One of the ways that we pay the price for living in paradise is the sticker shock at the grocery store. And if you eat organic, the cost is even more alarming. Besides other obvious reasons, this is an excellent motivating factor for taking advantage of the optimal growing climate here in Hawaii by cultivating your own food. However, even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can promote a green lifestyle by patronizing any of the many local farmers’ markets around the Big Island. Markets are a cornerstone of sustainable community development. Besides lowering your food bill, farmers’markets host a plethora of other benefits.
Selling direct to customers allows small farms and business owners to lower their overhead and increase their profits. It also promotes self-sufficiency as dependency on distributors and retailers is eliminated. It creates a direct relationship between farmer and consumer, which in turn strengthens the interconnected fabric of community.
The bright colors, lively sounds, and delicious scents of a fresh air market can be a pleasant departure from cavernous, fluorescent-lit, homogenized corporate stores. In most cases, food sold at farmers’ markets is grown locally and, as a result, is often fresher, healthier, and tastier. In addition, food costs are usually lower than grocery stores. Farmers’ markets can also save consumers money by reducing transportation costs, especially in rural areas.
Studies have shown that a high percentage of the money earned at farmers’ markets often stays in the community. This is the magnification effect that locally spent money has on local economy.Reduced transport, storage, and refrigeration of food also lowers pollution and transportation infrastructure costs. Farmers’ markets promote social connection, entrepreneurialism, and local commerce. They are ideal incubators for local cottage industry and can serve as a conjunction for pairing mentors with apprentices.
But like most other great ideas, this is certainly not a new one.Markets have existed since ancient times. In ancient Greece, theAgora was a central marketplace. The translation of the word ‘agora’literally means “gathering place” or “assembly.” In ancient Rome, theForum was the nucleus of commercial affairs and the center of Roman public life. The Grand Bazaar (circa 1455) in Istanbul isregarded as the world’s oldest still-operating market. The Aztec market of Tlatelolco was the largest in all the Americas in the 15th century.
All over the world, markets have often been the center of culture and commerce of civilizations for generations, especially those located in rural areas. Public markets, street markets, floating markets, bazaars, swap meets…whatever the name, the intention is the same: a place to connect and do business.
The evolution of commerce in America reflects its “bigger is better”mentality: from exchanging goods at a crossroad to village market to trading posts then on to general stores to grocery and department stores to big box stores…and now…to virtual online stores for goods delivered straight to our homes. We may have streamlined industrial commerce, but we have lost the human commerce in the process. However, like many other sociological trends, there is a cyclical change happening as the demand for local foods and a need for social reconnection is emerging. According to Farmers Markets of America, customers drawn to farmers’ markets shop locally for three main reasons: food quality, better prices, and a great social atmosphere.
Sustainable living practices always prevail because that is the definition of sustainability: something that is “able to be maintained.”Sometimes it takes us a while to figure out when something isn’t quite working but it appears that we are starting to wake up and realize that modern commerce is not meeting some of our basic human needs. Farmers’ markets can help bridge that gap by providing patrons with whole foods (foods closest to their most natural state) and soul foods (the nourishment people receive when they ingest meaningful connection with others).
Living among the most isolated island chain in the world, sustainability is not an option. It’s a necessity. Whether you believe that climate change or social anarchy is a possibility or a probability in your lifetime, it doesn’t hurt to plan for either. So the next time you need groceries, consider this: are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?