Are Farmers' Markets the New Starbucks?
In a new book due out next month, Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks (University of California Press, October 2009), historian Bryant Simon explores the unmet needs Starbucks came to fill in American culture.
“At its peak,” the press release reads, “Starbucks thrived by giving Americans what they thought they wanted, which wasn’t coffee. It was predictability, class standing, a sense of community, more natural and authentic products, and a sense of themselves as caring and more benevolent individuals.”
That last sentence, minus predictability (I always find myself surprised at our greenmarket), might as well be describing a farmers’ market. Fittingly, farmers’ markets are on the rise. According to the most recent data from the USDA, the number of farmers' markets in the United has grown from 1,755 in 1994 to 4,685 in 2008 — over 2.6 fold. And preliminary reports suggest the pace of growth is only increasing.
According to Simon, with its comfortable and aesthetic seating areas and eco- and employee-friendly policies, “the success of Starbucks is, in essence, a plea for an older form of state action and everyday neighborhood involvement.”
(Simon explains that the recent dip in Starbucks sales is primarily due to copy-cat places also supplying these other “beyond-coffee” needs. “Now that Cosi and Panera look like Starbucks, it just doesn’t seem special,” he said.)
What is the growing popularity of farmers’ markets, I would argue, if not also “in essence, a plea for an older form of state action and everyday neighborhood involvement.” It provides Everything and the Food. Hell, Starbucks is even involved in a youth food project at a farm 20 miles from Boston that contributes to local farmers' markets.
Are farmers’ markets the new Starbucks?
I sure hope so!
picture by Jim Boardman via Dreamstime