The Local Food Movement: Farmers Markets, School Gardens and Urban Gardens

As world food insecurity mounts, the United States is seeing a rise in the number of farmers markets, school gardens and urban gardens, reflecting an overall trend toward localizing the food economy.

| December 29, 2009

  • Farmers market
    Farmers markets re-establish the personal ties between producers and consumers that do not exist in the impersonal confines of the supermarket. In the United States, the number of these markets increased from 1,755 in 1994 to more than 4,700 in mid-2009, nearly tripling over 15 years.

  • Farmers market

In the United States, there has been a surge of interest in eating fresh, local foods, corresponding with mounting concerns about the climate effects of consuming food from distant places and about the obesity and other health problems associated with junk food diets. This is reflected in the rise in farmers markets, urban gardening and school gardening.

With the fast-growing local foods movement, diets are becoming more locally shaped and more seasonal. In a typical supermarket in an industrial country today, it is often difficult to tell which season it is, because the store tries to make everything available on a year-round basis. As oil prices rise, this will become less common. In essence, a reduction in the use of oil to transport food over long distances — whether by plane, truck or ship — will also localize the food economy.

This trend toward localization is reflected in the recent rise in the number of farms in the United States, which may be the reversal of a century-long trend of farm consolidation. Between the agricultural census of 2002 and that of 2007, the number of farms in the United States increased by 4 percent to roughly 2.2 million. The new farms were mostly small, many of them operated by women, whose numbers in farming jumped from 238,000 in 2002 to 306,000 in 2007, a rise of nearly 30 percent.

Many of the new farms cater to local markets. Some produce fresh fruits and vegetables exclusively for farmers markets or for their own roadside stands. Others produce specialized products, such as the goat farms that produce milk, cheese and meat, or the farms that grow flowers or wood for fireplaces. Others specialize in organic food. The number of organic farms in the United States jumped from 12,000 in 2002 to 18,200 in 2007, increasing by half in five years.

Gardening was given a big boost in spring 2009 when First Lady Michelle Obama worked with children from a local school to dig up a piece of lawn by the White House to start a vegetable garden. There was a precedent. Eleanor Roosevelt planted a White House victory garden during World War II. Her initiative encouraged millions of victory gardens that eventually grew 40 percent of the nation’s fresh produce.

Although it was much easier to expand home gardening during World War II (when the United States was largely a rural society), there is still a huge gardening potential — given that the grass lawns surrounding U.S. residences collectively cover some 18 million acres. Converting even a small share of this to fresh vegetables and fruit trees could make an important contribution to improving nutrition.

1/1/2010 9:23:23 AM

Looking at Mr. Obama's USDA appointments, I can't help but see Mrs. Obama's garden as little more than a publicity stunt. Either that, or Barry is sleeping on the First Couch. Nevertheless-- if every cloud has a silver lining, the relocalization of food has to be Peak Oil's backhanded gift to humanity. School gardens intrigue me. My daughter attends a small, rural school where more than half the kids get free lunch and about a third of them have food sent home for the weekend. There is much food insecurity and little funding. The PTO is right now trying to raise money to purchase a biology program for the computer lab; it will teach, among other things, agriculture and the lifecycle of plants. In other words... does one go about making the case for starting up a school garden????

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