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Farmers’ Markets: How they benefit an urban community

October 14, 2009 Downtown, Farmers' Markets, NorthSide Project 28 Comments

Since the middle of May, I have supervised an organic produce stand at the Tower Grove Park Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. I can’t tell you how many people have walked in front of our stand, wandered in to look at the produce, and bought produce from my co-workers and I. While there are occasional newcomers to the market, I usually find myself greeting a familiar face who is holding a canvas bag, ready to fill it with our organic produce. The newbies who shop at the market are greeted with a chaotic scene: dozens of people walking up and down the market paths, searching for that “perfect” peach, apple, radish, cucumber or bundle of Swiss Chard. There are people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicity, religions and creeds who shop at the market, and they usually bring their kids, dogs and significant others with them. That’s why I feel that a farmers’ market is an excellent way to tie a community together. Citizens from all walks of life can interact with each other in a comfortable setting and learn about each other and locally grown produce as well. I know that I have learned alot about the fabric of urban life in St. Louis, especially South City, while I have been at the market.

Tower Grove Farmers Market, May 2006
Tower Grove Farmers' Market, May 2006

The engine behind the farmers’ market is the farm that supplies the market with fresh produce. Tower Grove Park’s Farmers’ Market has a variety of suppliers and a few of them are local urban farms. Our farm, City Seeds,  is in downtown St. Louis, a couple of blocks east of Jefferson Ave close to Union Station. Consequently, we have had produce stolen from the property, we find people sleeping there on occasion, and we normally have to walk around the farm each morning and pick up trash, but the farm continues to prosper and inspire people who visit it and volunteer with us. I feel that our farm makes a positive difference in the downtown St. Louis community but our location may be compromised by Paul McKee’s Northside plan. But, that day is hopefully a way off and until Mr. McKee’s bulldozer destroys our property, we’re going to keep farming on it.

Finally, I pose a question to you, the loyal Urban Review STL reader: do you shop at local farmers’ markets (and I’m not talking about Soulard. 75% of the produce there is trucked in from California. Shocking, isn’t it?)? If so, which ones and why? Also, how could your favorite farmers’ market better serve you? More variety, perhaps?


-Tim Brinkmann


Currently there are "28 comments" on this Article:

  1. chris says:

    I visit the TG and Maplewood markets each about once a month, despite the fact that I get plenty of produce from a CSA. Why? I think I’d attribute my desire to go to the markets to exactly the reason that you specify: for the experience of being a part of the community and sharing a Saturday morning (or Wednesday evening) ritual with my fellow urbanites.

  2. Carrie says:

    I also love the Maplewood Farmer’s Market too! Top notch and heads above Kirkwood.

    During the summer, however, I tend to get the bulk of my fresh produce at Thies Farm near Creve Coeur Lake:


    I sneak over there at least once a week during the summer for their gorgeous tomatoes, okra, melons, peaches, corn, and pick your own strawberries. Headed this week to pick my own pumpkin…

  3. J says:

    I try to make it to the Belleville Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning. I hate vegetables, which is what most of the folks are selling, but I think it’s important to show up and support the market. I can usually find some nice fruit, flowers or potted plants to purchase. I would welcome a little more variety, such as lettuces, spinach and herbs. I ALWAYS take home fresh breads and cookies from the family of bakers from Bluford. Their banana bread and sugar cookies are the best!

  4. john w. says:

    you hate vegetables?

  5. Jason says:

    I’d be curious to see your source that 75% of food at Soulard Market is trucked in.

    I suppose when the climate changes enough for Missouri to grow Bananas and Pineapples then your point might be valid.

    If your statistic is correct, then is it wrong that Soulard’s Market provides for 25% of their food to be locally grown? What point is “too low” for your satisfaction?

    [slp — Tim’s point, I believe, is that Soulard is not much different than a big market — at least with respect to the produce sold. Still, if you are going to buy non-local produce Soulard is far more interesting than the average supermarket. Local farmers can indeed be found at Soulard.]

