Farmers' markets and local food systems

Alexandra Link and Chris Ling
Published June 18, 2007

Case Summary

There is a movement towards strengthening the local food system on Vancouver Island. This case study addresses a key component of the local food system: food distribution by local agricultural producers. In particular, it concentrates on farmers’ markets, an important aspect of food distribution. 

Given the links between local food systems and sustainability and the desired role of farmers’ markets in local food systems, studying farmers’ markets can offer insights into the barriers and opportunities that exist for strengthening local food systems and achieving sustainability outcomes. Though it is necessary to be realistic about the ability of farmers’ markets to alter the industrial food system, farmers’ markets have the potential to be instrumental in supporting the local food system.

The study considers the creation of a farmers' market in the Royal Oak area of Saanich, BC. However, before implementing the market, it is advised that further research and consultation be undertaken with respect to concerns such as location, scheduling, products offered, features, and types of marketing. As well, key issues, such as CRD health regulations, accessibility and inclusion of low-income consumers, and market standards regarding local and organic products, must be addressed by related stakeholders, partners, and the market committee.

Sustainable Development Characteristics

Farmers’ markets, through their potential to sustain and support the local food system, can contribute to sustainability goals. This does not mean that local food systems are inherently more sustainable than industrial food systems, but that they are more apt to acknowledge the importance of relying on locally available resources and recognizing interdependencies between local producers and consumers. This can then lead to more sustainable practices.

Local food system practices such as farmers’ markets are directly tied to place and time as well as social, economical, ethical and physical systems within which they are located. The impacts of these practices cannot be distanced and externalized in the same manner that they often are in the long-distance, industrial food system. Local food practices adapt to fit natural parameters and constraints, which are perceived as limits to be respected, not obstacles to be overcome (Kloppenburg et al., 1996). In industrial food systems, natural parameters are often not even perceived due to the wide distances between causes and effects.

Local sustainability is directly related to contextual embeddedness. For instance, Kloppenburg et al. (1996) explain that a community, which depends upon its community members, neighbouring lands, and native species to provide for most of its needs has to make sure the resources it uses to satisfy those needs are maintained in a healthy state. In this situation, impacts related to food practices, such as soil erosion and water consumption, are issues of immediate concern. Thus farmers’ markets, through their contextual embeddedness, have more potential to instigate sustainable practices within the local area where they occur than do industrial food systems.

Farmers’ markets encourage local food security through their promotion and support of local food production. The more food that is grown on Vancouver Island, the more the residents of the island will be buffered in the event of disruptions of long distance food supply such as weather events or political instabilities. Local food production and distribution can assist in fostering food security for the local region.

Through reducing the distance that food is transported, farmers’ markets decrease “food miles”. The distance food takes to travel is directly related to the amount of fossil fuels required to get it there. Since fossil fuels cause pollution and directly impact climate change (Hegrl et al., 2006), reducing the distance that food travels translates into environmental (and related socio-economic) benefits.

In the Greater Victoria Capital Region, there is a high proportion of organic producers compared to other regions in BC (MacNair, 2004). This benefits the region since organic practices have various sustainability benefits. One of these benefits is supporting the land on which food is produced; for example, though prevention of soil erosion (Arden-Clarke & Hodges, 1988).

These sustainability benefits are realized to a great extent in the Greater Victoria Capital Region due to the fact that it comprises a large number of organic producers, with 25 certified organic producers in total (Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, 1999, as cited in MacNair, 2004). The region has the second highest proportion of certified organic producers than any other region in British Columbia (next to the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District), with this number increasing at a rapid rate (MacNair, 2004). This trend is exemplified in the present study, whereby 55% of producers employ organic practices (although not necessarily certified organic). Thus, the emphasis by local producers on Vancouver Island on organic practices contributes to sustainability benefits for the region.

Farmers’ markets can encourage human wellbeing through various means. One way they can accomplish this is through educating consumers about health. The type of food that is offered at farmers’ markets can also sustain human health. For instance, farmers’ markets often feature organic foods. Organic produce has been found to contain higher levels of antioxidants, substances attributed to cancer prevention in humans, than non-organic foods (Benbrook, 2005). Locally-produced and sold foods also have health benefits. When local produce is purchased locally, it is likely to be consumed much sooner after harvest than non-local produce and, therefore, have higher nutritional value when consumed (MacNair, 2004).

On a broader level, farmers’ markets can support the health of communities through emphasizing a ‘healthy-community’ approach in their operations. With this approach, decisions are made with the aim of improving the wellbeing of the community as a whole.

This community-health approach extends the notion of health beyond individuals to an interconnected network of people who together help to support the wellbeing of the entire community. A focus on community health can have broader-reaching and longer lasting benefits for people’s wellness than simply concentrating on individuals because of the benefits that arise from having the support of an entire network of people.

On both a community and individual scale, farmers’ markets can assist in sustaining human health and wellbeing. This occurs though various means including health-related education that can occur during producer-consumer interactions, healthy products offered at the market, and the ability of the market to have a ‘healthy-community’ approach in its operations.

Critical Success Factors

The continued success of local farming in the Royal Oak area of Saanich requires changes and improvements in the following:

  1. Advertising, sales, and education: improving these aspects will assist producers in raising awareness about their farm operation and products. It will also enable consumers to better locate products that they are interested in and to understand production practices of producers (such as organic practices and local production). This has the potential to influence consumers' purchasing decisions.
  2. Product and production method: suggestions by producers include increasing efficiencies in production methods, adapting to meet consumer demands, and adopting practices that are sustainable. These choices have the potential of increasing sales for producers as customers’ needs are better addressed. They may also result in greater satisfaction for consumers as they are able to purchase products that meet their demands.
  3. Construction and labour: Improved farm infrastructure allows producers to run farm operations more effectively and better display products to customers on-site, thus keeping down costs and improving product marketing. Such practices will also benefit consumers through lower prices. Other concerns include recruiting, keeping, and adequately paying labour power. Adequate labour is necessary to meet production requirements for consumer demands while maintaining product quality standards.

The success of farmers' markets in the area would rely on the following:

