February 28, 2004
“Grown locally by family farmers” was the first choice of more than 75 percent of consumers in an Internet survey. The LeopoldCenter for Sustainable Agriculture in Iowa has tested prototypes for food ecolabels – seals or logos indicating that a product has met a certain set of environmental and/or social standards. The study found that the term locally grown, when combined with family farmers, appears to be a powerful marketing message.
No wonder New York City’s Greenmarket Farmers Market is such a success. In a couple of decades a project begun as a once-a-week market at Union Square in Manhattan is now an agency with 42 markets in 31 locations throughout New York City. At least 20 of the markets operate year round; the flagship market in Union Square now operates four days a week, and 1/3 of markets are in low income areas where malnutrition and obesity are endemic.
Last week, Tom Strumolo, Greenmarket’s director, spoke to the Second Annual Local Food event sponsored by the Toronto Food Policy Council and Caledon Countryside Alliance. He described Greenmarket as a unique service to New York City, both in structure and accomplishment. Those accomplishments include:
- Fresh food for a quarter million customers per week during the peak season;
- A nutrition program for low income families worth almost a million dollars per year;
- Over 105 restaurants supplied with fresh ingredients each week;
- Student educational tours three days a week;
- Donation of 500,000 pounds of unsold food to food banks each year;
- 20,000 acres of farmland close to the city kept in production; and
- A group of family farmers succeeding in spite of globalization.
The Greenmarket structure is unique. It is a program of the Council on the Environment of New York City, a privately funded citizens organization in the Mayor’s Office. Greenmarket trains market managers. For the farmers, staff takes care of the nitty-gritty details of approvals for new sites, relationships with community boards, weekly advertising, publicity events and arrangements for accepting credit cards, food stamps and nutrition vouchers.
Most significantly Greenmarket has branded their markets as “locally grown by family farmers.” Middlemen, resellers or brokers are thus excluded from their 42 markets. With few exceptions, all items must be grown, raised, foraged, caught, or otherwise produced by the seller. Greenmarket staff members routinely visit and work with the farmers to improve displays, identify new ethnic crops and to make sure that what they sell at market is grown or raised on their farms.
Greenmarket Farmers Market in New York City is an economic success — proof that locally grown by family farmers is a powerful marketing message.
Elbert van Donkersgoed
This commentary was first published as Corner Post, Farm & Countryside Commentary #324
“Ecolabel Value Assessment: Consumer and Food Business Perceptions of Local Foods,” can be found on the website of the Leopold Centre: www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubinfo/papersspeeches/ecolabels/ecolabels.html.
For information on the Second Annual Local Food Event visit: www.caledoncountryside.org/LocaldFood.htm.
For more information about Greenmarkets Farmers Market visit: www.cenyc.org/HTMLGM/maingm.htm.