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Farmers’ Market’s Questionable Contribution To Health Eating



Farmers-MarketVisiting the local farmers’ market is one of our family’s dearest weekend rituals. It is indeed hard to not come away feeling that you’ve done good for yourself (thanks to the fresh produce) and for the local farmer community.

But this illusion is challenged by Sean Lucan and colleagues from New York in a paper published in Appetite.

The researchers assessed all farmers’ markets in Bronx County (n=26), NY, in terms of specific foods offered, and compareed their accessibility as well as produce variety, quality, and price to that of nearby stores (within a half-mile walking distance, n=44).

Not surprisingly, farmers’ markets were substantially less accessible (open fewer months, days and hours), carried far fewer items and were far more expensive than nearby stores that also sold fresh produce.

The researchers also found that about one third of what farmers’ markets sold was not fresh at all, but rather consisted of refined or processed foods including jams, pies, cakes, cookies, donuts, and juice drinks).

Thus, overall, the researchers conclude that,

“Farmers’ Markets offer many items not optimal for good nutrition and health, and carry less-varied, less-common fresh produce in neighborhoods that already have access to stores with cheaper prices and overwhelmingly more hours of operation.’

So, while there may well be good reasons to celebrate your local farmers’ market, their contribution to improving population health through healthy nutrition, is probably not one them.

They are indeed little more than “feel-good boutiques” for a small minority of the urban population, who values and is willing to pay dearly for the experience.

No surprise there I guess.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

4 Comments

  1. Interesting – I always basically suspected as much and it’s always made me angry, although I would argue that calling them “feel-good boutiques” isn’t really an accurate characterization of the problem. This is the kind of food everyone SHOULD be able to eat, and the problem is that thanks to our current socioeconomic model, it’s restricted to the upper middle class and above.

    I do wonder whether the researchers considered the various programs that many farmers’ markets have to make their products more accessible to people on food stamps. I know that if you show up at mine with a certain amount of EBT money, you can somehow trade it for twice the amount of cash to spend at the vendors (not clear on how it works since I’ve never done it myself). They also have some way to track the EBT money vs. “regular” money, and they found that the vast majority of food actually BOUGHT with those dollars was fresh produce, not the pre-baked pies, cakes, jams, etc.

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  2. We must note that the study was done in Bronx County NY and pertains to farmers markets in that region. The operation of, hours, and produce supplied by farmers markets in not uniform throughout North America (and the world) so lets be careful on how broadly we apply the results.

    So Dr Sharmas statement “while there may well be good reasons to celebrate your local farmers’ market, their contribution to improving population health through healthy nutrition, is probably not one them” need not apply to you unless you live in Bronx County NY of course.

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  3. I love my local farmer’s markets, but it is true that much of the produce there is considerably more expensive than that of my local grocery store. I think it is just as fresh (perhaps more so) than what’s in the supermarket. There does seem to be a bit more variety at times, but this is very dependent on the individual vendors as well as the time of year. What really draws me to the market vs the grocery store is the opportunity to support local farms and businesses rather than some nameless corporation perhaps in another country. So, I’ll continue to shop at the farmer’s market–but I’ll also continue to grow food in my garden, and I always keep a vigilant eye on what the market has to offer and whether it really meets my nutrition needs and is truly healthy. It’s good to see someone actually questioning the value of the markets rather than seeing them under that “health halo”!

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  4. One third seems high, but I can attest that there is usually some ready to eat food at my urban farmers market because, well, shoppers get hungry. So that includes ice cream and small pies and fresh bread. There are also candles and cheese and crab cakes and ready to cook fish. How you put that on par with chips and candy INA store, I don’t know.

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