I found a great piece on LinkedIn by Wolfram Alderson, Founding Executive Director at Institute for Responsible Nutrition on the excellent return on investment in farmers markets. His call for infrastructure is spot on, although we need to counsel our stakeholders that their money will not always best used for permanent market structures or cooperative kitchens (see a link below to one story that is about a permanent market structure).
However, when our community food system does need permanent infrastructure, we want to make sure that direct marketing producers are welcomed inside along with their intermediate and wholesale producers brethren and sistren. All sizes of family and community farms will be more profitable if they don’t each need to build processing plants or storage facilities and having those facilities between the farm and the market city (rather than always in it!) would help market, intermediate and wholesale sellers and buyers alike.
This has been one of the issues facing open-air markets seeking lasting financial support; if the investor can’t see a building being built or rehabbed with their money, how can we offer a return on their investment? I suggest that we need to refine and expand our language on the measurable benefits that these markets provide to investors such as investments in new businesses, deepening awareness of the value of regional goods to family table and intermediate buyers, an open laboratory for piloting innovative ideas around food access and other civic ideas.
Let’s start to get smarter about how to ask for strategic investments that allow our organizations and businesses to keep doing the unique and important work of direct sales that lead to these other investments without always adding more projects to our to-do list. That way when those food hubs and kitchens are built when and where needed, we will still have a public place for shoppers and sellers to meet directly.
The article also links to a story of an exciting ballot measure in Marin County to support a 20 million dollar permanent market to replace the parking lot market that has been there over 30 years and run by the Agricultural Institute of Marin,a non-profit led by long time Farmers Market Coalition board member Brigitte Moran:
“The building will be funded privately by the Agricultural Institute of Marin, the nonprofit that runs the Civic Center market as well as six other Bay Area farmers’ markets. Taxpayers will pay $2 million to upgrade the vacant lot and make other infrastructure improvements, as part of a broader overhaul of the Civic Center campus.
The Board of Supervisors is solidly supportive of the measure.
“It’s part of our continued commitment to local agriculture,” said Supervisor Steve Kinsey, who represents West Marin. “Plus it’ll help us launch the renaissance of the entire campus.”