  1. Participation. Producers in this study suggest that farmer’s markets are ideal for producers who:
    1. Cannot or do not want to exclusively sell products from their farm stand;
    2. Are new producers or are new at selling their products;
    3. Are small-scale producers, but have enough production to sell their products;
    4. Prefer selling products direct to the consumer;
    5. Are interested in educating consumers about local food production, organics, and general farm operations;
    6. Are able to take time away from their farm to be at a market;
    7. Can afford market stall fees;
    8. Would benefit from using the market as a means to advertise their farm operation;
    9. Are confident they will be able to make enough profit at the market to cover the input costs of participating in the market (such as labour, time factors such as driving time, and market stall fees);
    10. Can make the commitment to attend a market on a regular basis; and,
    11. Enjoy interacting with customers.
  2. Organization. Producers discuss several factors to consider with respect to organizing a farmer’s market. These include:
    1. Funding for the market;
    2. A manager to run the market;
    3. Market volunteers;
    4. Support from other farmers in organizing the market;
    5. Formation of community committees;
    6. Land/site acquisition for a market;
    7. A critical mass of producers to participate in the market; and,
    8. Standards of quality control for market products.
  3. Location. The most important aspects of location according to producers include:
    1. Adequate parking for customers;
    2. Facilities (such as bathrooms);
    3. Location in a busy/central area;
    4. Access to the market for customers (including public transportation, cycling and pedestrian access);
    5. Location away from competition/Conflict of interest with nearby business (such as grocery stores and country markets);
    6. Aesthetic beauty/ambience of site;
    7. Location near traffic or “lines of flow”;
    8. Location on well-known site; and,
    9. Visibility of market to potential customers.
  4. Market scheduling. If the proposed market is held during the weekend, participants recommend it be in the morning until mid-day or early afternoon. If it is to be held during the weekday, participants recommend it be in the afternoon or evening. Overall, participants prefer to have the market four times a month on a regularly scheduled day during the summer months (such as May-October). One exception to this is if a pocket market were to be set up, which could be held all day for the entire year.
  5. Products offered. Producers wish to sell a variety of fruit, vegetables, animal products, and other items at the proposed market. All producers are in favour of having farm produce and prepared food at the market. Producers mention limiting the number of craftspeople, requiring standards, and a local emphasis. Producers have differing opinions on organics at the market: an organic market would be elitist; non-organic products would compete unfairly with organic products.
  6. Market features. All producers are in favour of having the following market features: activities for children; parking facilities; public transportation; and, food demonstrations. The majority of producers believe that music would be a beneficial feature, provided that it supports the market atmosphere.
  7. Market type. There is conjecture by producers regarding market type. Many producers appear to be unsure about how a cooperative market would operate. This could be due to the fact that there are few, if any, examples of cooperative markets in the local area. Individual stalls are favoured because producers believe they are easiest to manage and allow for a more direct relationship between producers and consumers.

For success in a wider sustainable community development context the market organization should:

  1. Foster accessibility and inclusion. The market should be accessible for and inclusive of low income consumers and marginalized groups. "Food policy councils" and related initiatives are being developed in a variety of cities across Canada including Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria. These initiatives work to connect food system issues to other key factors affecting local communities such as economic development and nutrition and public health (Dahlberg, 1993, as cited in Kloppenburg et al., 1996; MacNair, 2004; The Toronto Food Policy Council, 1993, as cited in Kloppenburg et al., 1996). In the Greater Victoria Region, the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable has been established to deal with such issues.
  2. Consult with stakeholders. Consultation with local businesses, community members, other farmers’ markets, producers, consumers, and other relevant stakeholders is recommended in order to make the market a success. These parties may offer a wealth of advice, often based on practical experience in the local area. Colihan and Chorney (2004) mention the following issues in which stakeholders may offer assistance: training and mentoring in marketing; merchandising; food safety; bookkeeping; food processing; personnel management; legal issues; team building; and, community development. Consultation also ensures that relationships with the market are positive, thus decreasing potential for conflicts in the future. Consultation allows for relationship building amongst affected parties.
  3. Consumer preferences. Consumers are one of the most important factors in a farmers’ market. For instance, consumers’ preference for food choice may act as a deterrent to farmers’ market patronage. Understanding consumer preferences may allow the proposed farmers’ market to better address, and find solutions to meeting these needs, such as  promoting the development of regional palates based on "moving diets" of locally and seasonally available food  (as suggested by Kloppenburg et al., 1996).
  4. Form partnerships. Partnerships between any farmers' market and groups such as municipalities, service clubs, chambers of commerce, community organizations, local agriculture groups, business improvement associations, government planning departments, economic development agencies, consumer groups, and non-profit organizations, can provide significant advantages to a market in the form of funding, expertise, public support, and market space (Colihan and Chorney, 2004). For example, incorporating the market into the Royal Oak community development plan would potentially enable the market to be considered in a range of different planning and fiscal considerations. As well, Lifecycles Project Society is currently researching the pocket market concept and would be a valuable resource regarding providing expertise in this regard.

Community Contact Information

Alexandra Link, M.A., B.Sc.
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

What Didn’t Work?

  • Political support for the Industrial Food Model: Local food system movements are embedded in, and constrained by, the rules, interests and policies of local, national, and international governments. Governmental influences on local food systems include the creation of municipal bylaws related to agricultural land use, provincial changes to land designations such as land included within the Agricultural Land Reserve in BC, and food production and export decisions made by international governments that affect the purchasing choices of local consumers.

  • Cultural habits: Currently, consumers have a high degree of choice in selecting food products and are able to purchase food from anywhere in the world. They are also accustomed to spending a small amount of their total income on food products. It is difficult to overcome these cultural habits and encourage consumers to accept local food constraints, such as limited options in the wintertime and spending more of their household income on local food products.

  • Urbanization: Producers in the Greater Victoria Capital Region could have difficulties due to their close proximity to the urban core. Such constraints include urban development pressures and the high cost of land. For instance, the cost of property in the Victoria CRD has doubled in the past five years (Hill, 2007). High land costs can make it very difficult to purchase land for local farming purposes. Urban constraints such as high land costs can pose significant obstacles for local food practitioners in the Victoria CRD.

  • Commodification of relationships: Farmers’ markets may actually mimic the industrial system through similar commodification of food and commodified relations between consumers and producers. It is likely that various motivations exist simultaneously and possibly in a contradictive way, among producers and within single individuals. Hinrichs (2000) discusses how there is a tension in the way producers perceive farmers’ markets, a friction between contextual embeddedness and commodification.

  • Lack of accessibility for less affluent consumers and producers: Depending on their emphasis and management, farmers’ markets can be difficult to access for less affluent consumers. Farmers’ markets can tend toward emphasizing expensive specialty goods, exclusive products, and high-priced niche market foods, described as ‘yuppie chow’ by Feagan et al. (2004). These products are difficult to purchase by those with less disposable income. Producers may also face accessibility challenges when selling their products though a farmers’ market. Many of these challenges are impacted by those who manage the market. For instance, if market stall fees are set high and regulations prohibit producers from sharing stalls, this could deter lower-income producers from participating.

  • Minimal public understanding of local food systems: Although participation by both consumers and producers in farmers’ markets may symbolize broader support for the local food movement, Feagan et al. (2004) believe that there is a gap regarding the conceptual leap that needs to be taken with respect to consumer food choices being a direct response to broader sustainability objectives. Ideally, when the public interacts directly with producers, consumers will become more aware of these implications, such as by understanding the beneficial effects of growing local food on their community. However, the average farmers’ market consumer may not understand the broader context of the local food movement and sustainability implications as these issues may be complex to understand or obscured by the distances created by the industrial food system.

  • Food security: Although increasing local production and supply of food would protect Vancouver Island from disruptions to outside transportation routes, a food system that depends exclusively on local sources without outside connections is vulnerable to political, social, and environmental events that could wipe out the resident food supply. Examples of such happenings include pest outbreaks, natural disasters, and quarantines. Greater reliance on local food alone can lead to decreased food security if there is not a connection to outside production sources.

  • Exclusionary tendencies: Like any movement, the local food movement has the potential to become overly exclusionary and dogmatic. As Hinrichs (2003, p. 37) explains, “defensive food system localization tends to stress the homogeneity and coherence of “local”, in patriotic opposition to heterogeneous and destabilizing outside forces,… localization becomes elitist and reactionary, appealing to narrow nativist sentiments.” Thus, although the local food movement has much to offer, it must be wary of extremism and be inclusive of other perspectives and points of view.

