Blog: Molly Notarianni

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers... and we bet he sold 'em at a farmers market. This week Ann Arbor Farmers Market Manager Molly Notarianni digs up the social and economic edge to a market where the personality-to-product ratio is higher than you'll find in any store.

Post 2: Hand-to-Mouth Economics

Yesterday I suggested farmers markets fill an important role as a center of community life.  Perhaps more obvious is the role they play as an economic hub.  You probably already know that reinvigorating local economies is essential if we want to create sustainable communities.  I believe that successful farmers markets can be a key component to relocalizing our food system while ensuring a vibrant local economy that is both diverse and resilient.

Vendors, customers, and nearby local businesses benefit from thriving markets.  On a busy Saturday in late summer, over 10,000 shoppers visit the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, spending upwards of $175,000 with market vendors.  This is an amazing influx of activity to the neighborhood!!

When I began working at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, I hadn't considered business incubation a part of my job, but it has become one of the most gratifying things I do.  Farmers markets are the ideal location for fledgling businesses.  Without having to invest in a storefront, overhead is low.  Foot traffic is high, and the constant feedback from customers allows producers to quickly react to consumer demand.  If we want to encourage innovation and entrepreneurialism in our community, it is essential that we continue to create space for new vendors at farmers markets.  

In order to have a truly sustainable food system, purchasing of local food must happen on many different scales.  Chefs strolling through the market are a frequent sight, but the amount of food consumed in a restaurant pales in comparison to that consumed in larger institutions such as hospitals and schools.   Because they consistently draw a dense cluster of growers and food producers to one urban location, farmers markets create a forum which makes it easy for large institutions to buy local.  Once institutional food buyers form personal relationships with growers and producers, they can work more closely with them to make purchases, and contract the growing of specific items which meet their needs.

A sustainable food system is also a just food system.  Farmers markets can play a key role in ensuring that fresh, healthy food is available to all, regardless of income or proximity to traditional brick and mortar grocery stores. The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is working to ensure that all members of our community are able to buy fresh food, through acceptance of SNAP benefits and participation in programs such as Double Up Food Bucks.  Our efforts are inspired in large part by other markets, such as the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market, which pioneered such programs in the area.

Preservation of farmland is obviously essential to the long term sustainability of our local food system.  Flourishing farmers markets provide a reliable sales outlet for local growers, which in turn further ensures the viability of small-scale agriculture.

Finally, there are many other amazing and innovative examples of ways that farmers markets can further facilitate the relocalization of our food system.  The inclusion of buildings with food processing facilities could help foster new food businesses, as well as provide farmers with a means to process extra produce into value-added products like jam or tomato sauce.  Cold storage facilities would allow growers to store unsold produce at the end of the market day, which could then be donated to local food pantries or purchased by area stores and restaurants.  The possibilities are endless!