Monday, April 1, 2013

Food Spaces - Farmers Markets

Madrona-Capitol Hill Farmers Market is located in the parking lot of the Grocery Outlet, across from a local pea-patch garden and surrounded by busy streets. The parking lot fills quickly with flower vendors, lots of produce, bread, some delicious food stands and a few small products stands such as soap and personal care items. On the edges of the market a man sells Real Change newspaper. The market is friendly, lively and filled with sights, smells and sounds to enlighten your senses. Mad-Cap is held seasonally on Fridays from May through September.

Seven and a half miles down the road and around the corner the Ballard Farmers Market opens in old-town Ballard and takes up the historical, cobbled Ballard Avenue. The market is held year-round on Sundays and is filled with numerous vendors offering many different products - produce, chocolate, bread, personal care items, jewelry and much more. Ballard Avenue is surrounded by shops selling coffee, baked goods, art galleries, restaurants and more. The market at Ballard has a family feel to it and the vendors confirm this by stating, "I've known people since they were first coming here with their dogs and now they come with their kids and make it a family outing day". The street is quieter and a bit more low-key.  A man is also selling Real Change at Ballard, but he is a bit more hidden and does not call out what he is selling.

The farmer’s markets I visited during my research all accepted WIC (Women, Infants Children), FMNP (Farmers Market Nutrition Program) and Social Security checks for produce and other food items at the markets. While each market accepted assistance checks the difference between the two markets was astonishing. Located seven and a half miles from each other the markets felt as though they were held in two different worlds. The disparity between the two markets is felt more keenly at Mad-Cap through its location, surroundings and the people who tend to frequent this market. I noted at Mad-Cap more assistance checks were used than at Ballard.

Ballard has an old-world feel to it, a sense of stepping back in time; a place to meet old friends and make new ones; a sense of timelessness in how families have been coming to the market since they were young, first with their four-legged kiddos and now with their two-legged kiddos.

In reading these descriptions, I can feel the differences coming through and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, when I spoke to people at Mad-Cap and let them know after Oxbow Farm was done there we would continue to be at Ballard for another month or so, many of them stated, "Ballard, that's way too far!". This statement makes the distance and placement of the markets feel even further from each other. Yet, when one stops to think of the challenges to accessing markets it begins to make sense why people choose to shop at a grocery store instead of a farmer's market.

For example...

  • If I don't have a car and have to rely on the bus system for transportation there may or may not be a stop near the farmer's market. 
  • If I work on a weekend the market is usually open during the hours I'm working and closes before I finish work. 
  • If I have small children, I may not have someone to watch them and trying to wrangle kids, grocery bags and transportation can be supremely challenging.
  • If I have already spent my WIC/FMNP check I may not have the money to go and buy fresh produce at the farmer's market.
  • If I live across town and it is the off-season market time, I have to find out which markets are open year-round and it may take several hours out of my one day off to spend with my family or I have off from work to relax.
While many of these may sound like excuses and may be countered with statements/questions such as...
  • Isn't buying fresh produce important to you?
  • Why can't you make the market a family outing experience?
  • The market accepts WIC/FMNP checks, so you should set aside some of the money each month to go to the market.
  • Many markets are located near bus stops, so transportation should be easy.
I believe these statements/questions further the class differentiation which can be found when analyzing farmer's markets and how readily accessible they are to lower socio-economic and minority populations.  I believe the FMNP for seniors and WIC participants is vital to increasing the access to farmers markets  for these populations; however, I also believe there needs to be a recognition of the challenges to accessing certain farmer's markets and a continual striving for increasing access and making the market an accepting space for all people.

I found value in each of these two markets and would not consider one better than the other.  Each market is filled with numerous vendors to choose from; friendly faces; passionate farmers and food sellers; delicious food trucks; acceptance and community.  For me, community is the most important part of the farmer's market and the ability to connect with people passionate about food and their crafts.  These spaces are places where people connect with old and new friends, raise their families and build connections to their food, the land and the farmer.

Read more about farmer's markets here.

**Sadly, I was working my behind off while at the Mad-Cap Farmers Market and did not take any pictures and the market closed before I was able to make it back and take pictures.  Pictures to come in the future!

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