Financial Costs and Funding Sources

Overhead and management vary in complexity based on the value of the real estate upon which they locate and the size of the market (Colihan & Chorney, 2004). Farmers' markets can be located in permanent structures, sheds, or open-air at a wide range of locations (Colihan & Chorney, 2004). There are various forms of farmers’ markets including farm produce, craft, organic, and any combination of these, as well as different types of marketing, including co-operative tables, individual stalls, and marketing board ownership. In many cases, public funding has helped to establish the markets, and in a large number of cases, public funding, in one form or another, supports their operation (Lapping, 2004).

Research Analysis

Supporting the Local Economy

Farmers’ markets support the local economy in many ways. One of these, is the farmers’ markets’ flexibility to respond to consumer demands. For instance, farmers' markets are able to cater to niche and specialty markets such as the needs of senior citizens and ethnic communities. The direct interaction that local producers have with their customers means they are able to immediately determine and respond to consumers’ needs.

Farmers’ markets also support the local economy through what Lapping (2004) describes as the ‘multiplier effect.’ This phenomenon occurs when money spent at farmers’ markets is circulated in the community, leading to multiplying effects within the local economy. For example, when farmers’ markets are located next to local businesses, there are often spillovers to the local businesses from market patrons (Lapping, 2004). As such, the establishment of a farmers’ market can result in increased economic growth in the area in which it is located.

Formation of Social Capital

The interactions between producers and consumers at farmers’ markets often go beyond economic capital gains and can lead to ‘social capital’ formation (Hinrichs, 2000; Lapping, 2004). Social capital is based on the premise that social networks have value. It refers to the “collective value of all social networks and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other” (Putnam, 2000).  The capacity to come together creates a social space where community, friendships and social networking are fostered. This social space was important for producers in the study.

Through direct social interaction, farmers’ markets aid in re-creating linkages between producers and consumers. They “shrink both the physical food chain and the sociocultural distances between the two” (Feagan et al., 2004). The social networks formed as a result of direct interactions at farmers’ markets are thus essential for personal wellbeing and the formation of social capital.

Shaping the Food System

Local production and participation in farmers’ markets can influence the food system in broader ways than building social and economic capital. One way that farmers’ markets shape food systems is by fostering free enterprise and ethically-grounded economic behaviour.

Farmers’ markets can be a way of supporting the economic viability of producers who wish to operate outside of the industrial food system (Lapping, 2004). By providing producers with opportunities to sell their goods locally, farmers’ markets enable them to operate in a way they consider ethical, while opening a path for others to do so as well.

The context of ‘food democracy’ is useful for understanding this influence. Food democracy is the idea that people “can and should be actively participating in shaping the food system, rather than remaining passive as spectators on the sidelines …[and] having power to determine agro-food policies and practices locally, regionally, nationally, and globally” (Hassanein, 2003, p. 79). Although not explicitly labelled as such by producers in the study, many of their comments appeared to express a desire to shape the direction of the food system.

Through supporting fostering free enterprise and ethically-grounded economic behaviour, promoting the economic viability of producers who wish to operate outside of the industrial food system, and fostering active attempts to create change in the food system, local production and participation in farmers’ markets can shape the food system.

Enhancing Consumer Understanding of Local Food

As discussed in the previous section, local producers often influence and support the local food system. One of the ways this occurs is through educating consumers. Several producers in this study expressed the desire to educate people about how food is produced on the farm and about the sustainability benefits of local food production. This direct educational exchange has the potential to influence how the public understands food systems, makes consumer choices, and understands the importance of local food. This has clear implications for sustainability.

Detailed Background Case Description


There is a movement towards strengthening the local food network on Vancouver Island. The Economic Blueprint, an evaluation of the economic potential of the Capital Region, has listed encouraging the agricultural sector as one of its key recommendations, including supporting the purchase of local farm products (Thornton, 2003). The Capital Region Food & Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (2004) states, “The most pressing concern in relation to food security is the need to increase the amount of food being grown locally on Vancouver Island.” There is also an increasing interest in, and demand for, regional food by consumers in the Capital Region (MacNair, 2004).

Geographical context

The Royal Oak neighbourhood is located on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It is in Saanich West, in the District of Saanich on the Saanich Peninsula, immediately north of the municipalities of Victoria and Oak Bay.

The District of Saanich was incorporated on March 1, 1906 (The Corporation of the District of Saanich, 2006). With an area of 11,179 hectares, it is the largest of the core municipalities making up Greater Victoria (The Corporation of the District of Saanich, 2006).

Saanich has become a major residential area while also maintaining an important agricultural base. Half of its residency is urban and half is rural and agricultural (The Corporation of the District of Saanich, 2006). With a population of 103,654, it is the most inhabited municipality on Vancouver Island and the seventh most populated in the province (Statistics Canada, 2002).

The Royal Oak neighbourhood is divided into three main areas: Broadmead, Viewmont, and Falaise (see Figure 2). The Royal Oak area is represented by three community associations: the Broadmead Area Resident’s Association, the Falaise Crescent Community Association, and the Royal Oak Community Association. The population of Royal Oak is growing substantially: 3,445 people in 1986 (The Corporation of the District of Saanich, 2003) to 17,490 people in 2001 (Government of British Columbia, 2001).

Agriculture has traditionally played a key role in Royal Oak’s economy, has added to the local food supply, and has provided rural viewscapes (The Corporation of the District of Saanich, 2003).  However, recent suburban development has displaced agricultural uses and fragmented agricultural lands.

Local Food

An alternative to the industrial food system is the “local” food movement. Local food is more than the name implies, which is food grown, caught or processed in its regional area (Burros, 2006). According to community nutritionist Gail Feenstra (1997, p. 28, as cited in Hinrichs, 2000), local food systems “are rooted in particular places, aim to be economically viable for farmers and consumers, use ecologically sound production and distribution practices, and enhance social equity and democracy for all members of the community.” This system incorporates food production, processing, distribution and consumption with the aim of increasing the environmental, nutritional, economic, and social wellbeing of a specific locale (Wilkins & Eames-Sheavly, n.d.)

There are four main aspects that distinguish local food systems from the industrialized food system (Wilkins & Eames-Sheavly, n.d.).

  1. Food security. Local food security refers to food access within a community context, with a particular focus on low-income households. In a local food system, food access is increased due to the growth and sale of grown food within the community. On the other hand, in an industrialized food system, food consumption is highly dependent upon food grown across the world.
  2. Proximity describes the distance between different parts of the food system. Proximity is increased in local food systems where producers and consumers have a much higher potential for interaction than in the industrialized food system.
  3. Self-reliance describes to what extent a community is able to meet its own food requirements. In the local food system, food is grown for local needs and not for export as in global food systems. This ensures that the community is able to support its own food requirements.
  4. Sustainability refers to following food system practices that respect the ability of future generations to meet their food requirements. This includes environmental protection, profitability, ethical treatment of food system workers and other living beings, and community development. Local food systems meet these criterion to a much greater extent than industrial food systems, due in part to having to deal with direct consequences of food system decisions.

