Op-Ed: Margaret Christie & Philip Korman: Farmers markets offer so much more than just food

Daily Hampshire Gazette, January 22, 2014. By Margaret Christie & Philip Korman

To the editor:

A letter-writer suggests that Northampton should not provide financial support to farmers markets, arguing that if farmers and markets are not covering their own costs and making a profit, they should stop growing and providing food.

We respectfully disagree. There are lots of ways that individuals and communities can support farmers and farmers markets.

Some are financial, but others include allowing the use of public space, ensuring local food safety rules are reasonable and encouraging cooperation among markets and other businesses.

The food and farm products that local farmers bring us are not interchangeable with goods from far away. Locally grown food carries additional value, not only in terms of quality and freshness, but also by connecting us to the place where we live and the people whose work sustains us. It also supports our local economy and environment.

In some cases, these products cost more than similar goods sourced elsewhere. In other cases, they do not.

Often a price difference reflects the fact that we are paying the full cost of producing healthy products, rather than paying hidden costs related to the degradation of public and environmental health.

Farmers markets, too, provide us with more than a marketplace. In fact, they serve as the new “commons,” or center of community life. Markets draw residents and visitors to downtown, benefiting other businesses.

Perhaps most important, they provide a shared social space where we meet our neighbors, watch our kids play, listen to music and build community.

Many individuals and organizations in the Pioneer Valley — including farmers and farmers markets — are working hard to ensure that healthy local food is available to all residents, regardless of income.

It’s an important goal that we have not yet reached.

Reaching this goal is not only the responsibility of our food producers, but is a responsibility we should all share.

Meanwhile, we are grateful to the hardworking farmers, farm workers, and market managers who provide us with the ingredients needed to feed our families and strengthen our communities.

Margaret Christie

Philip Korman

South Deerfield

The writers represent the organization CISA in South Deerfield.