Thursday, November 19, 2009

Farmers Markets and the Food Revolution in the Developed World

Mt Claremont Farmer's Market in Western Australia was started two years ago in the playground of a government primary school of the Perth suburb of Mount Claremont.  It was started by some parents on the committee of the schools Parents and Citizens committee to raise money for badly needed facilities at the school.  It is now so popular that the local shire council is trying to tax the stall holders to raise revenue - always a sign that something is working! The school is now flush with funds to spend on improvements and the Government Education Department is looking at creating markets in other schools based on the success of this one.  And the locals are complaining about cars parking on their verges.  The irony here is that the market is only 5 minutes by car from a large and brand new shopping centre in the suburb of Claremont which has three supermarkets selling a range of quite good fresh food.  These shopping centres all have lots of parking (and pay the shire lots in taxes and parking fees).

Today I heard that the major radio station in Perth - the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's 720 AM station - is broadcasting from the market this weekend - which will publicise it across the whole of Western Australia.

I have friends and contacts who also work in the commercial food business and who complain about the growth in farmers markets around the world.  They argue that they are making it harder for small businesses to stay viable - and also that they operate with an unfair advantage.  They don't have to operate under the same regulation and rules as shops and shopping centres, and don't have the same burden of health and safety compliance and regulation.  Some of them are lobbying the government to try to stop the farmers markets.

I think trying to oppose this force is like King Canute trying to stop the tide coming in.  I think that people are tired of the commercial solutions offered by the large property chains and the commercial retailers - and are trying to reconnect with community.  And food - and the passion and melodrama of food - is part of this.  I actually think it is the sense of community - and a sense of rebellion against "the corporations" which is driving this.

I was in Paris earlier this year and visited an organic farmers market in the middle of a street above a subway station.  It is held two times a week and is packed with shoppers from all over Paris.  Interesting to see that the market is encouraged by the City of Paris - which is trying to set up more around the city.
I spent a fascinating hour drooling over the produce - and regretting I couldn't buy anything because I was a tourist staying in a hotel without any cooking facilities.  A couple of pictures:

In the New York Times there was an article on 21 March 2009 titled Is a Food Revolution Now in Season? by Andrew Martin.  

Some of it is clipped below:

AT the heart of the sustainable-food movement is a belief that America has become efficient at producing cheap, abundant food that profits corporations and agribusiness, but is unhealthy and bad for the environment.
The federal government is culpable, the activists say, because it pays farmers billions in subsidies each year for growing grains and soybeans. A result is an abundance of corn and soybeans that provide cheap feed for livestock and inexpensive food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup.
They argue that farm policy — and federal dollars — should instead encourage farmers to grow more diverse crops, reward conservation practices and promote local food networks that rely less on fossil fuels for such things as fertilizer and transportation.
Last year, mandatory spending on farm subsidies was $7.5 billion, compared with $15 million for programs for organic and local foods, according to the House Appropriations Committee.
But advocates of conventional agriculture argue that organic farming simply can’t provide enough food because the yields tend to be lower than those for crops grown with chemical fertilizer.
“We think there’s a place for organic, but don’t think we can feed ourselves and the world with organic,” says Rick Tolman, chief executive of the National Corn Growers Association. “It’s not as productive, more labor-intensive and tends to be more expensive.”
The ideas are hardly new. The farmland philosopher and author Wendell Berry has been making many of the same points for decades. What is new is that the sustainable-food movement has gained both commercial heft, with the rapid success of organic and natural foods in the last decade, and celebrity cachet, with a growing cast of chefs, authors and even celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow who champion the cause.
So where am I going with all this?  Essentially, my argument is that people in the affluent world are starting to understand that food needs to be both fun and good for you.  The commercial food industry needs to recover the passion and excitement of food - and think again about how to present it in healthy ways to a much more discerning buyer - or increasingly be left wondering why people drive past their smart shops with acres of parking to visit a farmers market in a school playground.

No comments:

Post a Comment