  6. Tim Brinkmann says:

    My source who told me that 75% of the produce at Soulard market is from California is a produce wholesaler himself. He said that roughly 75% of the produce sold at Soulard (mainly fruits and some vegetables) is from the produce row wholesale market located on North Broadway just north of downtown St. Louis.

    I’m not saying that it is “wrong” that a majority of Soulard Market’s produce is not grown locally;I’m just saying that the Soulard Market is a much different animal than Tower Grove Park’s market or Maplewood’s market. The point is, more people need to eat healthier food and that can be found at Soulard, Tower Grove, Maplewood and other farmer’s markets around St. Louis.

  7. me says:

    My source, who is a personal friend and food broker in the Produce Row area, says that the produce sold at Soulard Market that came from Produce Row doesn’t have the shelf life remaining to be sold at a Schnucks or Dierbergs.

    That’s why it goes for lower prices at Soulard Market. Would seem that’s a win-win? I think so.

  8. Deborah Moulton says:

    My summer project was to visit as many local farmer’s markets as possible. It didn’t quite become the Saturday morning ritual I hoped it would, but it did get me out of bed early on a number of Saturdays. Which explains why Thies Farm in Maryland Heights was my favorite farmer’s market: it’s open almost every day, mornings and afternoons. There’s also something great about being surrounded by the fields where everything is grown. You can drive slowly on your way to the stand and see for yourself what is ripening in the adjacent fields.

    There are other good alternatives, each with their own personality. Kirkwood Farmer’s Market is an utterly reliable experience and has many amenities like an espresso bar and places to buy prepared food and sit at the picnic tables. It’s also the first to open in the spring and among the last to close. Clayton is the place to go for high-end ingredients like organic goat cheeses, artisinal breads, and premium ingredients required for gourmet recipes; it’s also the most expensive. Soulard is an experience all its own; very reminiscent of the chaotic French Market in New Orleans. Tower Grove and North St. Louis are good neighborhood markets, but too far away to make them regular stops for my shopping.

    The biggest surprise was Overland Farmer’s Market. It’s small with easy, adjacent parking, and a great choice for those who want to shop a small market. It has a local musician playing in the background, a place to buy prepared food, local produce, and lots of small food entrepreneurs selling salsa, honey and crafts. It’s relatively new so it’s not built out like the larger, established farmer’s markets. It’s a great choice for older people or families who want the experience, but none of the hassles, of shopping weekly in a farmer’s market. Put it on your list to visit next year.

  9. Fenian says:

    Midtown Catholic Charities on Boyle has a farmer’s market.

    The difference with this market is that it costs to be a member. However, the membership costs go to provide produce free of charge to the needy families in our community. It’s really a great program and they have a great selection of produce.


  10. Ed says:

    Wish I would have known about the Midtown Catholic Charities. I have frequent the Kirkwood, Maplewood, Tower grove and Soulard markets. And my preference is the Soulard market. I have heard the comments before about Soulard and that they are mostly wholesalers, but the primary reason for me is the variety of selection. I can go to Soulard and get everything where as I have found Tower Grove to have some good vegetables, it lacks a variety of fruit. Another issue I have with the other markets is the prices. If the Soulard “farmers” are paying a middle man (wholesalers) and transporting from California, one would expect their prices to be higher than a local direct to consumer farmer.

  11. GMichaud says:

    Dismissing Soulard Market is wrong. There are as many or more family farmers at Soulard as in any market in the region. If you know what is in season, it is easy to identify family farmers (not to mention the banners hanging from above). The pricing is more competitive at Soulard, and with the addition of Amish butchers from central Illinois a wide range of locally produced meats are also available. (There is an Amish stand selling vegetables too).
    And of course you can’t ignore the cheap prices of produce from produce row, sure it is dated, but you know that and don’t buy anything you won’t use in the next few days or so. Healthy eating is important. Some family farmers buy some produce from produce row to supplement their income (selling vegetables is not a lucrative business, unlike the imaginary and largely useless stock market)

    The thing about Soulard that is interesting is that it manages to survive without a massive parking lot completely surrounding its large facility. It is a model for integration of business into the city. While pricing can be an issue at other markets, I feel like their real failure is to utilize the markets in the creation of a viable urban space. For example the farmers market in Columbia Missouri is in a wasted space no one can walk to, or with difficulty take transit.

