Defining Community Need

Determining the needs of your community is essential to ensuring that a farmers’ market is the best solution into which you should invest your time and energy.

  • Food Access. Are you considering a farmers’ market as a tool to open up food access in a community? If this is one of your goals it is important to assess the current food landscape. Where are your targeted customers currently shopping for food and what are they able to find? In many communities, food is plentiful but healthy food such as the fresh fruits and vegetables that are mainstays of farmers’ markets are hard to find. In other communities food is harder to find without traveling outside of the community which can be challenging for those who lack easy access to transportation. If your community needs increased access to food or fresh produce, a farmers’ market can be an effective strategy. The USDA Food Research Atlas provides a good starting point to assessing food access and a consistent model that allows comparisons of neighborhoods within cities or across the nation.
  • Affordability. Does your community have nearby sources of food but lack the financial means to purchase them regularly? In communities where affordability is a primary need, farmers’ markets can be an effective response, but it is not guaranteed. The nature of a certified farmers’ market, in which each of the farmers operates their own business within the market, means that each farmer also sets their own prices. There are limits, including legal limitations, to what can be done to ensure affordability in a farmers’ market, though there are strategies (discussed in more detail below) that can help to encourage affordability. Public benefit programs such as CalFresh and WIC can help to make food more financially accessible. Strategies for accepting those benefits in a certified farmers’ market are included in “Accepting Public Benefits” in Section 4 of the guide.
  • Food Security. Food security is generally defined as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. By increasing access to healthy food and facilitating healthy food purchases through public benefit programs, farmers’ markets can help to support food security in your community.
  • Community Building. Farmers’ markets have demonstrated time and again that they can be effective tools for community building by bringing people together around a universal need in a welcoming environment. If building community is an important goal of your farmers’ market, you can help to advance that goal in how you design your market. It could be important to plan the operating hours of your market so shoppers can linger in the market, versus simply shopping and leaving. You may want to plan spaces to sit or for a musician or other entertainer to perform. Bringing in local food artisans or reserving space for community organizations who reflect the character of your community could also be a priority to ensure your shoppers feel a sense of connection to the farmers’ market.
  • Education. Farmers’ markets can be effective venues for teaching the community about food, nutrition and agriculture. To facilitate educational activity at your market, plan spaces either in the market or in an adjacent building or plaza where this activity can take place. Plan for both passive education — such as recipes and health guides regularly displayed for consumers to take — as well as active education in which an instructor directly interacts with consumers. Encourage the farmers selling in your market to participate by sharing information on their farming practices or regularly posting photos either at the point of sale or through social media of their farm throughout the growing season.

A Guide to Opening Small Farmers' Markets in San Jose, California