Wendell Berry and Beautiful Places

On humanity:

“The interesting thing is to solve the problem, not escape it.”

On measuring our worth:

“What we can do is judge our behavior, our history and our present situation by a better standard than efficiency or profit or those measures that are still being used to determine economic decisions.”

On scale:

“It seems to me it all depends on our ability to accept limits. The system doesn’t even acknowledge limits. If we acknowledge the existence of limits, then the necessity of honoring them is possible to imagine an economy that takes care of the good things that we have in our immediate neighborhood.”

On globalization:

“The global economy, almost by definition, is not subject to regulation. This gives us the idea that if we don’t have something here, we can get it somewhere else. It’s the stuff of fantasy.”

This makes all the world a colony.

We should fulfill our needs and export the surplus. We should never export the necessities of our own lives.

The ultimate test is whether or not we live in beautiful places. Wherever ugliness has crept in, we have the first symptom of exploitation and exhaustion.

(Still) In distrust of movements:

“Movements tend to be specialized. There is a movement about climate change and it has become extremely specialized. And the actual solution of a problem like that is to have an economy that takes care of everything; an inclusive economy.

“Localism would cease to be an ism as soon as local people went to work locally. One of the things wrong with these great movements is that they are not telling people to go home and go to work in good ways to prove things.

Resistance and renewal simultaneously?

You are asking in addition to my insistence on the importance of local context and local work, do I believe in policy changes? Of course I do. Wes Jackson and his people at The Land Institute produced a farm policy called The 50 Year Farm Bill and what that proposes essentially is converting agriculture from the current 80% annual crops and 20% perennials to the opposite. That change would cure a lot of problems, including global warming to a large extent. That is a policy change.  It would have to be applied however in different ways in different places and that relies on, to a high degree, on local knowledge and local intelligence.


Increasing the non-economic impacts of markets

In terms of describing how intellectual and ecological capital can be increased by markets, this interview from a few years back during the kickoff of the Creole Tomato Festival in the French Quarter in New Orleans LA is an excellent illustration of how a market manager can do just that:

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – It’s time to talk tomatoes! This weekend the French Market will be filled with tomato festivities for the 29th annual Creole Tomato Festival. News with a Twist Reporter, Kenny Lopez wanted to learn more about the creole tomato. What is it? How’s it different than a regular tomato? How do you pick one?

Andrew McDaniel with Crescent City Farmers Market helped answer those questions.

“It’s been debated upon what a creole tomato is. Some people say it’s a variety of tomato that was put out by LSU in the 1960’s. …the creole tomato is a tomato grown in Louisiana soil. These tomatoes are usually grown along the river parishes, the parishes that line the Mississippi River. The soil is richer, so these are the ones we consider creole,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel said that the main difference between a regular tomato and a creole tomato is the taste. “Creole tomatoes stay on the vine longer, so they’re fresher. They’re better because the tomatoes don’t have to travel across the country. The soil is what makes them sweeter,” he said.

He sure knows a lot about creole tomatoes and how to pick some good ones.

“You want them to be firm and red. If it’s for a salad then you don’t want them to have a lot of blemishes. Those kind end up slicing well. When you come to the Farmers Market, you’ll often find a basket called ‘seconds’. These kind of tomatoes are good for stewing, cooking, and making salsa. They are just as good, they don’t always look as pretty as the others, so that’s the reason they’re cheaper,” he said.

The summertime is the perfect time for creole tomatoes.

“Creole tomatoes are just a quintessential summertime food, especially when you pick them up fresh,” McDaniel said.

Lexicon of the commmunity food movement

It was suggested last week that I might do a talk for adult literacy providers about how food organizing connects to their work. I began to think about what I would frame such a talk, possibly focusing on how food organizers are working from the social determinants framework to understand the many barriers that restrict our neighbors from adopting healthy living strategies, just as those providers must do when working with their clients. But then I realized I needed to first discuss how the terms of the Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) sector can be a barrier to new users, yet how it is still important that we have our own terms. So I went to The Lexicon of Food for some crowd-sourced definitions, to the USDA site,  to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Community Commons for their definitions of the types of outlets or initiatives we use. I will add more definitions in later posts and also would love to hear any refinement that you think mine need.

