It’s been a full century now since the Ann Arbor Farmers Market first hit the downtown streets. It was in a different location then, but the idea of a direct-to-consumer way to sell locally produced foods has stood the test of time. On this week’s “Issues of the Environment,” David Fair gets a historical and present-day perspective and a peek at what the future may hold with market manager Stephanie Willett.
- The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is celebrating 100 years of bringing local food to the region. The market began in 1919 on the courthouse square, which was located at Main and Huron, and was relocated to the current spot in 1930, due to popularity and traffic congestion on market days.
- The market went through a low point in the 1970s and 1980s. Many small farmers sold their land or consolidated to become large corn and soy producers. At this time, Washtenaw County had around 1300 farms (decrease of more than 60% in 50 years), but average farm size increased to 166 acres. The US farm bills promoted large-scale, industrialized farming of commodity crops, such as corn and soybeans.
- The market began to rebound in the 1990s, as Ann Arbor began to expand its now thriving local food system. Starting in the 1970s, farmers throughout the US began experimenting with alternative farming techniques, as well as new ways to connect with customers. As many farms extend their growing season by using hoop and greenhouses, produce offered during the winter has expanded to include a wide variety of greens. Advancements in storage techniques also allow farmers to bring root vegetables and apples to the market during the cold months.
- Local food provides a modest GHG emissions savings in transport, but there are a variety of other environmental benefits, chiefly that local production of food “keeps nutrient cycling at the local level, while conventional agriculture can upset a region’s natural nutrient balance.” This leads to less eutrophication and degradation of waterways. Local food keeps local land in production, and decentralized production also reduces food safety risks, as long-distance food can potentially be contaminated at many points on its journey to our plates. In the greater Washtenaw County region, it seems clear that the farmers market has helped to keep farmland in production.
- According to an article from Columbia University, “Small farms also more readily adopt environmentally friendly practices. They often rebuild crop and insect diversity, use less pesticides, enrich the soil with cover crops, create border areas for wildlife, and produce tastier food (since industrial food is bred to withstand long-distance shipping and mechanical harvesting).”
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