By Emeran Irby
Growing up on a farm in Connecticut, Greg Plotkin was always aware of the important role local agriculture played in a community. But it wasn’t until he started working at the FRESHFARM Dupont Circle Farmers Market in Washington, D.C., that he realized the true dedication and commitment required to start and sustain a farmers market for a community. As he put it, “farmers markets are kind of like a window or a gateway into understanding farming and agriculture.”
Every Sunday, Plotkin would make his way to the market to work for Clear Spring Creamery, a grass-fed dairy in Big Spring, Maryland. He would sell cheese and milk to customers from all over the DC metropolitan area. Some were there to stock up on their weekly needs; others were just passing by and casually picking up a few novelty items. It wouldn’t be abnormal to run into a renowned local chef or politician stocking up as well. What brought all these people together, regardless of the reason, was the community built by being able to purchase directly from the person who made or grew your food. As Plotkin put it, “It’s a place to build relationships that might not be able to be built anywhere else.” The unique aspect of farmers markets is the bridges they create between buyers and sellers, where conversations unveil stories about the produce and the challenges farmers face. These conversations can blossom into lasting connections that transcend the weekly markets themselves.
One particularly memorable market experience for Plotkin happened during the opening of the FRESHFARM By the White House Farmers Market in 2009. He thought he was just attending a regular shift after work, but instead was able to sell some of Clear Spring Creameries’ famous Camembert cheese and chocolate milk to former First Lady Michelle Obama. As he said, “It was a great experience because it was at a time in this country when our federal government was really focusing on local healthy food and the benefits that farmers markets and local producers bring. So, it felt very much like a watershed moment for me, you know, in my 20s and early in my career.” This moment carried Plotkin further into his commitment to farmers markets and the people that build them.
Behind the bustling scenes of these markets stand unsung heroes—the volunteers and advocates who tirelessly support these vibrant spaces. For Plotkin, these individuals are more than just market managers or volunteers, they are stewards of local agriculture and devoted community builders. Working alongside such passionate people, pushed Plotkin to spearhead the revival of the AFT’s America’s Farmers Market Celebration (AFMC), in partnership with the Farmers Market Coalition. Under his leadership, AFMC awarded funds to markets across the country and built the most current and comprehensive database of farmers markets in America, hosted at markets.farmland.org.
Plotkin’s farmers market journey showcases a deep commitment to lifting the people of the farmers market movement. Farmers markets break down barriers between producers and consumers, building a deep understanding of the intricate processes that bring food to our tables and sustain our connection to the land. So next time you visit your local market, take a moment to appreciate the people who put it all together, and don’t forget to cast a vote for your favorite farmers market at markets.farmland.org by September 18, 2023.