I heard a sad statistic on NPR the other day that of all the farmers markets popping up across the nation each year, only half actually succeed after the first few years. Those that make it become incredibly successful, but still many aren’t getting to that point. Portland has many examples of the success stories: Wednesday downtown at the Park blocks, Thursdays in the Pearl District, Saturdays near PSU.
As I consider the weekly visit to a farmers market, I question whether I really need to by buying more produce in the first place when I have zucchini, broccoli, and tomatoes coming out my ears at home. I justify it by telling myself the huge Wednesday and Saturday farmers markets in downtown Portland are probably not missing me. But there is a little start-up market on Sunday near my house and, in hearing that statistic, a wave of guilt washed over me. If I want my neighborhood to be the kind of place that supports a local farmers market, it is time to put my money where my mouth is.
I made a point to go visit the Lents International Farmers Market this past Sunday and it reminded me of several reasons we all have to visit these local markets. Although I grow a small variety of food in my backyard, nothing beats the comparison of multiple farmers in one spot. I picked up some lovely cherries, a bunch of shiny beets, and some shallots to boot. One stand even sold homemade tamales, so I had to pick up one of those as well. More importantly, visiting this market demonstrated just how desperately they need me back on a weekly basis. They are very small with only a few vendors and not a big crowd. They need stability through my shopping to establish themselves and grow their customer base.
Our neighborhood is less than stellar – what can I say, Portland housing is expensive. And these small little gems that we are proud to include in our neighborhoods need our support. There is a FABULOUS brunch place a few blocks away that serves Stumptown coffee and organic/local produce, called the Arleta Library Cafe. We make a point to eat there whenever we want brunch because it’s a symbol to us of what our neighborhood could become. We’re brunch connoisseurs, if there is such a thing, and could choose from over a dozen awesome places with similar menus, but this one is in our neighborhood so we go there instead.
I make the same point when people voice complaint against corporate shops vs. small independents: Put your money where your mouth is and don’t shop there. I know it can often be a more complicated issue than that, but I think it’s the power we all have as consumers and I feel like we don’t use it enough. We do have a hand in which companies will succeed. We should think of our farmers markets the same way. We need them as much as they need us. Who couldn’t use an extra bowl of cherries?