Who Benefits From Farmers Markets?

Disclaimer: I decided to use

Graphiq

a visualization widget program to add some more interactivity and data to this post. Since I use an adblocker on my laptop I didn’t notice that their embedded widgets serve ads to those who don’t have an ad blocker. I don’t like how ads look and they detract from the content. I apologize for this and hope that I can get a license to use Graphiq without serving ads. As a note, I will not receive any money from these ads, it’s just simply part of their platform.

On my last trip to the farmers market, I spent $20 on a few peaches and a personal watermelon. The fruit was untouchable, but didn’t get me through the weekend (It was that good). I felt good about my decision to support local business and to buy fruit that was in season, but I couldn’t help but feel elite. The atmosphere makes me feel like I’m not only supporting local companies but that I’m better than everyone who isn’t. I didn’t feel that it was a privilege to buy expensive fruit, I felt noble for buying fruit from this local farmer. I couldn’t really shake those thoughts and it stayed with me for months even though I haven’t been in 9 or so months.

As the months have gone by and I’ve read article after article about obesity, it makes me wonder about what I called the ‘paradox of the farmers market.’ If they are so good for the local economy and promote health why is it designed for hipsters, hippies, and people who are down to drop cash on fruit, grass-fed beef and handmade soap and deodorant? Have poor people to benefit from them somehow right? I never really found the answer to that question, but I did look at some data around it.

The Societal Divide

The U.S. Department of Agriculture keep track of farmers markets and what types of payment they accept. Outside of payments data, they have data on what they sell, where they are located, the names of the farmers markets and even if they have a Facebook page! I decided to take this data and map out farmers markets that accept SNAP and WIC, government food assistance programs designed to help the poor get food. I decided to map which markets accept these programs and which don’t to continue to get an understanding of this space in my head.

Looking at some more data, SNAP and other food assistance programs are a small percentage of any food market. However, the standards for them are very stringent. For example, for one adult to quality for SNAP they need a maximum monthly income of $1,287 before taxes. You don’t have to be on this dire end of earning to feel the sting of $7 per pound ground beef.

A Side Note

In Salt Lake City the largest farmers market is hosted in a park where most of the homeless congregate and sleep at nights. Before heading to the farmers market I will visit an ATM and go to grab fruit. My usual excuse of “I don’t have cash” to the pan handlers becomes a complete lie. It’s not uncommon to buy fruit with cash, get change and run into a pan handler before putting the money back in your pocket. It’s much harder to be homeless than to lie to a homeless person but It’s just a note I wanted to add.

So What

Any reasonable reader might think “farmers markets are markets and thus businesses, why did you bother writing this piece?” That’s a good question! I’m not calling for any social change or asking farmers markets to do anything about obesity and food deserts, all I’m doing is really venting my own cognitive dissonance. It’s like Nas song with interactive visualizations. I’m trying to paint a picture of the confusion I feel walking past starving homeless people after buying overprice fruit and it’s a surrealist piece.