Farmers’ markets as community resources

by Sue Sergeant, Brunswick Farmers’ Market (article from 1990’s Selling Outdoors)

I have been thinking about farmers’ markets as community resources and thought some experiences we have had at the Brunswick Farmers’ Market might be worth sharing.

At first glance a farmers’ market may seem to be just an outlet for several small businesses. Look closer and you will see a community educational resource that arrives on location at a scheduled time, complete with a well-informed and experienced staff.

Through the years teachers from nursery school to high school have brought their classes to the Brunswick Farmers’ Market. In some cases we schedule events that attract them, like free potted marigolds in the spring for Mothers’ Day or free apples in the fall for kids who remember the magic words “please” and “thank you.” Most of the elementary school class visits are organized by teachers with an educational plan in mind. They arrange for enough parents to come along so kids are in groups of about 4 or 5. Sometimes they come with a list of vegetables and fruits to find; sometimes the group has to decide how to spend the dollar they share; sometimes they are looking for some mysterious food item (like leeks) that no one else will bring back to the classroom. Besides carrying out their assigned tasks, the students also talk with the producers and learn about farming and where food comes from. They tell tales about their sheep or gardens and what foods are good or yucky.

One nursery school group came to the market to talk to all the beekeepers they could find. They had watched a Reading Rainbow program on bees, typed up a list of questions on the word processor, and headed down to the market to meet the real live beekeepers. After excitedly asking all their questions they bought some honey. Just by being available at our market stand we vendors were an educational resource.

For many years the high school art teacher has brought her Drawing II class to the market for half a day in the early fall. They spread out in a long row in front of the market stands to sketch. The customers and the vendors really enjoy having them visit and look over their shoulders to see the results take form. Last year we invited the class to exhibit their work later in the, fall. By hanging a line between two trees and using clothes pins to secure the sketches, we had a well received art show and gave the students an opportunity to display their work to the community.

Whether we realize it or not, people are learning about food and agriculture, rural lifestyles and values whenever we interact at the market. Having recipes available, explaining how deep to set the tomato plants, encouraging recycling of bags are all part of the ongoing educational process for all of the community.

About Leigh Hallett

Leigh has been Executive Director of the Federation since 2014. She can be reached by email (director@mffm.org) or by calling the MFFM offices (487-7114).