Many minis!

This past week, we’ve been working a lot on two projects.  One required research on farmers market rules and regulations, the other about ways community activity decreases crime.  These are seemingly disparate subjects, so it was a happy surprise when one article — about mini farmers markets — appeared on both computers.  It was clearly something to check out.

One of the difficulties communities have in bringing farmers markets to residents is cost.  The interest may be there, but the costs to establish markets can be steep.  There are permit and license fees.  There are also vendors that need to sell in large quantities and seek out larger venues.  So, it was intriguing to discover the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Streetwerks program in Minneapolis.

They developed a system for getting fresh produce into communities on a smaller scale.  Small farms and community gardeners can take part.  The start-up fees are smaller and set-up/break-down times are shorter.  In our own work, we’ve seen several instances of groups wanting to set up a table or tent to sell produce in low-income communities, while being thwarted by local regulations and/or cost.  What a benefit something like the mini farmers market would be to these communities!

First, it means more local food and improved nutrition. Then there’s the economic benefit to local growers and entrepreneurs. And those are just the most obvious benefits.  It can also become a job training opportunity, where people learn about growing, selling and distributing produce.  Specific types of produce can be sold in different ethnic enclaves.  Depending upon the regulations, residents can bring their own produce to sell at the small market.  Because they can be set up and down faster, markets can open after work hours, so people can buy food as they come home.  They might even deter crime in some areas, just because they bring people to the street and give kids jobs.

Outside of the Minneapolis example, these types of little markets have been established in Detroit as it expands its urban farming programs.  And small produce stands have been started by Foodlink in Rochester.  An interesting turn is an effort by the Pritikin Research Foundation to encourage fast food companies to offer mini farmers markets in their parking lots.  Canada also has a similar set up around British Columbia called pocket markets.

In order to bring more of these markets to low-income communities, cities would have to streamline their permit process to allow these smaller markets to be established (a cheaper and faster process).  In Minneapolis, they established regulations for a “local produce market” permit.  There would also have to be more Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupons distributed instead of the SNAP/ EBT benefits cards, since accepting the cards requires a more extensive wireless set up.

Lets get a different kind of mini-market on every corner in our low-income communities!

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