Local food system practices such as farmers’ markets are directly tied to place and time as well as social, economical, ethical and physical systems within which they are located. On both a community and individual scale, farmers’ markets can assist in sustaining human health and wellbeing.
Farmers’ markets encourage local food security through their promotion and support of local food production. The more food that is grown in Phoenix, the more the residents of the area will be buffered in the event of disruptions of long distance food supply such as weather events or political instabilities. Local food production and distribution can assist in fostering food security for the local region. Farmers’ markets can be a way of supporting the economic viability of producers who wish to operate outside of the industrial food system (Lapping, 2004). By providing producers with opportunities to sell their goods locally, farmers’ markets enable them to operate in a way they consider ethical, while opening a path for others to do so as well. Through reducing the distance that food is transported, farmers’ markets decrease “food miles”. The distance food takes to travel is directly related to the amount of fossil fuels required to get it there.
On a broader level, farmers’ markets can support the health of communities through emphasizing a ‘healthy-community’ approach in their operations. With this approach, decisions are made with the aim of improving the wellbeing of the community as a whole. Farmers’ markets can encourage human wellbeing through various means. One way they can accomplish this is through educating consumers about health. The type of food that is offered at farmers’ markets can also sustain human health.
Farmers’ markets also support the local economy through what Lapping (2004) describes as the ‘multiplier effect.’ This phenomenon occurs when money spent at farmers’ markets is circulated in the community, leading to multiplying effects within the local economy. In addition, farmers’ markets are able to cater to niche and specialty markets such as the needs of senior citizens and ethnic communities. The direct interaction that local producers have with their customers means they are able to immediately determine and respond to consumers’ needs.
The interactions between producers and consumers at farmers’ markets often go beyond economic capital gains and can lead to ‘social capital’ formation. Social capital is based on the premise that social networks have value. It refers to the “collective value of all social networks and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other” (Putnam, 2000). The capacity to come together creates a social space where community, friendships and social networking are fostered. This social space was important for producers in the study.