Local food systems include an array of market arrangements including roadside farm stands, u-pick operations, community-supported agriculture, farmers markets, etcetera (Hinrichs, 2000). They are explicitly and beneficially linked to the needs and interest of local households, neighbourhoods, and communities, such direct agricultural markets favour locality and seasonality over distance and durability (Friedman, 1993). Tailoring food production and its consumption to local conditions is believed to be a key factor in developing sustainable food systems (Cavallaro & Dansero, 1998, as cited in Feagan et al, 2004; Feenstra, 1997; Halweil, 2002).

According to the Greater Victoria Capital Region Food & Agricultural Initiatives Roundtable, there is an increasing interest in, and demand for, regional food by consumers (MacNair, 2004). One way to meet this demand is to support local producers in their production of food and in their distribution of their products. A key means is the establishment of farmers’ markets. This research will focus on farmers’ markets and related marketing aspects of these markets.

Re-Emergence of Farmers’ Markets

There has been a dramatic increase in farmers’ markets in Britain and North America in the last 10-20 years (Connell et al., 2006; Hinrichs, 2000; Sommer et al., 1980). According to Colihan and Chorney (2004), the province of British Columbia (BC) in Canada is a high-growth region for farmers’ markets. In BC, there are about 100 known markets, up from 60 known markets, in 2000 (Connell et al., 2006).  Several communities, including Vancouver and Victoria, have multi-market locations (Colihan & Chorney, 2004). There are various explanations for this renewed interest in farmers’ markets. These include:

  1. Lower prices to consumers (Sommer et al.,1980);

  2. Higher profits for local growers and a desire to support them (Colihan & Chorney, 2004; Hinrichs, 2000; Sommer et al., 1980);

  3. Consumer demands outside of the dominant retailing food environment (Baber & Frongillo, 2003; Hinrichs, 2000; Holloway & Kneafsey, 2000 as cited in Feagan et al., 2004);

  4. An exciting shopping experience for consumers (Sommer et al., 1980);

  5. A means to help revitalize urban areas (Baber & Frongillo, 2003; Colihan & Chorney, 2004; Sommer et al., 1980);

  6. An increased interest in food quality by consumers (Baber & Frongillo, 2003; Colihan & Chorney, 2004; Connell et al., 2006; Hinrichs, 2000; Sommer et al., 1980);

  7. A growing interest in fresh produce by consumers (Colihan & Chorney, 2004; Lockeretz, 1986 as cited in Hinrichs, 2000);

  8. Demand for local products (Colihan & Chorney, 2004; Connell et al., 2006);

  9. The social atmosphere markets provide (Baber & Frongillo, 2003); and,

  10. The opportunity for urban and rural people to come together (Sommer et al., 1980).

One means of sustaining the local food system is the creation of farmers’ markets, as farmers’ markets strengthen the connection between local consumers and local producers. They represent a structured organizational form of larger scale than individual roadside stands or u-pick operations.

Farmers’ markets can range from relatively simple structures with a straightforward purpose, to far larger, complex organizations with a broad public mandate and range of customer, vendors and community stakeholders (Colihan & Chorney, 2004). Lyson et al. (1995, p.109, as cited in Hinrichs et al., 2004) state that “as a social structure linking the formal and informal economies, farmers’ markets are organizationally flexible. They accommodate diverse personal motivations, products and organizational strategies. They allow producers to enter and leave easily, while enduring as an organization.”

There are a number of common characteristics of farmers’ markets. These include:

  1. high levels of repeat patronage by consumers, patronage by those who live in or near communities with established farmers’ markets;

  2. overwhelming participation by small-scale farmers who report that sales at farmers’ markets consist a significant share of agricultural income;

  3. prices close to or slightly above those found in nearby supermarkets;

  4. substantial spillovers to local businesses from patrons of farmers’ markets; and,

  5. the overwhelming importance noted by patrons on direct social interaction with producers (Brown, 2002 as cited in Lapping, 2004).

Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is an ideal location to produce food locally. There is available land protected by the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), moderate climatic conditions year-round, and a good supply of quality of water (Geggie, 2006; Thornton, 2003). The province has a dynamic small farm sector, mild climate, and a community that has an interest in fresh food (Colihan & Chorney, 2004).

This study occurred in the Greater Victoria Capital Regional District (GVCRD). The GVCRD agriculture sector has a competitive advantage due to its proximity to a large urban population, which creates a varied market for agricultural crops (Thornton, 2003). There is also a knowledgeable farming community, interest by young people in farming, as well as considerable training and support programs for new farmers (Geggie, 2006). Currently in Greater Victoria, 13,000 hectares (31,421 acres) of farmland is under cultivation on approximately 750 farms (Downtown Victoria Business Association, 2007).

Despite having a dedicated farming sector, the percentage of food grown and consumed on Vancouver Island has been steadily declining (Geggie, 2006). Whilst fifty years ago, over 90% of the food eaten on the island was produced locally, currently this figure is at less than 10% (MacNair, 2004). There are several reasons for this decline. These include lack of access to land for farming due to the high price of land, uncertain viability of farming to generate a sufficient income, questionable consumer willingness and ability to pay a price that is reflective of the real costs of local production, seasonality of food and climatic limitations, and limited diversity and supply of locally produced foods in the winter (Geggie, 2006; MacNair, 2004).

A significant limitation to locally produced foods is the decrease in available agricultural land. The Greater Victoria Capital Region is rapidly losing its viable agricultural land. In 1974, the Provincial Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) was created to preserve high quality agricultural lands from development. The Land Commission Act requires that lands within the ALR be used/ retained for agricultural purposes and that alterations to land use, including the subdivision of land, must be supported by the municipality and approved by the Land Commission (The Corporation of the District of Saanich, 2003). Despite this mandate, nearly 25,000 hectares of agricultural land was removed from the ALR between 1974 and 1999. At this rate, Vancouver Island has had the highest (regional) percentage loss of ALR land in the Province of BC (MacNair, 2002). Conversion of valuable farmland on Vancouver Island to non-agricultural uses has incited questions about farm, community, and regional sustainability under such change (McNair, 2004).

Despite these limitations, there is a growing movement on Vancouver Island of strengthening the local food network. For instance, the Capital Region Food & Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (MacNair, 2004) states, “The most pressing concern in relation to food security is the need to increase the amount of food being grown locally on Vancouver Island.” The popularity of local food among consumers in the Capital Region has also grown substantially- in Greater Victoria, farmers’ markets increased from one -Moss Street Market- in 1992 to 10 in 2004 (MacNair, 2004). Farmers’ markets provide added value in the form of fresh, healthier food in an environment that fosters social interactions, community, and entertainment. These attributes enable farmers’ markets to compete with low price food alternatives, manifest in the industrial food system, that currently have a dominant hold on the market.

Current Production Practices, Forms of Sales, and Marketing Approaches of Producers

Producers are currently producing and selling a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, and animal products. The majority of producers prefer to market their products directly to the consumer. Regarding income, the majority of producers make less than 100% of their annual income from the sale of their items, and several producers have income sources other than that of their product sales.

Items produced



Animal products


Sweet corn, lettuce,

beans, squash, zucchini, carrots, celery, pumpkins, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, heirlooms, potatoes, radishes, leeks, onions, tomatoes, cabbages,

kale, collards, chard, herbs, tomatillos, hot peppers, eggplant, arugula, beets.

