Every Saturday, local farmers congregate to sell various goods to the Appleton community from 8 or 9 a.m., depending on the time of year, to 12:30 pm. Between November and May, the Downtown Appleton Farm Market is located in the city plaza center. When it is warm enough that there is no longer snow on the ground, the market is sprawled along College Avenue. Vendors sell fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, baked goods and handcrafted items. In the summer and fall, there are musical performances as well. Each week of the month has a special theme, such as “Education” or “Wellness.”
The farmers market serves various functions. First of all, it creates a lively atmosphere for Appleton residents to purchase goods created by local laborers while providing extra cash for the farmers. Furthermore, the surrounding retail stores, restaurants, and museums receive more customers after the market closes and citizens look for another venue in which they can spend their Saturday. Ultimately, the farmers market creates a hub for the community to gather and experience a sense of collective humanity. This applies to market communities around the world.
Numerous farmers markets operate within the United States and across the globe and have done so for centuries. From Saudi Arabia to Japan, farmers markets are often a hub of their communities and facilitate the exchange of money. Many people feel a desire to reconnect with their rural counterparts and contribute to the local economy. Conversely, there is a consumer base that desires the convenience and market efficiency (i.e. reduced prices) provided by grocery stores and supermarkets. Such capitalist notions have a trade-off, however, in terms of technical efficiency and with respect to the environment.
To maintain low prices, supermarkets must play the capitalist game of globalization. Rather than purchasing directly from local farmers, supermarkets will order produce from a wholesaler, the middle man. In turn, the wholesaler obtains their goods from farmers thousands of miles away and processes it with chemicals to ensure it remains ripe. As a result, consumers are left with food that is less natural and a damaged environment. According to a study called “Food, Fuel, and Freeways,” conducted by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Iowa, staple fruits like apples, tomatoes, and grapes travel as far as 2,143 miles to Chicagoan grocery stores, compared to the 134 miles they travel to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. This is done through a combination of water, road, rail, and air transportation, using up to 20,000 KJ of energy in the process. The Union of Concerned Scientists cites such modes of transportation as the cause of roughly one-third of heat-trapping emissions (carbon dioxide), in addition to other harmful air pollutants.
Many readers may wonder why exactly this occurs. The reason why this all happens, simply put, is money. By moving food along such great distances, companies can capitalize on cheap labor and bulk purchases. Consumer demands often make up any expenses resulting from the globalization of food. Produce farmed in foreign countries is offered at cheaper prices because labor prices are lower abroad than in the US. Supermarkets also reap abundant profits by consolidating their products in one place, as opposed to the many vendors in a farmers market.
A common habit I see, when confronting problems like this, is for people to blame companies or the evil heads of corporations. However, these are false notions and don’t explain the root cause. There are no ethics in capitalism. The only driving force between corporations’ decisions is profit. It is simply the nature of the system. For now, if us consumers wish to see more robust goods and cheaper prices at farmers markets, we must vote with our money and change will come. Sooner or later, we must replace our capitalist system with one that prioritizes human and environmental health.