Today we’re welcoming guest blogger Abbey Vannoy, who balances her time working at Hunger Free Colorado, farming with UrbiCulture Community Farms and sharing the kitchen with her chef partner. She found her passion for food justice during her travels, especially while studying in Bologna, Italy and later as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland. Now back in her native state of Colorado, she continues to explore food justice issues locally and internationally on her blog Eat My Words.
I love farmers markets. Vendors spot me a mile away – an easy target for fresh produce, honey and Colorado yogurt and cheese. The culprit could be my XL canvas tote bag slung across my shoulder or the stash of recipes in hand as I traipse through unchartered territory of local markets.
While my love for these places of basic economic exchange runs deep, I feel weighted with pretension when I frequent the markets. Blame it on Portlandia skits, Stuff White People Like, or the increased coincidence of farmers markets in gentrified neighborhoods. Whatever the cause, the reemergence of the farmers market is accompanied by stereotypes difficult to shake – yuppies, foodies, soccer moms, hipsters and yoga girls. [In the spirit of full transparency, I may fall into one or more of these categories at surface level.]
Yet at the core, farmers markets provide a simple, direct way to procure one of the most essential items for living – food. The phenomena of anonymous shopping, self check-out lanes, product placement craze, and hieroglyphic labels is fairly recent – even my grandfather had trouble recalling the first established grocery store in Northeast Colorado.
One of the big reasons farmers markets get an elitist aura is the premise they are more expensive. Gladly, I can share, this is not the case. Recent studies from NOFA, Iowa State’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and University of Seattle are helping to debunk the myth that farmers markets are always pricier. Sure, I have seen the $5 conventional romaine lettuce … but I’ve also seen the local, organic variety for $2. The price issue, while continually a hurdle, doesn’t begin to tell the entire farmers market story.
True blue farmers markets (direct farm to consumer) knock out unnecessary middlemen and elevate the shopping experience with transparent information about farm practices, stories and friendly banter. Haggling and trading are not out of the question in markets (especially with $5 romaine). Rather than the assumed grocery store rules of “look don’t touch”, most market vendors encourage free tasting, sniffing and skin tests.
In the case of my most recent market visit, to R & B’s Mo’ Betta’ Green Marketplace, dancing was encouraged. It could have been the dancing, or the market manager, Beverly Grant and her teenage son Reese helping her out. No matter the reason, in that first Saturday morning visit, the weight of pretension was lifted as I chatted with vendors, volunteers, and Beverly and Reese. Mo’ Betta’ is in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, a food desert whose strong community is pushing for more good food with a new community garden and Mo’ Betta’. (Opening day of Mo’ Betta’ aligned with the community’s Juneteenth celebration of African American history. People from all walks of life, all ages were found traversing Mo’ Betta’s minimal but adequate set-up.)
Beverly shares her passion with anyone crossing her path. She takes anyone’s hand and introduces them to the produce from local urban farm and Mo’ Betta’ partner, The GrowHaus and fellow vendors. Her team of volunteers and vegetable gurus supports this passion – even her son successfully sold me a Green Goodness smoothie packed with kale, green apple, dates and lemon. Before meeting Reese, I had not heard a teenage boy talk excitedly about leafy greens. He clearly shared in his mom’s energy and enthusiasm for making Mo’ Betta’ not just better but the best farmers market around.
Ensuring that all people from all walks of life and economic challenges can access Mo’ Betta’, Beverly has made Mo’ Betta’ a SNAP (“food stamps”) – friendly marketplace. With support from local partners, vendors can double up SNAP benefits for customers, encouraging increased participation in the program and consumption of our 5 a day. Across the country, partnership between farmers’ markets and SNAP is on the rise, thanks in part to a USDA push as well as local agencies and foundations such as Denver Urban Gardens.
Large, corporate grocery stores have make shopping anonymous. Sure, there are high-end grocers and low-end mini marts with varying degrees of customer service but the most visited grocery stores from all spectrums consistently ensure a shopping experience void of human interaction. Even with sales of our most essential items for life and health, there exists minimal engagement when we plunge into our food supply. My lesson from Beverly, make all my farmers market visits mo’ betta’: ask, listen, learn, eat well and live well … no matter your background, your neighborhood or your budget.
Eat my words – shop mo’ betta’ and eat mo’ betta’
Boring legalese we feel we must include: this was written by a real live person who has their own opinions, which we value, but that do not necessary reflect, though they may (or may not), reflect the values and opinions of Real Time Farms. That is for you to guess and us to know.