Defining Our Terms: Reflections upon WorldFMC Academy Studio “What is a Farmers Market?”

We have a general sense of what farmers markets look like – an array of produce and other products displayed in stalls for customers to peruse and purchase at their liking. However, it’s clear these markets vary in setup, sometimes occurring under tents outside, maybe offering samples, maybe open once or twice per week or per month. But how should WorldFMC define “farmers market” to represent our global members adequately? 

Over the course of the last two years since our inception, we have instituted the following definition, a culmination of the work done in the US since two decades or so ago.

Having successfully hosted our inaugural members general assembly, we decided that the timing was appropriate to  ask our community – what IS a farmers market? 

Dr. J. Robin Moon, WorldFMC Head of Strategy, helped us frame this conversation, delving into each key word in this definition – recurring, managed, local, farmers or their employees, selling directly.  With the help of our board members representing all of the world regions, we began to notice some clear agreements and disagreements in the terms we’ve chosen for defining these particular selling platforms.  Below, we share some of the reflections, comments, and questions that arose during this conversation. What do each of these terms mean to our group and do they accurately reflect what we promote at WorldFMC? 

“Recurring” – this term was largely agreed upon by all.  For most, this was important to be emphasized in one’s communications about their farmers market, differentiating the occurrence as regular, even if it is an event or festival. While some markets are seasonal, it is still important that we emphasize that farmers markets are something that can be relied upon regularly. With consistency, consumers, producers, market management, government institutions grow and reinforce their relationships – ultimately, building trust within communities. The main idea here is to place farmers markets inside of everyday life. 

“Managed” – For WorldFMC, the slogan “markets don’t just happen” highlights how we believe that “management” is crucial for farmers markets to exist and persist. Several board members agreed that the word stressed many types of management required at the market, such as the need to engage consistently with stakeholders at all levels and to handle the overall structure and communications of the market itself. There was general consensus that who manages is less important than how the markets are managed based on that farmers markets mission. 

Local” – As most of us are aware, this is an incredibly difficult word to define. We found ourselves asking many of these questions… How local is local? Is it defined by distance or also by quality, by practice, by tradition? We determined that it is crucial to define what local means at the local level, but at the global level, we need to keep the terminology more broad to encompass the range of definitions at the local level. 

Direct” – There was a general consensus with this term as well as a crucial part for our definition.  For our board members, direct means either the producer themselves come to the market to sell, or an employee or family member. Producers can maintain more profit and control.

Agricultural Products” & “Processed”- While we agree that the majority of the food at the farmers markets are agricultural products (fruits, vegetables, etc.), there are often value added, processed, or other artisanal items present. For example, in some places, the selling seasons for produce are short, and in order to keep the regularity of the market, the markets allow vendors to sell crafts from agricultural products. 

So, what are our next steps? We are now in the process of refining our definition of a farmers market, taking into consideration the inputs from our community. We have determined that this 2nd version of the definition will need to be sufficiently broad and flexible, while also maintaining the integrity of the terms to support the missions of our global community of farmers markets. It is our goal to create an umbrella definition for each member organization to refine based on their own local, regional, national context.

If you want to learn more about our thoughts on farmers markets, check out our first minicourse of the WorldFMC Academy on YouTube and be sure to check out our next studio on October 24th about Mapping Farmer Markets

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