Blueberries, raspberries, grapes, apples, juneberries, strawberries, blackberries, rhubarb, mulberries, cherries, pears, persimmons.

Chickens, roosters,

meat chickens, lay chickens, turkeys, pigs, ostrich.


Christmas trees, seeds, nuts, crafts, flowers

Items That Producers Would Like to Sell at a Market

Fruit and vegetables

Animal products

Other items

Blueberries, raspberries, corn, peppers, black potatoes, cabbage stalks, eggplants, tomatoes.

Eggs, honey, pork, chicken

Jams, preserve products, flowers, seeds, crafts

Specific Items Perceived to Receive Highest Sales Revenue at a Market

Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, corn, heirloom tomatoes, salad greens

Eggs, honey

Preserves, plants, flowers

Specific Items Perceived to be in Greatest Demand by Customers

Apples, berries, tomatoes, strawberries, pears, corn

Eggs, meat, chicken, honey



Attitudes of producers to market characteristics

The main criteria for the selection of market location are:

  1. General access to the market for customers
  2. Public transit access for customers
  3. Pedestrian access for customers
  4. Bicycle access for customers
  5. Aesthetic beauty/ambience of site
  6. Customer parking
  7. Market located near traffic or “lines of flow”
  8. Market located on well-known site
  9. Market visible to potential customers
  10. Bathrooms at market
  11. Wheelchair access for customers
  12. Adequate space at market
  13. Market located near large urban community
  14. Adequate parking for vendors

Strategic Questions

  1. Local emphasis. Having local products at the market is important for many producers, specifically with respect to crafts, produce, and food demonstrations. There is a strong demand by customers in Greater Victoria for local products. However there are many systemic challenges faced by local producers such as a lack of governmental support for local agriculture.
  2. Health regulations. The current lack of education and level of awareness on behalf of both producers and consumers regarding health regulations at farmers’ markets leads to unnecessary barriers and fears as well as decreased availability of certain products and lowered sales.
  3. Pocket market concept. The idea of having a pocket market in Royal Oak was suggested by several producers. A pocket market differs from a traditional farmers’ market in that it can have fewer vendors and can be operated on a permanent basis (such as daily on weekdays) at a fixed location (Geggie & Fuge, 2006).
  4. Organics. Organics is a prevalent theme throughout the interviews and comments regarding organics span a variety of issues such as:
    1. growing demand by customer on Vancouver Island for organics,
    2. the desire by producers to incorporate organic practices into their operations,
    3. the difficulty of implementing organic certification,
    4. pricing for organics,
    5. difficulties in understanding organic terminology, and
    6. competition of organic with non-organic products.

Organic issues are complicated and are influenced by several factors including government policies, education priorities, and consumer preferences. These issues are beyond the scope of this study. However, the lack of understanding by producers and consumers about organic issues leads to barriers regarding practical implementation of organic practices on the farm, comprehension of organic product labelling by the public, and pricing of organics at farmers’ markets.

Resources and References

Arden-Clarke, C. and Hodges, R. (1988). The Environmental effect of conventional and organic/biological farming systems.  Biological Agriculture and Horticulture, 5, 3, 223-287.

Baber, L. M. and Frongillo, E. A. (2003) Family and seller interactions in farmers’ markets in upstate New York [Electronic version].  American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, 18, 2, 87–94.

Benbrook, C. (2005). Elevating Antioxidant Levels in Food through Organic Farming and Food Processing -An Organic Center State of Science Review. The Organic Centre for Education & Promotion

Burros, M. (2006, January 4). In Oregon, Thinking Local. from The New York Times

Colihan, M. and Chorney, R. (2004). Sharing the Harvest. Brighton, Ontario: EpicPress.

Connell, D., Taggart, T., Hillman, K., and Humphrey, A. (2006). Economic and Community Impacts of Farmers’ Markets in British Columbia- Provincial Report. British Columbia Association of Farmer’s Markets and University of Northern British Columbia. Prince George: British Columbia.

Feagan, R., Morris, D., and Krug, K. (2004). Niagara Region Farmers’ Markets: local food systems and sustainability considerations.  Local Environment, 9, 3, 235-254.

Geggie, L. (2006). Putting Food and Food Policy on the Table- Draft Findings. (Unpublished Report). Victoria, British Columbia: Lifecycles Project Society.

Geggie, L. and Fuge, L. (2006). Opportunities for the Development of “Pocket”

Neighborhood Farmers Markets in Greater Victoria -Draft Discussion Paper. Victoria, British Columbia: Lifecycles Project Society.

Government of British Columbia. (2001). Profile of Diversity in BC Communities 2001. Retrieved on December 22, 2006 from the Government of British Columbia Website: NO LONGER AVAILABLE

Halweil, B. (2002). Home Grown- The Case for Local Food in a Global Market. Danvers, MA: Worldwatch Institute.

Hassanein, N. (2003). Practicing food democracy: a pragmatic politics of transformation. Agriculture and Human Values, 19, 77–86.

Hegrl, G., Karl, T., Allen, M., Bindoff, N., Gillett, N., Karoly, D., Zhang, X., and Zwiers, F. (2006). Climate Change Detection and Attribution: Beyond Mean Temperature Signals.  Journal of Climate, 19, 5058-5077.

Hill, E. (2007, February 2). Green dreams. VictoriaNEWS, p. B1.

Hinrichs, C. (2000). Embeddedness and local food systems: notes on two types of direct agricultural market.  Journal of Rural Studies, 16, 295-303.

Hinrichs, C., Gillespie, G., and Feenstra, G. (2004). Social Learning and Innovation at Retail Farmers’ Markets. Rural Sociology, 69, 1, 31-58.

Kloppenburg, J.,  Hendrickson, J. and Stevenson, G.W. (1996). Coming in to the foodshed.  Agriculture and Human Values, 13, 33–42.

Lapping, M. (2004). Toward the Recovery of the Local in the Globalizing Food System: the Role of Alternative Agricultural and Food Models in the US.  Ethics, Place and Environment, 7, 3, 141-150.

MacNair, E. (2002). The Garden City Handbook. Victoria, BC: POLIS Project on Ecological Governance.

MacNair, E. (2004). A baseline assessment of food security in British Columbia’s Capital Region. Victoria, BC: Capital Region Food & Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (CR-FAIR).

Putnam, R. (2000). Social Capital: What is it?

Sommer, R., Wing, M., and Aitkens, S. (1980). Price Savings to Consumers at Farmers’ Markets.  The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 14, 2, 452-462.

Statistics Canada. (2002). 2001 Census Population and Dwelling Counts.

The Corporation of the District of Saanich. (2006). Visitors to Saanich.

The Corporation of the District of Saanich. (2003). Royal Oak Local Area Plan.

Thornton, G. (2003). Greater Victoria Enterprise Partnership Society Greater Victoria Economic Development Opportunities Blueprint: Technical Report.

