We’ve seen how local food can benefit the environment and our health, but did you know that the community aspects of our farmers markets and CSAs also benefit us? Local food also provides great community benefits for everyone.
Farmers markets have been around since agriculture first started, and offered many community benefits. The colonists brought the tradition with them, and the first farmers market in the colonies was started in 1634, in Boston. Other markets quickly followed. However, as grocery stores became more popular, interest in farmers markets fell.
In the 1970s, people began becoming more health conscious and concerned about where their food was coming from. Farmers markets started opening again in the late 1970s in California. Their numbers have grown from there, and the USDA registers nearly 9000 markets across the country today.
Community supported agriculture is a more modern invention. There is some controversy about when the CSA model started, but by the 1980s there were two farms in the US offering CSA foods. CSAs offer community benefits, though perhaps not as many as the markets themselves do.
1 – Local food benefits farmers
At markets and on farm, farmers can sell foods directly to their customers, cutting out the middleman. Farmers selling to grocery stores earn an average of 15 cents of every food dollar spent. Farmers selling direct can keep 90 cents of each dollar.
The extra money farmers make by selling direct stays local when you buy from a local farmer. It keeps more small farmers in business. It allows them to make decisions that benefit their customers, not the grocery stores. When there are more farms in your area, there is more food security for all in case supply chains break down.
In addition, the connection between the farmer and their customer means that the customer can let the farmer know what is important to them and their families. If you want better agriculture practices, you can tell your farmer what is important to you. If you are interested in different types or varieties of foods, you can more easily talk with your local farmer.
2 – Local food community benefits for local businesses
A farmers market is much more than just ingredients for a fresh salad. You can find craft businesses, food trucks, locally prepared food products, musicians, and artists at a market. More small local businesses means more choices for you, more jobs for them (and maybe you!), and more entrepreneurs.
Local businesses also include your local farmers. Obviously buying local will help them to stay in business, and offer more opportunities for new farmers to join in.
3 – Local food community benefits for those with lower incomes
In 2018, over 7000 markets accepted SNAP EBT, and $24 million was spent on local foods at farmers markets, out of $70 million overall. Better access to fresh food is great for everyone’s health, and improves the health of the community overall.
In Maryland, there are mobile farmers markets and more community gardens in urban areas. They work to provide easier access to fresh food to those who really need it in Baltimore. They build community and help the health of our most vulnerable citizens.
4 – Local food community benefits create jobs
More jobs means your neighbors aren’t going to start looking for better opportunities elsewhere. When your neighbors put down roots and get to know their neighbors, your community benefits.
Some of those neighbors will be entrepreneurs looking for a market. Others may be working to provide that local food to you. A local farm, on average, employs 13 full time workers per $1 million in revenue, while other farms only have 3 workers per million.
More jobs and business opportunities also improve poverty levels. With farmers markets, there is a low barrier to entry for new farmers, ranchers, and food entrepreneurs. As well, local artisans and musicians can find a venue to sell at.
5 – Local food community benefits for health
Local food is healthier, and healthier people have less healthcare costs. Healthier people mean healthier families, more economic opportunity, better mental health, and a more stable community.
Besides healthy food, a healthy community benefits everyone with more jobs, more entrepreneurial options, and entertainment at the market. More social connections means better mental health. More fresh food means better physical health. Good jobs means healthier people overall.
6 – Local food community benefits for education
Local food teaches us about the food we eat and how to prepare it. In 2011, a survey conducted by USFRA showed that 72% of consumers know nothing or very little about farming or ranching. Local food can help change that.
In Maryland, you can find the Master Gardener Association available at many markets to offer advice to gardeners. Farmers markets and local farms are a great way for kids to learn more about their community and where their food comes from. Learning more about where our food comes from is a great bridge between urban and rural communities.
Joining a CSA or choosing to buy something new at the market gives you the chance to learn more cooking skills. You may find something delicious to make that you have never tried before. Plus, cooking with kids is a great family activity!
7 – Local food community benefits create more social connections
At the market, we talk with our neighbors, our farmers, our community. We have the chance to get out and interact with our community, promoting unity within. Some markets offer live music, local artists, and food trucks, making it a very enjoyable experience.
When we get the chance to connect with others in our community, we help our mental health. Those that feel more socially connected have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Low social interaction is worse for your health than smoking, high blood pressure, or obesity.
Ultimately, local food is full of great benefits for ourselves, our health, and and our community. Buying local gives us the chance to learn more about our food, to interact with our community, and to promote the health of our community. A connected community is a strong community!