Community supported agriculture (CSA): An up-front investment by a consumer into a farm that is “paid back” by that farm with a share of those goods during the harvest season(s). To me, this term is an example that desperately needs to be updated or at least specific types of CSAs clustered and named. After all, the name does not really tell you anything; it does not indicate they are outlets or even that they are part of direct to consumer channels. As a matter of fact, it really should be the name for ALL of the community food movement work! No wonder it is used to describe so many types of activities….

The original concept was that through buying a CSA membership, one entered into a partnership with a nearby farm and this cash infusion allows the farmer to pay for seed, water, equipment, and labor early in the season when farm expenses are high and farm income is low. I have had the great luck of touring the first CSA in the US (Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts) some years back and hearing the story and the collaboration that made it a CSA. I think that story and others like it should be a bigger part of the newly named types as it reflects its simple and elegant idea to directly support farmers through a most meaningful connection to individual neighbors and even a mutual dependency that is likely the most transformative for both producers and eaters among DTC outlets. 

The USDA definition: A farm or network/association of multiple farms that offer consumers regular (usually weekly) deliveries of locally-grown farm products during one or more harvest season(s) on a subscription or membership basis. 

-I think it is vital that within the definition of a CSA, it is understood that the funds are given directly to farmers, which makes it different than a market box (see below). What is also needed is shorthand to define and describe the customer interaction as CSAs now often include the delivery of the goods to a “hub” location where a local business or a CSA subscriber manages the handoff to the shareholders, more often called members. In previous iterations, on-farm pickup and quite often actual volunteer hours by members was expected by most CSA farms, but that is a rare occurrence now. Simon Huntley of Small Farms Central has clearly laid out a definition and possible future solutions for the CSA community here.

farmers markets: Since the 1970s, this term has been defined by farmers, organizers, and communities as a regularly occurring event where regionally-produced farm goods are sold directly by those who made or foraged the items. in 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had 8,717 farmers markets in their directory.

The apostrophe that once was used for this term has been largely dropped off as more communities organize them for a multitude of reasons and hoped-for outcomes, thereby sharing “ownership” of the market with the vendors. Like CSAs, the name is misused by some who are not offering the same direct relationship between the grower and the buyer, which is a purpose that is core to the mission of the majority of farmers markets. Some states have added definitions to their statutes in order to stomp out these fake markets. Like  CSAs, I think that markets need to make the case more clearly that they are organized* and are meant to address local conditions in farming, in economic sovereignty and in civic engagement. 

  • Recently, someone at USDA said to me, “As far as I can tell, the only characteristic that is shared across all farmers markets is that they are organized.” That struck me as quite true and yet it also struck me later that it may be the single characteristic least known or little understood about markets among consumers, potential stakeholders and sometimes even farmers.

It is possible that other iterations of markets may crop up, such as a version for intermediate buyers only (specialty stores, restaurant chefs) who need case prices and quantities that may be difficult to get through farmers markets as they are designed presently. If they do begin to crop up, it is possible that the market organization may become a facilitator not only in the design and management of the market itself but could offer a single invoicing system for all of the sales and then reimburse farmers more quickly. Those are likely to still be known as farmers markets, but may need an added descriptor such as a “by-the-case farmers market.” In those cases, the direct relationship between the buyer and the producer is still maintained but may need an added certification entity to oversee the delivery and marketing of those goods once the sale has been completed. 