    Markets in successful cities tend to be in public transportation nodes, not only helping customer access, but encouraging many new customers who might not be aware of the market. In that way Tower Grove Market and several of these other markets fall short. They pretty well only attract those who are already headed in their direction. Ultimately the host city, the farmers and the market suffer.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the setting of the Tower Grove Market in the park, but there are long range questions about the role of markets in city development and how urban space can help both the city and the farmers succeed.

    Look at Compton and Dry from 1876, St. Louis had farmers markets all over the place, but at that time these markets were not a luxury that a few people participated in, but rather a necessity, served by farms right at the city limits.

    It seems to me for farmers markets to return to prominence requires a thoughtful dialogue about how to best design the market to work in a city (or suburban environment), so as to enhance both the success of the city and also for the farmers who take enormous risk, for often not a great return.

  12. “There are as many or more family farmers at Soulard as in any market in the region.”

    Unless something changed this season, I find that hard to believe. At the Tower Grove market we have as many as 30+ during peak season and Soulard last I checked had no more than 10, depending on the weekend. I, too, think Soulard serves a purpose, but it does mislead some people who think the produce is mostly local because it is called a farmers’ market. The Kirkwood market hosts a number of resellers, as well, and I think it confuses some shoppers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for folks eating more fresh food whether it’s locally grown or not. I do think, however, that there’s a useful distinction between growers-only farmers’ markets and markets that allow or rely heavily on resellers.

    As far as prices go, a lot of the produce at Soulard is bottom of the barrel and therefore very inexpensive. It’s the produce that would probably be tossed out of produce row the next day. Again, this serves a purpose and I think it’s better than letting it going to waste.

  13. GMichaud says:

    Whether it is 10 more than 30, who knows? the point is that Soulard should not be dismissed, the price and selection is better at Soulard from my point of view, even if the difference is 10 to 30.
    I get the impression the Tower Grove Market is this exclusive, hip enclave.

    Years ago I sold at Soulard and the old u city farmers market (a building now). I was a dirt farmer from Defiance selling organic products in the early eighties when people didn’t give a shit about organic.

    The point I was making is that Tower Grove and other farmers market mights have more impact on the community and the farmers by considering locations that might disrupt the status quo and encourage development in the city

    In the case of the Tower Grove Market, it might be closing down Hartford off of Grand for a Market, or maybe the first street parallel to Grand, or maybe converting the Commerce Bank, parking lot and old bank building from the current hell into a farmers market.

    Farmers markets can redirect cities. Thus the location in Tower Grove Park,which may in the long run be a good thing, meanwhile creates a food elite and perhaps does not impact the city environs in a way to be beneficial to the farmers as well as city residents.

  14. MH says:

    How is it even remotely possible that Tower Grove Market, situated in the great park, central to several walkable neighborhoods, and thus walkable FROM those neighborhoods, is in the “wrong” location? Once it is in a single neighborhood it probably loses some of its patrons. Being in the park is what actually draws most of the people who go there (me being one of them).

    “Food elite”? Are you kidding? Was that really written down? I didn’t realize all of the families who walk to the market and park and enjoy a nice saturday morning/afternoon supporting local farmers and businesses were helping create this “exclusive enclave”.

