courage to chance riskier ideas and to plant their fair own trade or worker owned or other flag firmly in their ground?
Or is it the market itself that is the main beneficiary of an increase of artisans and localvores in more places around its town and to give its vendors and shoppers the additional comfort and approval to keep on with their work?

I wish more markets were ready to measure their own success and that once ready, would add this indicator: counting the ancillary businesses and fellow artisans whose values align with their local farmers market and asking them to detail how they and their shoppers depend on each other and support each other. To me that success measure data might be best illustrated with those folks as honeybees pollinating their ecosystem, building its diversity and resilience.

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