In the most recent FMPP/LFPP cycle, my organization Farmers Market Coalition partnered with technology platform Farmspread to refine one such process where Local Food Authorities (LFAs) such as “grown here” or “buy fresh buy local” chapters would add to their promotion of local goods with an authentication of those who use the term local by first building  consensus on what local really means and then overseeing the certification of both local buyers and sellers, according to their level of agreement. Chapters are the most obvious form of LFAs- and farmers markets are included in most chapters – but farmers markets on their own may also be directly considered LFAs.

farm stand: also known as a roadside stand usually managed by a single farm business or maybe neighboring farms often in a set location with either some shelving and overhead protection or maybe a gravel space for vehicles. Unfortunately, in many states, a reseller of goods can use the term even if nothing is produced locally. 

In California, the definition has been refined and expanded and it seems that there are two kinds of farm stands: 1) a farm stand that does NOT sell value-added goods is now defined as a “field retail stand” and one that does sell value-added goods (including bottled water) is what is now known as a “retail food facility.”

Field retail stands are restricted to selling whole produce and shell eggs grown by the producer on or near the site, exempt from standard wholesale size and pack requirements. These traditional field stands are exempt from California Health and Safety Code, as long as they adhere to the previous set of rules.

Farm stands that make use of these new regulations—and sell anything other than fresh, farm-produced fruits, vegetables, nuts and shell eggs—are considered “retail food facilities,” and are therefore regulated by California Health and Safety Code. But requirements for farm stands are much less strict than those for most retail food facilities.

Food desert: The CDC defines this as areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet. More often these days, you see Low Access Areas or Low Supermarket Access used instead. To qualify as a “low-access community,” at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles).

-Note: A few years back, researchers at Tulane University here in our swampy New Orleans decided that the term “food swamp” was apter than food desert. Here is their explanation: “The caloric imbalance that leads to obesity is, of course, an issue about entire diets, not specific foods.  But the extensive amount of energy-dense offerings available at these venues may, in fact, inundate, or swamp out, what relatively few healthy choice foods there are.  Thus, we suggest that a more useful metaphor to be used is ‘food swamps‘ rather than food deserts.”

food hub: USDA definition: Offering a combination of aggregation, distribution, and marketing services at an affordable price, food hubs make it possible for many producers to gain entry into new larger-volume markets that boost their income and provide them with opportunities for scaling up production.

I’d add to that food hubs seem to have two characteristics in that they are always a physical location- and therefore have a chance for investment by private and public funders – and that they act as at least one or more of these things: an aggregator space for food items, an incubator for businesses and/or as a marketing hub or all of those and more. Therefore, the reality is there is a wide difference between food hubs.

I’d also like to raise the theory that the food hub movement was begun with such gusto because farmers markets have taken a long time to “professionalize” (don’t be defensive as I don’t mean markets are unprofessional, just that market organizations have not been able to attract long-range support for their staffing and structure needs and so many have remained in “start up mode” for years, even decades);  since investors have been unable to collect data to assess the impacts of farmers markets and/or because market organizations have limited management structures, food hubs were prioritized in some areas and by some funders.

Additionally, as many of you know, I assess the difference between local food efforts and regional food systems as being 1) lack of production infrastructure and 2) lack of policy advocacy by network leaders and 3) lack of attention to the specific needs of different groups of buyers, such as family table shoppers versus specialty store/bistro restaurants or even pallet wholesale buyers. That regional approach is where food hubs have done some serious work and where market organizations might want to stick a toe in the water so to speak.

I think a meeting of minds of food hubs and markets is overdue and in some cases might even be merged into one entity.

market box: An aggregated collection of seasonal items offered weekly or at least regularly either through a subscription through a farm or through the sales of an organization such as a market. The box supports sales for local farmers and often also a percentage is shared with the entity who manages the sales and the pickups. Often mislabeled as a CSA, but able to include new users for a shorter period of time and can be used to incentivize vendors at a “food security” market where less shoppers attend, but nearby institutions can accelerate the sales with a weekly markert box from the vendors. I first saw this idea in Los Angeles at one of SEE-LA’s markets which actually accelerated my organization’s thinking around crafting a market typology that continues to this day among some researchers. 

mobile market: I had a difficult time finding a definition of this, but did find a good one on Community Commons: Mobile markets are typically renovated trucks or trailers that carry fresh and healthy foods into urban communities. A mobile market may visit a neighborhood once a week or a few times a month on a set schedule. Many mobile markets accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, payments or have subsidies that make the food affordable to people with little or no income.