  15. Tim Brinkmann says:

    GMichaud, I agree with you that the location of a farmer’s market is key to encouraging sustainable development in a city/community. Therefore, the Soulard market has an excellent location and the Tower Grove Park market does as well, in my opinion. And your impression that the Tower Grove Park farmer’s market is an “exclusive, hip enclave” is not only your impression. I’ll be honest and say that my first impression of the market was exactly like yours. But if you go to the Tower Grove market often enough you will see that there is truly a diverse clientele of produce shoppers. Also, the prices at Tower Grove are more expensive than Soulard but that’s what happens when a majority of the produce sold is organic or certified organic. And yes, the Tower Grove market doesn’t have the variety of fruits that Soulard has, but that is understandable, especially during this time of year. The point is, each market offers something for every consumer who wants to eat healthy and the markets are a perfect public gathering place that supports local communities. I’d say that makes each market a win-win public venture.

  16. Kelly Hall says:

    St. Louis native, currently living in Kirksville, Missouri for college. I attend the Kirksville Farmer’s Market every week of the year that I am in town. During the Spring and Fall, almost half of my food is from the farmer’s market. Not only is the variety of vegetables amazing, I can purchase bread, cheese, and eggs for the week too (and if I ate meat, I could purchase it there also). The market is located in the center of town and is a large community event. Ever week, I talk to the farmers, the Mennonites, and the Amish about food and how their farm is going. Unlike many Farmer’s markets, Kirksville’s market is appropriately priced, and almost every item available is cheaper there than the supermarket.

    One important change that needs to happen at farmer’s market (especially Kirksville’s due to the large percentage of our community that lives in poverty) is the allowance of food stamps. I heard that other farmer’s market is almost a token situation, in which people swipe their food stamp card, debit card, or cash to get tokens to use as farmer’s market money. At first I was hesitant, I like to directly exchange money for my food because oftentimes a farmer will give me basil as change instead of a quarter. But then, I realize that the token system would be no different. This way, people who use food stamps will not have the public embarrassment, and “farmer’s market” money can be given away as prizes at various events in the community. The system need not be completely computerized, but just a simple cash register. The register can be manned by either a volunteer (which our community is never short in) or by paying someone. Since the farmer’s would have to return the tokens for cash, perhaps an extremely minimal fee can be taken out to pay for a cashier, if a community lacks in volunteers.

    Our current society is so “post modern” that we are completely disconnected with our food. We just eat and spend time counting calories, but few people wonder where their food came from, how it was grown, what pesticides (if any) were used, etc. I make an effort to know as much about the food I eat as possible, and I am able to do so by purchasing from the farmers market.

    Thank you Tim for this awesome blog. I follow it frequently and read almost every article. I am a senior at Truman State University, my degree is Interdisciplinary Studies: Human Geography, in which I combined sociology, geography, economics, and environmental courses in order to understand city dynamics as holistically as possible. Currently, I am in the process for applying to grad school. My interest lies in sustainability and urban revitalization within the urban planing discipline. Does anyone have a suggestion for grad school or internships?


  17. Tim Brinkmann says:


    I got my master’s in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development at Saint Louis University. The program was ok and I think that there are better alternatives nearby. I would check out-gasp-the University of Kansas’ Urban Planning program, the University of Wisconsin-Madison(I know they focus on urban revitalization), University of Colorado, the University of Texas-Austin and the University of Oklahoma.

  18. The Genius says:

    “The point is, more people need to eat healthier food and that can be found at Soulard, Tower Grove, Maplewood and other farmer’s markets around St. Louis.”

    Also at Schnuck’s & Dierberg’s & Shop n Save.

  19. Med says:

    Well, I’ve heard it all now. Tower Grove Market and all of the rest of the little bitty ‘BRAT’ metro markets chiding the BIG DADDY market of them all. The fact of the matter is Soulard is a world renown institution with massive history behind it in the wings of a massive financial development project, eventually in the future. The market will eventually become an all inclusive district, with world wide implications in its’ project mix. JEALOUSY AND ENVY are the words of the day for these little market ‘want-to-bes and the little insignificant authors that run them. You yell about farm grown and organic sales! What are you little ‘brats’ going to do, when Soulard Market is eventually developed into this world class institution and district. I’ll tell you what. FOLD, PAL. Because your vendors are going to set their stands and business up at Soulard Market, where all the ACTION is. Soulard Market will expand its’ boundaries and its rightful place in the world’s finest markets, not Tower Grove or the other little insignificant outlets. The people will go where the action is; NOT WHERE A FEW ORGANIC VENDORS ARE. HOW ABOUT 50 ORGANIC VENDORS IN ONE SECTION AT SOULARD. Believe me, pal where Soulard Market is headed is where Tower Grove and the rest of the ‘punk’ back talking markets only fantasize about going to. Get yourselves ready, it’s coming.

