If you have a need to determine your overall health you may check your blood pressure, body mass, cholesterol etc. .
If you want to assess the well-being of a city, go to their Farmers Market.
Open-air markets are the shopping malls for much of the world. In some American cities, they still serve an integral role in the community. However, for most cities, they are merely a weekend activity in the form of a Farmer’s Market. What may seem like a reduced role in society designed for those seeking buffalo beef jerky or homemade bars of soap is actually a very important incubator for social bonds and the healthy self-image of a community.
A few indicators help to gauge the quality of a Farmer’s Market:
The attendance, not just the numbers but the the breakdown: How many people show up? Is there a nice representative mix of race, income ranges and ages? Are people buying things or just out for a stroll? Simply going for a stroll is fine but the vendors have to stay in business.
The ratio of different vendors is very important. No one wants to go to a Farmer’s market populated with 8 craft booths selling quaint little wooden signs that say “Gone Fish’n” and 5 booths trying to sell you Capitol One credit cards.
- Art Vendors: Sometimes the term “art” is used very loosely but a good Farmers market will have Photographers, Sculptors, Painters etc. I’ve been amazed at the quality of art you can find at some Farmer’s Markets. While most aspiring artists don’t dream of the day the can peddle their art in a tent, next to a sweaty guy selling crepes, it can really be a way to connect with the community and build loyalty.
- Craft Vendors: I’m sorry, I don’t consider pinwheels and mobiles made of old beer cans an art OR a craft. Can we out-law these? The same goes with wooden cutouts of geese wearing blue polka-dot bonnets. BAN THEM!
- Food Vendors: Ahh, the food vendors – the best indicator of a community’s health! Are the items creative, unique and delicious like the menu item pictured above? The food at the Charleston Farmer’s Market is nothing short of amazing. The offerings are elevated way above typical Farmer’s market food.
For example: Huevos Rancheros with chorizo and a homemade tortilla served with saffron potatoes, shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, watermelon and lime fresca. If your Farmers Market is limited to funnel cakes, kielbasa and fried garbage, book a flight to Charleston to see how it’s done. A community that takes pride in its food, takes pride in itself!
- Food Goods: Hot sauces, spices, fresh pasta, jam are items you can feel good about buying and they make great gifts.
- Girlie Stuff: Soaps, Potpourri, junk jewelry, unidentifiable frilly things are fine as long it’s not every other table.
- Sales People: Credit Cards, Auto Insurance, Phone Carriers – Lets hope theres not too many of those. I feel bad for the people manning those tables. They don’t want to be there and when they answered the ad on CareerBuilder.com promising a “Great Sales Opportunity”, it’s probably not what they had in mind.
- Facilities: Bouncehouse for the kids? Restrooms? Music? Parking? A Farmers Market with live local musicians really adds an energy to the day. It provides an excuse for people to stop for a minute, take a breath, and soak in the ambiance.
Oh yeah… fruit and veggies! Yes, some Farmers Markets actually sell fruits and vegetables. I have key items I tend to look for, just like when I eat a sushi restaurant for the first time, I order the Spicy Tuna as a benchmark to measure against other restaurants. I like to look for obscure items like Japanese eggplant. A good Farmers Market is more that oranges and tomatoes. That being said, I always look for tomatoes too. Their size and freshness are prime indicators of a happy farm.
A vibrant, diverse and creative Farmer’s Market is a reflection of a cites health. All those tables, shrouded in shade cloth selling incense, basil plants, zucchini pasta, andouille sausage crepes and yes, even wooden geese with bonnets and beer can pinwheels, are the healthy heart-beat of a city that loves it’s self and a healthy self image is vital to any city.
A Shout Out to 2 AWESOME food vendors at the Charleston Farmer’s Market:
The Green Door
Outta My Huevos