Wilkins, J. and Eames-Sheavly, M. (no date). A Primer on Community Food Systems. Cornell University, Division of Nutritional Sciences

Similar to farmers markets, self-directed artist (studio) tours encourage many of the same concepts that support local economies. I guess the main drawback is the fact that most people drive from studio to studio to view and purchase goods rather than meeting at one location. Craft fairs are similar to farmers markets as these sales are generally held at community locations like a school or church. The main difference between craft fairs and studio tours is price point (usually customers of craft products are not willing to spend over $50, whereas a studio tour may offer more specialized products that are perceived to be of higher value). Another difference is the customer gets the chance to see an artist in action at their studio and offers a bit of learning for emerging artists. Either way, these small local economic 'markets' can lead to sales at neighbouring business, referred to as the 'multipler effect'.


Ken's talk today really drove home to me the importance of networks in sustainable community development. Thinking about this case study a few nodes came to mind/came to question:

- I was thinking about whether a travelling famer's market to nearby communities would help sustain the farmers and reach out to a wider group of people.

- Networks among local, independent restaurants to encourage them to take on the local product.

- Advertise the health benefits of organic food in the community center and health clinics.

I was thinking what sort of broader advisory committee could be set up to support the market? I was also wonder if, in order to build social capital, young people could be brought in as the volunteers. In Ontario, highschool students need to complete 40 hrs of community service. It would be wonderful to dedicate time while learning important environmental and health issues AND contribute towards building community. Now there's a network!



Looking back through the case study compared to my notes, it seems the study could benefit from a description of activities in terms of the stepwise approach. The case study does list items that the farmers market would rely on for success that could be incorporated into a step by step plan:

Engage with the Community:
We have discussed stakeholders and networks and the importance of partnerships and education.

Understanding the place:
I think the case study does this quite effectively already in terms of factual information. It could better understand the place based on community perceptions though and keep these thoughts/feelings/interactions in mind when planning.

Creating a plan:
Again, I think this is found in the case study, but perhaps a little scattered. A list of short and long term actions could be highlighted (these can be found in the lists that discuss success in the area and success in a wider context).

In this case, as identified in the introduction, the implementation would be defined later on. I think this is a wise approach considering the magnitude of the issues and the number of stakeholders that should be involved. In terms of step-wise, acknowledging that this would be done in X months/years would be appropriate.

I like the linear, progressive growth approach of step-wise and while most of the information is in the case study, perhaps I would just favour a slight restructuring.


Just a small point about the logistics and consistency of setting up a farmers market. The case study briefly addresses the market stalls in its success factors (7. market type). It is common for the individual 'farmer' to set up her own stall, however there are many factors to think about for success. Firstly, some consistency woul be nice, but is not likely acheivable given individual needs and styles. Yet some suggestions for successful display would include considering the product, the exchange of money and weather.
I have seen many tents blow down and product falling off tables during windy days. The design of the market stall has to incorporate weather. If the 'seller' is contiually fiddling with her product because rain or wind is causing havoc...a 'buyer' is less likley to engage.
Cash is king at a market, but how prices are displayed and the ease of the transaction makes a huge difference in sales.
Essentially the stall needs to be designed with the product in mind as not all 'sellers' may be offering produce.
And finally, many farmers want to sell their products right out of the back of their pick-up. The logistics around the design of the market and the perception buyers get from the experience is very important to the success of the market.


I thought I had just posted some thoughts but it seems to have disappeared… Am trying again but ignore this if you've already seen it in another posting...
I was sending a website, for people to check out the survey website for Whitehorse people re the farmers market and eating locally:
It asks some interesting questions- trying to get at why people make the food purchases they do. For my final comment I told them that I wouldn’t purchase locally grown chicken unless I was assured that it was at least vegetarian. We grew chickens for a few years, and had to put in special orders to get food that wasn’t “enhanced” with meat protein and laced with antibiotics. Since the food is shipped to the territory from Alberta it was probably just as costly GHG-wise as buying an imported chicken. I told them I wouldn’t be prepared to pay a premium for the chicken if I didn’t think it were better than “industrial food chain” chicken. And most of the food at the farmer’s market is more expensive that the food in the grocery store. (which, according to the organic farmers trying to make a go of it in the Yukon is because of the unfair subsidies in the agriculture system)
Which brings up the equity issue(the survey does ask your income bracket)-Whatever the reasons for the price differences, people on tight grocery budgets aren’t likely to choose to pay much more to eat locally grown chicken. The biggest communal drinking and drug use site in Whitehorse is on the river within a stone’s throw of the weekly (in summer) farmers’ market, although the users and tourists are somewhat obscured from each others view by a pumphouse…



I chose this case study about farmers markets (FMs) and local food systems, because it is related to my own interest in developing sustainable agriculture, specifically agroecology, and the extremely challenging structural, institutional, policy, socio-cultural, and economic barriers that stand in the way of actually implementing change at the, in our case, ranch level.

I have ambiguous feelings about Farmers Markets: I LOVE going to them, but as a producer, there are a lot of barriers for us to participate in them, and, of course, there is a limitation of scale that may make them not economically viable for a family sized enterprise, as compared to a part-time or ‘hobby’ farmer. I think the authors’ hope that “studying farmers’ markets can offer insights into the barriers and opportunities that exist for strengthening local food systems and achieving sustainability outcomes” is possible. Our own experience in the last 2 years of helping to establish a local producer’s coop (the Growers Cooperative of the Cariboo Chilcotin, which is open 3 days per week all year long in a store setting, may provide an interesting comparison for some of the issues raised in this case study.

Strategic question:

The creation of a local food system faces many systemic challenges, for example the lack of governmental support for local agriculture.

This issue is huge, complex and very difficult to address. Some of the barriers identified in the CS were finding a location for a FM in an urban setting and obtaining permits, loss of agricultural land to development (subdivisions and so on) due to urban development planning that is not based on sustainability, and food and safety regulations that act as real or perceived barriers to producers’ participation.

Barriers are many, and not all by any means are just governmental (the authors did list many). For us, distance, lack of time, labour shortage, lack of capital to develop this new initiative, and the lack of real potential to make an adequate income, prevent us from participating in our local FM. The same barriers prevent us from participating in FMs in the lower mainland, where there is a bit more potential for an income. I understand from a family sized rancher neighbour who does go to FMs in the lower mainland that she has found that weather can make all the difference in making the trip reasonably profitable or a large loss.

The authors mentioned food policy councils, connection with stakeholders, forming partnerships, and an idea, which I thought had a lot of potential, a broader advisory committee to support the market.

Our Growers’ Coop was created and launched with the help of these types of networks, which can cut a LOT of red tape to get things done. But, they can also get in the way of a truly farmer-lead organization, as urban dwellers with a great commitment to the ideology of these enterprises, but little practical knowledge or experience of farming or ranching, try to establish and constrain the outcome. The creation of a Broader Advisory Committee to support the FM, that is separate from the actual board of directors, could be a useful way to bring all these supportive people and organizations together to support the FM, or the Coop, in a very creative, expansive way, while the farmers themselves are in control of their own organization. Some structural and institutional barriers can be addressed by these networked groups that become a larger, more powerful force that can influence outcomes in municipal, regional and even provincial arenas.

Srtategic question:

The lack of understanding by producers and consumers about organic issues leads to barriers regarding practical implementation of organic practices on the farm, comprehension of organic product labelling by the public, and pricing of organics at farmers’ markets.

