Dear fellow activists and entrepreneurs.
If you read this blog, you are actively engaged in the growth of the alternative food system either by interest or by work. It means that you know the reality of small businesses and the struggle for long-term success by those businesses. It also means you are aware of the divide between rural and urban, of small and large population centers in terms of access to resources and in understanding by the media or policy makers. Hopefully, everyone who reads this blog also agrees on the need for more places to discuss and work on those issues and others.
For me, the first place is public markets. That is because it is the best place to offer small businesses space, face-to-face peer time, and access to a wide variety of people to grow their ideas to fruition. Issues like resource depletion, social isolation and economic sovereignty are also on the minds of those who use markets as organizing tools.
As for those visitors, no purchase is necessary to attend a market. No one will be required to fill out an online database request to read our market materials or have to sign up for a time-share condo to have access to our market experts. Education is constant and it is offered to anyone who asks and offered not only by those with a long group of letters after their name. In markets, experience is seen as a better teacher.
Those principles were given to us by the founders of our movement, based on their strong conviction that the only way to rescue family farming and public space was to put them together. Those ideas have been exposed to the air of thousands of places since the rebirth of the farmers market movement in the 1970s and successfully connected unlikely collaborators, created safe space for diversity and championed innovation.
We have done amazing things with our markets in the last 40+ years. Thousands of pilots have shown the way to finding new businesses to vend their products, engaging people through inclusive outreach, marketing open-air or shed market culture to shoppers unfamiliar with them, and adding new appropriate technology when necessary. Yet, we are all aware that we still have a lot to do. That we had only reached a tiny percentage. That as more places are hollowed out economically, our work becomes ever more important and even more difficult.
So, no matter which candidate was yours, my hope is that you remain committed to the goals we have worked on together. That we agree that the combative nature of a national campaign cannot continue indefinitely or it will be absorbed by its citizens and become the culture of the times. Division is the enemy, because our work relies on finding the best way to include each person as and when they enter, whether they are a newly arrived resident, a suburbanite, a small town grandmother, a rural father or an urbanite. Therefore, we need to redouble our efforts to make markets the civic centers for everyone. Let’s make a pact to double the number of markets in all areas, extend seasonal markets to year-round (and if your response to that is we can’t grow year-round in our area, do remember that your region used to do just that) and triple the number of small producers by the time of the next election. In order to do that, we will need to lose more of the assumptions that we all make about those different from us and to work harder to find common ground. I’m more than ready to continue this work during this new administration and will be open to participating in any conversation in which I can be helpful. I look forward to hearing from many of you about how your work will evolve and grow. And I’ll see you at the market.