The mobile market term is one that I see loosely applied to many types of initiatives and often used interchangeably with farmers markets. Obviously, the mobile market shares some characteristics with the usual definition of farmers markets, including “pop up” locations, some collective authority of what is allowed, being organized  and the ability to use SNAP or other cards to purchase goods through one central terminal. What is less universal about mobile markets versus farmers markets is the localness of the food purchased and the type of programming on market day to increase intellectual capital and social cohesion.  Still, the mobile markets may offer those two previous points so as it stands today, the main difference between farmers markets and mobile markets is the direct part: producers are not present during the transactions of the mobile market.

Interestingly, the page that I accessed for this definition has many examples on it, but almost all of those links are broken, with many of those initiatives seemingly being redesigned or shelved for now.  One reason for the difficulty in maintaining mobile markets seems to be the ongoing funding for mobile markets, but also that some mobile marksts do their best to evolve into farmers markets or farm stands as soon as possible. 

By the way, this was my analysis when my organization attempted to collaboratively design one such mobile market after the 2005 levee breaks in New Orleans. 


Okay, I’m stopping here. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

More to come…..










2018 National Direct Agriculture Marketing Summit

The first 2018 National Direct Agriculture Marketing Summit (the first of its kind in the U.S.) will be held September 15-18 in Arlington, VA.

The summit is specifically designed for farmers market managers and direct-marketing farmers wanting to network, and learn more about new industry resources and recent direct-to-consumer research and data, as well as join in on technical assistance workshops.

Attendees will learn about:
– data collection and how to communicate impacts
– technology uses for data visualization and mapping resources
– business development and marketing plans
– value-added agricultural resources available for producers


Retail anthropology for markets

Many years ago, a researcher named William (Holly) Whyte started studying the flow of people in public spaces, leading to classic books on the subject, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980) and City: Rediscovering the Center (1988) one of my perennial favorites. His Street Life Project attracted research assistants including Fred Kent who went on to found  Projects for Public Spaces (PPS),  which does great work all over the world on public space community design and has an experienced staff working with great success with shed market or market district markets.

Another early follower of Whyte’s work was Paco Underhill. In 1974 he attended what he calls a transformative lecture on Whyte at Columbia University. Inspired, Underhill conducted a street-mall study that he later showed to Fred Kent and Robert Cook, who were in the process of forming PPS. Underhill became one of their first staff members and then in 1979, founded his own consulting company, Envirosell which works with retail clients.

Why should markets learn about retail anthropology?

Shopper purchasing is changing, especially for place-based and especially for food purchases. Knowing your shoppers and what they want and how they search for it is at the core of market’s primary mission of building economic power for its vendors and community.

More markets are searching for permanent or semi-permanent locations for their flagship markets and need to know how to choose the best from a retail standpoint and how to design it too.

The pressures from chain stores eagerly co-opting the “local” and short-chain language of our movement means markets need to know how to analyze what is happening around them and how to respond.

Lastly, as market vendors diversify into more outlets to sell their items, they will need market leaders who can assist them in selecting those outlets and even in negotiating or “curating” those other transactions as they do with the family table shopper at our markets now.

Studying the work of these two companies is the easiest way into the retail anthropology sector as it is so closely aligned with Whyte’s “human-centered” framework.

From an interview with Underhill:

How do you conduct your research?
We generally use a combination of three tools. The first is observation. We have a group of approximately 60 people who spend their weekends in stores, watching how people shop. They function like anthropological researchers. We use the same techniques that sociologists might use at the marketplace in Papua, New Guinea, only we’re using it at the local Pick ‘n Pay. Our job is to look at, for example, the number of people who walk past a store in a shopping mall—the number of people who look, how long they look, whether they stop, and whether they enter. We then take a customer as they’re walking in the door and, very discreetly, observe them go through their shopping process.

