August 3, 2023

Milestones of the Farmers Market Movement: Celebrating Local Food and Sustainability

The first thing I do in a new city is look up where and when the nearest farmers market is. From learning about the local food system to picking up some tasty treats, I think farmers markets are the best way to get the inside scoop on a new place. Where I live, there’s a farmers market nearly every day of the week. Every Thursday, I take a quick stroll to my neighborhood market to pick up a loaf of locally baked bread, some delicious early summer tomatoes, and if I’m lucky, a bouquet of vibrant farm flowers.

But farmers markets are more than just a place to buy delicious locally sourced food, they have become a vessel to promote community engagement, sustainability, and connection. The timeline of the Farmers Market Movement is peppered with significant milestones that have shaped its growth and impact. Let’s take a look at some of the key moments that brought farmers market to the forefront of the farm-to-table movement.

1730 – First Farmers Market in the U.S. Established

Lancaster Pennsylvania is home to the first farmers market in the United States. The land was a gift from James Hamilton, who designated that the 120 sq feet would be used as a public market. Farmers would sell directly out of their carts and trailers at the open-air market. In 1742, Lancaster became a borough by a charter from King George II. In the same charter, he named Lancaster a Royal Market Town, a coveted title. He outlined that the market should meet twice per week, and soon after that the first market regulations were created specifying that there would be six permanent spaces defined at King Street. In the early 1800s, roof structures were constructed to cover the Market area. In the 1870s those structures were improved and enclosed to create two larger market sheds. In 1889, the City’s Mayor commissioned a Market House to be built. The Market House stands today as it did in 1889.

1971 – Chez Panisse: Pioneering the Farm-to-Table Concept

The roots of the Farmers Market Movement can be traced back to 1971 when Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. This iconic restaurant laid the foundation for the farm-to-table concept, emphasizing the importance of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Alice Waters’ vision extended beyond her restaurant’s doors as she collaborated with the American Farmland Trust to reinforce the farm-food connection and promote sustainable agricultural practices.

1976 – NYC Greenmarket: Empowering Regional Farmers

In 1976, the NYC Greenmarket opened its doors, providing a platform for regional farmers to sell their produce at fair prices. This initiative not only ensured that city-dwellers had access to fresh, local produce, but it also empowered farmers by providing them with a direct link to consumers. This concept soon spread to other cities, fostering a sense of community and support for local agriculture.

1997 – Dupont Circle: Expanding the Farmers Market Movement

The Dupont Circle farmers market, established in Washington, D.C., in 1997, marked a significant expansion of the Farmers Market Movement. Founded by Ann Harvey Yonkers, Bernadine Prince, and the American Farmland Trust, this market became a model for others to emulate, emphasizing the importance of local food systems in urban centers.

2006 – Farmers Market Coalition Founded

The FMC is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farmers markets across the U.S. so that they can serve as community assets while providing real income opportunities for farmers. FMC was founded to be a support entity as the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) was beginning, which was one of the first dedicated national funding programs for farmers market organizations. FMC was founded by a set of farmers market and state association leaders from around the U.S. with support from Projects for Public Spaces (PPS), who had been meeting with the USDA as an informal cohort as the Farmers Market Consortium for the previous decade. Initial funding was provided by New Orleans Market NGO Market Umbrella and the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

2008 – Farmers Market Celebration: Recognizing Excellence

The year 2008 saw the inception of the annual Farmers Market Celebration hosted by the American Farmland Trust. This event aimed to honor outstanding farmers markets, acknowledging their contributions to fostering sustainable food systems and supporting local economies.

2009 – The White House Farmers Market: Promoting Local Food at the Highest Level

In the same year, FRESHFARM and Michelle Obama opened the White House farmers market, a symbolic gesture acknowledging the importance of local food at the highest level of government. This move not only brought attention to the Farmers Market Movement but also highlighted the significance of sustainable, locally sourced food choices for the health of individuals and the planet.

2009 – Enhancing Access to Farmers Markets

The Forsyth Farmers Market in Savannah, Georgia becomes one of the first farmers markets to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at the market.

2014 – Continuing to Enhance Access to Fresh, Local Food

The 2014 Farm Bill authorized Food Insecurity and Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grants to incentivize the purchase of fruits and vegetables among SNAP participants at retailers like grocery stores and farmers markets. From 2014-2017, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) was contracted by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to administer the Free SNAP EBT Equipment Program, which provides funding for new EBT equipment and related service fees to farmers markets and direct marketing farmers (DMFs) who participate in at least one farmers market.

2018 – Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP): Meeting Growing Demands

As the demand for locally produced food continued to rise, the 2018 Farm Bill allocated $50 million per year to fund the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). This financial support aimed to bolster farmers markets, making it easier for them to meet the growing demand for fresh, sustainable, and locally sourced food.

2020 – The Pandemic and the Changing Landscape of Farmers Markets

Farmers markets, like so many other food businesses, were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through both supply and demand. As shortages occurred in supermarkets, consumers turned to their local food system to fill the gaps. Farmers markets quickly adapted to this increasing demand, by implementing social distancing, pre-ordering, and other options to keep communities safe.

2023 – New Farm Bill and Opportunities to Support Local Food Systems

AFT’s vision for agriculture includes that our food system is resilient to shocks and produces abundant, healthy, affordable food. As part of AFT’s Farm Bill platform, AFT applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recent plans to invest $400 million to support the creation of Regional Food Business Centers through USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The Centers will provide coordination, technical assistance, and capacity-building to small and mid-sized farm and food businesses to build resilient local and regional food systems.

2023 – AFT’s America’s Farmers Market Celebration™ Hosts Record Number of Farmers Markets

Nearly 15 years after AFT launched the Farmers Market Celebration™, this year’s campaign launched with a record number of markets participating. With thousands of markets in the running, everyone can use the website to find their favorite market coast-to-coast. Vote to support your favorite market before September 18, 2023 for a chance to help them win up to $5,000!

To learn more and vote in America’s Farmers Market Celebration™, visit https://markets.farmland.org/