My own feeling about this topic is that becoming ‘organic’ is not enough. The complexity, cost and annual nature of certification is definitely a barrier to producers, while our consumers feel that organic is expensive, and are happy with ‘natural,’ or ‘sustainable.’ There is also some confusion because industrial ‘organic’ is not as ‘good’ as ‘local’, and buying ‘local’ is still be a better first step than buying ‘organic’ from far away.

We want to incorporate organic practices on our ranch, but certification is not worth it, and may be becoming less so. Also, organic practices are only a part of an agroecological system which is our goal, which is an attempt to fit agriculture into its larger ecological landscape, with biodiversity, resource use and impacts, emissions and other factors brought into the equation.

The other thought that came to mind on this topic is that becoming sustainable is really an unending process, not an achievement in the way certification seems to indicate. Perhaps it would be better that practices and labelling were more related to stages along a continuum of sustainability, such as ‘conventional without chemicals’, ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘more sustainable’, etc. (this is a huge can of worms I know!). It is more a general idea; I’m not thinking a new certification program!

Transparency in the form of a protocol can be a very useful tool. For example, many ‘natural’ producers say that they are following the organic protocol that can be found on organic organizational websites, and customers are welcome to come and visit and see for themselves what they are doing. Some ranches develop their own specific protocol for exactly how they produce their meat products. The main thing is transparency, no vagueness or ambiguity, to help the customer understand the process.

Finally, to me the pricing issue is also huge. It is extremely difficult to do, if you have no background or training. One also wants pricing to be transparent, clear and fair. The farmer needs a good income and the consumer needs affordable food. Equity in access to organic or niche foods is not really there. I was shocked, and actually disappointed, when I brought this issue up at our Coop, and was told that the answer was, that they had done some research and they were aware that the Coop would only serve the people with upper middle income and higher. That’s not my dream.

Presently we have taken the approach that we are no longer pricing for the niche, but are offering the same average price as you would find in the grocery store for beef, but not on sale. This allows us to cut out the ‘middlemen’ but leaves us short right now, because the meat packers and grocery stores have the economy of scale on their side so they can offer their food far cheaper than a family farm can produce it. Still, it is a starting compromise.


In addition to several of the benefits of farmers markets mentioned in the case study, I believe that the role of the market as a means to raise public awareness around sustainable food supply issues can not be over-stated. I come from a market background myself (albeit on the other coast of Canada, PEI!) and I recall many discussions that my father would have with people coming to the market concerning gardening methods and problem solving.

I have a particular interest in urban farming and I feel that the local market can be a place where people can connect with like minded people. Small back-yard producers can be inspired by and glean knowledge from market vendors as well as like minded market patrons. When the back yard isn't producing everything you need, the local market can help to fill the void with sustainably produced items.

The farmers market can be and often is a critical meeting place for those practising or wanting to learn about sustainable food supply practices.


In our small, remote community, the farmers market has seen a steady increase in market vendors over the past 5 years. Sales of local products include garden produce, chicken and eggs, homemade sausages, baked items, homemade jams and relishes, farmed scallops and oysters, and a few craft items.
In contrast to the typical barriers and “what didn’t work” in the case study, our farmers market has been facilitated by the general community. There is overwhelming support from the local residents demonstrated by the large and ever-increasing consumer attendance. As well, there has been local political support by the building of a permanent outdoor structure through community grant funding. Easy access, high visibility, wheelchair accessibility, tables for vendors, a play area for children, parking space and washrooms were incorporated into the overall design.
The creation of the farmers market has undoubtedly increased the community’s social capital, however the rapid success I believe attests to the historically high level of social capital contextually embedded within a small remote community. As well, the success may be attributed to socio-economic conditions because of our unique geographic location. Our physical isolation requires supermarket food to be transported long distances by truck and ferry. As a result, the quality of the fresh produce is poor, the variety limited and it is expensive with costs typically 50 to 100% higher than in centrally located urban areas. From a consumers perspective, the price of goods at the farmers market is comparable to the supermarket, however the quality, freshness and diversity of products is superior. Although environmental factors may not be the driving force of the market, environmental gains have been realized for each local product purchased and the reduction of GHG emissions from the usual long transport of products to reach our community.

The farmer's market trend is an interesting one. Although originating from the desire to have lower-cost, fresher produce, the increased novelty of being able to buy fresher foodstuff along with the market going experience means most consumers are paying much more for similar kinds of produce as found in local community or large supermarkets.

I think these markets owe their success to the "market" experience and cultural status, more so than just having access to fresh, locally produced foodstuffs. This is evident by the increased number of artisan booths at the markets as well as the adoption of tidier, more formally layed out locations for the market (Calgary's indoor market for example).

Plus, the establishment of more organized, well established markets of this kind is a testiment to the available disposable income in a community, and the overall economic prosperity of community. The ability to have extra time to spend at the market, and the ability to spend more money on food is a luxury in North America.

I hope that these markets will continue to exist in some form, regardless of the influence of external economy. Theoretically, if economy within a community is continually re-invested back into the local economy, the ability for that community to sustain it's own economy and continue to re-invest in local production should purpetuate. However, given a good number of us contribute to the global economy, how likely is it that under economic pressure, people will continue to support local markets if prices continue to be at a premium?

I believe production at home would increase, but unless local producers were able to adjust their prices to be more competative with larger, industrial producers, this style of market could disappear over time.


An interesting expansion on the farmer market concept, community supported agriculture is one of the top 100 urban trends emerging from the BMW Guggenheim Lab (!/new-york-city). More on the concept here: but the point is to tie consumers into the risks/rewards usually reserved for the producer.

Having recently returned from rural Laos, it is interesting to note that the only fresh produce available is sold at what are effectively farmer markets. The extent to which the sellers @ market source produce from a number of localised producers, add a percentage and then sell daily is uncertain, but I'm assuming that is what happens.

I think that the case study oversimplifies this point: "Through reducing the distance that food is transported, farmers’ markets decrease “food miles”. The distance food takes to travel is directly related to the amount of fossil fuels required to get it there. Since fossil fuels cause pollution and directly impact climate change (Hegrl et al., 2006), reducing the distance that food travels translates into environmental (and related socio-economic) benefits."

While in many cases this may be true, there are likely other cases where importing food from a distance yields environmental benefits over growing food locally. E.g. if you wanted to grow food locally so converted part of a forested ecosystem into arable land (e.g. a la slash and burn) vs. importing food from a distance. I understand this is unlikely in Vancouver Is, but the statement does not include any qualifiers so i thought it was worth exploring this (tradeoffs and balance points) in more detail.

I agree, the over simplification does not incorporate all of the benefits nor is it a reality for large cities. However, with the popularization of the urban farmer movement it may become more of a possibility. With respects to benefits, the connection people receive when they buy directly from their farmer is invaluable. They are able to ask questions about the farm and how the food was grown. They get a sense of the farmers personality and devotion to growing good food. This provides motivation to the farmer in a time where farm subsidies and support is dwindling. This also promotes new young farmers to become involved and learn from experienced ones. Markets provide a community connection that is becoming more important as our modern lives are so focus on individuals and isolation. Sharing, cooperation and conversation happen at markets. There is often local music and goods as well. It becomes a cultural experience that reminds people they are part of a community and there is support out there.