Do you videotape them?
Yes. The second tool is that we will often install a series of small video cameras. We shoot anywhere from 50 to 70 hours of some of the most profoundly boring tape you’ve ever seen. But what we look at is the following: If someone pulls an item off the shelf, how do they physically handle it? What pieces of the package are being read? Do they put it back in the right place? The third tool we use is some form of interview. We ask a bit of demographic information—“How often do you shop?”—but we’re not collecting phone numbers. Our focus is on tribal issues. I’m not interested in what Mrs. Smith does. I’m focused on what Mrs. Smith does in contrast to what Mrs. Gomez does.

Observation and interview. Sounds a lot like how research is conducted at markets doesn’t it?

Here is a great example of how markets can use the second tool, video. The Athens Farmers Market in Athens Ohio affixed an iPhone to a pole overlooking the market on one fine Saturday morning:

Notice all of the data one can get from this one short video. Set up issues, weather, shopper density, egress issues (entering and exiting), the illustration of the 100% effect*,  shopper activity at anchor vendor tables, the length of time in the market, and market break down among others.

This is also helpful for those markets searching for a new location. If you can find a pole to tape an old iPod or iPhone far up and video the hours that the market would be set up there, think of what you might learn about the best way to design the space or even which direction to orient the market.

This is the kind of sensible and appropriate data collection that we include and we keep adding to in Farmers Market Metrics, now available to all farmers markets members of Farmer Market Coalition for a small subscription fee to use all of its many features.

So don’t think that every data collection process has to include a team of collectors and a bunch of paper. By using the technology you have in your hand, detailed and visual data is available for your leadership to make better decisions about the market right now. And methods designed by the experts in studying human movement in retail and public spaces available to you.

* Holly Whyte term took this real-estate term used for the busiest street corner to describe how people move to the busiest area of the walkway when having an impromptu meet up chat or when deciding where to walk: “We were testing hypotheses on-camera, most of which blew up in my face. One of my hypotheses was when people meet on the street and say, “Hi, how are you doing?” “Long time no see,” and that sort of thing, they would move into that foot of space along a building front. Quite the opposite. With very good exceptions they move into the center of traffic, what I call the 100% location. It’s crowded, but it’s also the place of maximum choice. They don’t get off in a corner somewhere; they don’t let themselves get trapped.”

“Up to seven people per foot of walkway a minute is a nice bustle” (Holly Whyte)



Next post: Common layout choices for markets.

Mythbusting farmers markets

Myth 1: Markets (and by relationship all of community food) is only concerned with cozying up to the converted.

Myth 2: Markets encourage high prices for their items.

Myth 3: Markets are all the same.

But the largest myth about the farmers market movement spread by its detractors is that it is just about selling trendy food. Yet if selling food when trending had been the only aim then availability would artificially be kept limited, possibly even sold only by special invitation only or through bidding.

Instead, the farmers market movement has remained devoted to multi-faceted goals of building community involvement through remaining casually inviting, locally relevant, expanding the offerings and those accessing them each and every decade. The history of our movement makes that clear. And debunks all of those myths.

(•The history of the eras I am referring to has been written up by me many times before, and so not to annoy my long-time readers, I have put it to the bottom of this post.)


In the most recent era unfolding now, networks and cities interest in their markets has grown and deepened. Leaders are more comfortable with engaging with their farmers markets in terms of collecting and using data around wealth creation and creative output. Cities such as Pittsburgh PA, Austin TX, Minneapolis MN and Hernando MS, among others, are leading the way in partnering with their markets as both a platform for establishing grassroots metrics and for expanding awareness of the ecological perils of relying only on imports.

