Before I came to work at Green Foothills, I was a farmers’ market manager for almost 7 years in the Bay Area. From opening new markets, to performing farm inspections to ensure market integrity, my time as a farmers’ market manager was both gratifying and educational. Concerned with the struggles that some local markets faced during the Covid pandemic, I’ve been heartened to hear from friends in the local food world that conditions at the markets have recently gotten easier in some ways. However, they still face some tough challenges.
Rising operational costs, inflation, market saturation, labor shortages, access to land and water, and the effects of climate are some of these challenges. The role of farmers’ markets cannot be overstated in providing important income for small farmers throughout the Bay Area via direct marketing. This means the sales that happen from the farmers to their customers go directly back into the pockets of local farmers and therefore into their operational costs.
The Challenges of Bringing Locally Grown to Your Table
Yet, inflation and fuel prices have driven up overhead costs. According to Terry Andreotti of Andreotti Family Farm who grows an assortment of vegetables in Half Moon Bay, the price of seeds has doubled and the price of cardboard boxes to transport produce has gone up $5 per box.
Drought and water supply continues to be an ominous cloud, or lack thereof, hanging over the heads of California farmers. Coastal farmers like Andreotti Family Farm are lucky to be able to collect runoff from the hills, but some other farmers have limitations as to when they can take water from a creek, or don’t have water rights at all. The exceptionally high cost of living in the Bay Area also makes it a difficult place for farm workers to afford the basics of living, and so hiring is challenging.
Shopping for the Best and the Freshest…Again
During a recent visit to the San Mateo College Farmers’ Market, I was reminded of the indelible memory of managing farmers’ markets during the Covid pandemic. The pandemic put a temporary stop to things like sampling and customers being able to pick their own produce. Cones and 6’ indicators were placed all over the market to remind people to social distance.
Under the watchful eye of market managers, the atmosphere is returning to somewhat normal. Nobody is tripping over a maze of signs and cones reminding them to stay distant from one another and sampling has returned. Running into Terry at the market, I got the sense from her that although markets haven’t completely rebounded from the blows of Covid and quarantine, folks and business are slowly returning. “A lot of people stayed home and had their food delivered, but people are coming back,” she said about the difference between selling during the pandemic and today.
The lifted restrictions on customers being able to pick out their own produce again has given the market back its credibility of having the best and freshest produce. “It got better since last year when we had to cordon off our stuff. People were thinking we were giving them older produce,” Terry told me. She emphasizes that she always picks her produce on Fridays, and sells it the next day.
When I managed farmers’ markets, I shopped at them because it was convenient. I was able to work and get all my grocery shopping done at the same time. Now, I shop at farmers’ markets because they do, in fact, have the best and freshest produce available. At a certified California farmers’ market, you are guaranteed that the produce you’re purchasing is California grown and picked within a day or two of sale. Produce purchased at grocery stores is often picked days if not weeks ago and packed in trucks and imported from either out of state or from out of the country.
Protecting Farmland, Livelihoods, and a Sense of Community
In addition to shopping fresh, knowing my money is going towards preserving California’s rural farms and livelihoods gives me a warm fuzzy feeling I don’t get when scanning my bank card at a big grocery chain store. I like knowing my dollar is promoting sustainability through small-scale agriculture and supporting these hubs that provide a sense of community which we all desperately need in this post-pandemic world.
The very real and serious challenges of bringing fresh food to your table emphasize the importance of Green Foothills’ work to protect farmland and natural resources. Local farms not only benefit all of us by growing healthy foods, but they also provide us with ecological and economic benefits critical to supporting healthy soils and biodiversity.
We encourage you to visit and shop at your local farmers’ market to grow a climate for tomorrow’s generation of farmers and continue the cycle of community-centric economic growth and small-scale climate-friendly agriculture.
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