What is the potential for large cities to have more local food? In 2011 the Urban Farmers society was initiated They are a coalition of urban farming groups that have come together to address common issues including:
- Land Issues such as access, tenure, and quality
- Business development and training for urban farmers
- Systems and infrastructure for successful growing storage and distribution of produce
- Cooperation between urban farmers and complementary organizations
- Government support of urban farming through policy and other means

So perhaps it is not too far off for large cities to also provide local food. Vertical rooftop gardening has just started in Vancouver with the first of its kind growing on the top of a parkade.…

The benefits of this type of system listed in the article are:

- Yields are approximately 20 times higher than the normal production volume of field crops
- VertiCrop™ requires only 8% of the normal water consumption used to irrigate field crops
- Works on non-arable lands and close to major markets or urban centres
- Does not require the use of harmful herbicides or pesticides
- Able to grow over 80 varieties of leafy green vegetables
- Significant operating and capital cost savings over field agriculture
- Significantly reduces transportation distance, thereby reducing cost, energy and carbon foot print
- Provides higher quality produce with greater nutritional value and a longer shelf life
- High levels of food safety due to the enclosed growing process
- Scalable from small to very large food production operations

My question is though, how does the poor air quality of urban centers affect the nutrition or contaminants of the food consumed from urban farms?


The case study presented coincides with the urban agricultural movement described by Dale, Dushenko & Robinson (2012) and supports the idea of a “place based economy” (p.138). The idea of farmer’s markets as a source of locally produced food products parallels the movement towards re-incorporating micro-scale livestock production (such as chickens) into urban landscapes, as well as the increased instances of urban home and community gardening (Anielski & Wilson, 2005).

It is interesting to note that the farmer’s market concept as well as the urban agricultural movement was result of the desire to save money and have access to nutritious, fresh alternatives to food produced on an industrial scale. Generating locally produced food, for the most part, was not done with a sustainability mindset, yet yielded results attributing to sustainability by decreasing the number of food miles, re-investing into the local economy, building a stronger community through sharing of resources and producer-consumer interaction, and educating people about the benefits of local food.

Though, as the author has indicated, a challenge to being self-sustainable is a reduction in security. Food production is reliant on a balance of natural parameters, such as weather and interactions with other species (such as insects). Too much rain or sun cause plants to fail; too many or not enough insect life causes issues with pollination or pestilence. By moving away from importing food, in some regards takes away from the ability for the local human population to sustain itself in the face of adverse conditions. However, perhaps this is a true testament to the carrying capacity of a local system (Dale, 2001); supporting only a certain amount of life for any species at any given time. If true sustainability is focuses on living within the capacity of a system, then perhaps the ability to produce local food has a much greater role than historically considered.


Anielski, M., & Wilson, J. (2005). Ecological Footprints of Canadian Municipalities and Regions. The Canadian Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Edmonton, Alberta: Anielski Management Inc.

Dale, A. (2001). At the edge: sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Dale, A., Dushenko, B. & Robinson, P. (2012). Urban Sustainability: Reconciling Space and Place. Toronto: University of Toronto Press


The case study makes a number of good points about how farmers’ markets can help a community to move towards being more sustainable as a result of increasing the consumption of locally produced food. The authors point out that farmers’ markets acknowledge the importance of relying on locally available resources and point out Kloppenburg’s (1996) statement that local food practices adapt to fit natural parameters and constraints. I think that both of these points acknowledge how farmers’ markets can promote the importance of understanding local ecosystems and the related issues that affect their ability to provide food services.

I work for a land trust organization and also volunteer my time with the farmers ‘market in my town. In both of my roles I have seen how connecting local producers with consumers can benefit the community. The authors point out that farmers’ markets can encourage human wellbeing by educating consumers about making healthy dietary choices. I believe that farmers markets also educate consumers about the environmental issues that face their local ecosystem. In my volunteer work with my local farmers market I have found that consumers who buy local produce are aware of environmental issues that face our local ecosystem as a result of their interaction with food producers. This information is translated to consumers as they interact with food producers and learn about where their food comes from. The authors point out that farmers’ markets can emphasize a “healthy-community” approach that can help a community to make decisions that improve the collective local wellbeing. The knowledge that consumers gain from knowing how their local environment supports food production can help to guide decision making that supports the health of the local environment in the same way.

One example of how food producers can act as leaders on environmental issues that face their local community is the work that The Nature Conservancy has engaged in with the Skagit Valley farmers in Washington through the “Farming for Wildlife Project”. The project represents efforts of The Nature Conservancy to empower local farmers to take a leadership role in stewardship work that supports their farming operations and their local ecosystem. Here is a link to a video about the project: and a link to a published report on the project:

This case study clearly presents information on how farmers’ markets provide support to the social, environmental and economic paradigms of the community that they are in. The ability of farmers markets to disseminate information on the health and environmental benefits of locally sourced foods further support the ability of farmers’ markets to guide sustainable decision making. Weigeldt (2012) explains that food provides support to people beyond physiological benefits to areas such as: comfort, entrepreneurial opportunities, social functions that bring people together, and the ability to improve local and global ecosystems. These benefits of food production provide communities with greater food security, and social and economic stability; which are all hallmarks of sustainable development (Weigeldt, 2012).


Kloppenburg, J., Hendrickson, J. and Stevenson, G.W. (1996). Coming in to the foodshed. Agriculture and Human Values, 13, 33–42.

Weigeldt, N. (2012). Chickens in the city: The Urban Agriculture Movement. In A. Dale, W. Dushenko, P. Robinson (Eds.), Urban Sustainability: Reconciling Space and Place (pp. 149-170). Toronto: University of Toronto Press


I found the case study on Farmers markets and local food services very succinct in listing the what works, what doesnt work and identifying some key factors for success. the key components of a successful market appear to be that they are relevant to the local consumers and visitors alike, which there is an overlap of shared values towards social responsibility towards ones personal health and well being and supporting local producers. Values are central to how we view our place within the biosphere (Dale 2001, p. 27) and tie communities together. A farmers market promotes social connectiveness amongths the communities they service and opportuinities to showcase the good will within a community. As seen first hand, farmers markets in smaller remote or rural communities act as a draw to help raise the profiles of the communities to attract people and new businesses to help support thier economies.

The social benefits are there, financial benefits are there, and each farmers market can help showcase what can be harvested locally either traditionally or through inginuity. It provides an opportunity for urban visitors to take back to thier urban centers, potentiall some inspiration to exercise thier own personal green thumb or other practices to reconnect in thier own way, for thier own personal well being, or contribute to their own community, or community garden.

As stated in the case study, there is a resurgence in farmers markets over the past two decades. Its more than just a fad, but a phenomenom, a shift towards becoming self sufficient and not reliant on being served. It does appear that a growing segment of the population is attempting to 'reconcile its ideological attachment' (Dale et al. 2012, p. 172) to the norms and its relationship to the landscape and the communities upon it. This shift is a step towards something that is sustainable, at least in the regards that it is not compromising the needs of future generations completely, at least there will be some foundation to build upon.

Dale, A. (2001). At the edge: sustainable development in the 21st century. Vancouver: UBC Press

Dale, A., Dushenko,B. & Robinson, P (2012). Urban Sustainability: Reconciling Space and Place. Toronto: University of Toronto Press