Monday, April 11, 2011

The Perfect Farmers' Market...according to whom?

The Perfect Farmers Market ...
A lively, entertaining event
scheduled at a reasonable hour
to allow farmers and their hired hands
plenty of time to pick, prepare and transport produce,
on a day that does not conflict with any other nearby markets
and at an easily accessible location
so farmers can keep their transportation costs low,
and customers will find plenty of free parking nearby,
along with colourful, inviting displays
hosted by a diversity of
friendly, compliant vendors
who have brought just the right mix and quantity
of fresh, home grown quality products
to sell for a reasonable profit
to a constant flow of savvy, loyal shoppers
eager to spend their money on local food and
willing to learn about the newest specialty products,
all organized by a passionate, paid market manager
who has an ample budget and
plenty of help to tend to every detail
to keep the vendors happy,
city officials supportive and
customers wanting to come back week after week
– topped off with picture perfect weather and
plenty of shade.
- by Marcia Hahn,
based on the results of a Farmers' Markets Today
survey of farmers markets managers and vendors.

This poem is not overly artistic, and I’ll make no assumption that it was intended to be.  It is clearly defined by the statements received during a survey of those intimately involved with the economic functions of farmers markets—market managers and vendors—and little attention appears to be given to shaping these statements into a truly poetic piece of literature.  I cannot help but suspect, however, that this fundamentalist nature of the poem is constructed because of the substance of the aforementioned statements: those making the statements (market managers and vendors) primarily focused on the economic functions they are involved in—market timeliness so as not to interfere with production tasks or concurrent markets; market proximity and accessibility to keep transportation costs down; free parking to encourage attendance; active consumers; “reasonable profit,” etc.  Qualitative characteristics describing a “perfect” farmers’ market are notably few: two quick mentions of a “lively, entertaining event” and “colourful, inviting displays with friendly, compliant vendors” are all we get concerning elements removed from the economic.  If we are to believe de La Pradelle’s assessment of the market place, we should expect a fair dose of hearty romanticism even from the vendors and market managers, but we see very few of these statements represented in the poem.  The poem’s prime purpose might be instructional—a tool for market managers and vendors to utilize in order to improve their market as an economic activity—but it appears that all other market elements (atmosphere, community, performance, etc.) are overlooked.  It could be that the author Hahn simply compiled a poem with a theme of ‘function,’ which explains why social aspects are minimal at best.  It could also be that the survey was worded in such a way that prompted the responses reflected in the poem.  But whatever the reason for the poem’s narrow focus, the poem reinforces the notion that economic function is indeed a strong component in the American farmers’ market.  In a way, “The Perfect Farmers Market…” reinforces de La Pradelle’s study of the market as a performance: vendors build a role for themselves because it caters to customers’ expectations and thereby improves the economic impact of their involvement in the market.     
I’m curious as to why the survey neglected the opinions of the market customers, and I wonder if perhaps the poem would not read a bit more idyllic had they been involved.  If such a poem was created from customers’ responses about what would constitute a “perfect” farmers’ market and subsequently revealed a social emphasis instead of a functionally economic one, would it suggest a divergence between those who run the market and those who visit the market?  Would this divergence serve to weaken de La Pradelle’s study of markets by asserting vendors and customers engage in performances for differing reasons or simply underpin her theory that the market cannot be defined as a simply economic or social activity?   

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