The last 45+ years show the intentionality and versatility of the market field and skewers the myths of any single origin. It also shows the effort to reach beyond food to include other assets and assorted civic leaders interested in building a new town square. And that market leaders are firm in the choice that design of the market should remain nimble by keeping most open-air or with easily-managed and low-cost infrastructure. That last point often frustrates city leaders or funders. That begets another myth, one where the market is not a serious mechanism for economic activity because of many markets’ use of secondary space, temporary structures and a refusal to go into storefront mode. The truth we need to share is that for grassroots initiatives expending time and money on infrastructure can solve some problems, but can also create others. So it is up to markets to find ways to show their serious intention to stick around without always resorting to brick and mortar. And when they do, to plan carefully and to allow for changes and other users of the same space.

Of course, there are other myths that need to be addressed in food system work. Scaling up, uniformity, efficiency are some others.

I’ll leave it to our dean of place, Wendell Berry, to take on some of those through a passage from his recent essay, “The Thoughts of Limits in a Prodigal Age” where he talks about capacity, scale, and form in agrarianism. He says: “It is a formidable paradox that in order to achieve the sort of limitless we have begun to call ‘sustainability’… strict limits must be observed. Enduring structures of household and family life, or the life of a community or the life of a country, cannot be formed except within limits. We must not outdistance local knowledge and affection, or the capacities of local persons to pay attention to the details only by which we can do good to one another. Within limits, we can think of rightness of scale. When the scale is right, we can imagine completeness of form.”

That triptych of capacity, scale and form has appeared on this blog before and will again because it so perfectly describes both the problem and the solution. It also encapsulates why the dominant paradigm cannot “see” us or work in tandem with us. It also beautifully describes the localness of organizing that markets know well. Those limits are exactly how our market founders staked a necessary place in their community and now can manage the outcomes of their projects or mission with respect to that place. So remember: Don’t hide the hard work your organization has done that is embedded in the decisions of location, products, procedures, and the goals of your market.  It’ll help bust some of those myths.




(history of market eras)

  • 1970s-1980s: Back-to-land farmers and ecological advocates begin markets. Their organizing principle is “Grow it to sell it” -a provocative statement at the time by the way- asking for a steady commitment up front from both the growers and the buyers to act honorably and collectively. These markets opened in places (interestingly, in a lot of university towns ) such as Madison WI, Carrboro NC, Athens OH, Berkeley CA, Montpelier VT.

    1990s: Community leaders, aware of those first growers-only markets, begin to open markets as holders of civic space adding a “learn together”/social cohesion motif to the grow it to sell it mandate. Places including San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Portland, Cleveland, District of Columbia were the recipient of this round of foundings. Interestingly, many of these leaders also became the founders of larger networks, including Farmers Market Coalition.

    1990s-2000s: Main Street markets in smaller towns and in rural communities add markets to their revival initiatives in towns like Ocean Springs MS, Natchitoches LA, and Durham NC. These markets encouraged value-added items and new non-farm vendors, focusing on incubating new businesses and supporting nearby Main Street initiatives.

    2000s: As technology advanced to allow at-risk populations to access markets with their EBT card, public health strategies became useful and the field of practioners and agencies in that field began to partner with and sponsor new markets to expand good food by getting markets in new places and adding public health incentives. One network that must be commended is Kaiser-Permanente’s markets on their own hospital campuses and markets such as Crossroads Farmers Market in Takoma Park MD.

    2000s: Deeply embedded, longtime organizers add food initiatives to their portfolio of activities, utilizing the community assets of residents and responding to their requests for markets. Markets in and around central Brooklyn NY like Brooklyn Rescue Mission, East New York Farm and the ReFresh and Sankofa Markets in New Orleans learn from earlier markets using the market mechanism to offer residents the opportunity to be both the buyers and the vendors.

Posters! Posters!! POSTERS!!!

(title with apologies to Jack Barry  and Snoop Dogg of The Joker’s Wild)



Get those posters ready – FMC has teamed up with Farm Aid to host the 2018 National Farmers Market Poster Contest, April 15th – May 15th! Now in its 4th year, the annual contest celebrates the creativity and diversity of America’s farmers markets by showcasing their posters on a national level.

For contest rules, requirements and FAQs, visit: http://bit.ly/FMCPC

To enter, visit: bit.ly/Enter_PosterContest2018