There is still untapped potential for the farm to table movement when it comes to addressing some of the most pressing food issues in our communities.
I love walking up and down the stalls at the farmers’ market on west 97th street. I usually spend more than I typically would like, but I tell myself, these dollars are supporting a small, local farmer, as conventional farm-to-table knowledge usually tells us. I support farmers markets because they connect people with farmers who grow their food, foster community and support local economies. So when I spend that extra five bucks on delicious cheese, I do it with the feeling that I am playing my part in fixing our broken food system.
Last weekend, I decided to google “Farmers Markets NYC” to explore new markets outside of my usual 97th street fix. The results were a bit unexpected. I was thrilled to easily find a map with dozens of red balloons indicating locations for farmers’ markets in the five boroughs, but the majority were concentrated on the Upper West Side, Williamsburg, and other neighborhoods that are already jam-packed with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The same could not be said for elsewhere in NYC, and in particular for communities that have historically struggled with food insecurity. This left me questioning my enthusiasm about the idea of farm-to-table as a solution to systemic food injustice. Seeing a high number of farmers’ markets was exciting, but could we be doing more to ensure that everyone – not just those that can afford – has access to fresh, local food?
The imperative for focusing on equity is clear: a recent Hunger Free America survey found “one in three Bronx children are still living in a food-insecure household.” Another study showed that three times as many Black and Latino families lacked access to healthy food compared to white families and only eight percent of the Black population nation-wide have supermarkets in their area.
The farm to table movement started as a revolutionary response to Big-Agriculture. In the 70s, food activists launched the farm-to-table movement to reconnect folks to where their food came from and who helped grow it in order to counter the proliferation of processed foods. In the years that followed, restaurants turned to local farmers, local farmers started small markets all over cities, and programs like CSA (community supported agriculture) proliferated throughout the U.S.
I believe that farm-to-table has every bit of the revolutionary potential it had at its founding, as long as we center equity by targeting efforts to communities that need it most as well. This will require overcoming some obstacles, but there are many great examples of equitable solutions to draw from:
The Daunting Prices of Some Farmers’ Market Produce
High prices are often inaccessible to shoppers that cannot afford, so many farmers’ markets are now accepting SNAP/food stamps to ease the cost burden.
Including Community Voices and Perspectives
Natasha Bowens, a food activist and author of the blog, Brown Girl Farming explains how many farmers markets and CSAs “were creating solutions without even talking to the community or letting them be at the table.” Knowing where the customers come from and how to market to them is essential to the success of any farm to table model. This may include listing prices more effectively and setting up familiar visual displays.
According to The Project for Public Spaces, “The market should not only be a place to buy produce, but should incorporate programming that integrates the market into the fabric of the surrounding community.”
Today, it’s clear that the concept of farm-to-table has affected enormous positive changes in how we think about food. But there is still untapped potential for the farm to table movement when it comes to addressing some of the most pressing food issues today, like food insecurity, food deserts, and the “who” in regards to who currently lacks access to healthy options.
(This article was contributed by TFFJ Summer 2017 Intern, Emily Kuper)