  20. Kelly Hall says:

    Thank you so much Tim! I will definitely look into those. The current ones I have been eyeing are University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Virginia-Charlottesville, U of O-Eugene.
    Keep up the stellar blog!


  21. GMichaud says:

    Look at the urban configuration of the Tower Grove Farmers Market to understand why it reads as an elite farmers market. ADA access is average to poor at the Tower Grove Market. Senior access (walking and automobile drop off) average to poor, mass transit average to poor, public visibility, I’d have to give them a zero on that one and I must disagree about walkability, I used to live on Geyer Ave and walked to Soulard Market most Saturdays, (late seventies, early eighties) I would be surprised if people walking to the Tower Grove Market travel much further, especially with groceries. There is a whole neighborhood built up to the doorstep of Soulard Market. The walkability around Soulard Market was more extensive until the “improvements” came.

    Compare to other farmers markets in the area, ask the same questions.

    What if there was 100 stalls, or more, like at Soulard Market, can that be handled?

    Maybe the Tower Grove Market should run along Morganford street.

    Or build a public market at the same location in the park. Make a curved stall building leaving the center as is and follow the curve of the circle, break an arc into the current roundabout for a mass transit drop off and pick up. The playgrounds would have to be moved, but perhaps a more protective situation can be designed with the joining of the markets and playgrounds. All of a sudden you address all of the issues mentioned above except walkability. And of course transit would have to be rerouted.

    The potential for creating viable urban spaces is too great to allow public farmers markets to be just an afterthought.

  22. MH says:

    I started to respond to all of the points, it was getting long-winded and I just saw no need.

    I simply disagree with every point you make about the market and how people get there, etc. Wrong on every point.

  23. Cheryl says:

    I don’t know the history of the Tower Grove market, but I just wonder why the founders did not try to use the established Soulard Market facilities instead of creating the entirely new TG market, that is 5 miles from Soulard market. Did they feel that they needed something closer to the residents of TG Park? Looks to me like almost all the patrons are driving there, so 5 miles distance would have been a blip.

    The general criticism of Soulard is that most of the food is trucked in from California, etc. and not local. So, why could not more vendors selling locally grown food have just moved into Soulard – as one of the correspondents on this blog stated will happen in the near future?

    I was disappointed when I visited Soulard and learned they were selling produce that was too outdated for Schnucks. I much prefer the vendors at Tower Grove and other markets who pick their produce just before bringing it to market.

    I am disappointed with the Tower Grove market in that it is not in a good transit location. When I go, I take the bus, and don’t believe I have ever seen another shopper at the bus stop, other than friends I have actually taken the trip with. Markets should be on busy streets, not in parks. However, I can see where the TG Park facilities may have been more available than better street locations.

    Just want to mention that I went to the BJC farmer market Thursday and it was very convenient to transit- although by this late in the season, there was only one vendor.

  24. GMichaud says:

    The design of farmers markets is important, not just to the urban fabric, but to the farmers themselves. If you are going to create an atmosphere where current farmers succeed and encourage new farmers to enter farming, the farmers market must have successful attributes, whatever they may be.

    Tower Grove Park is a great setting, but is it a great location? I don’t necessarily think Soulard is optimum in all aspects, although the location has been damaged over the years (Highway 55 cutting through, the scaling back of transit, loss of residential in the immediate area).

    Who runs the Tower Grove Market? The city has to be involved at some level since the market is in a city park. What is the farmers voice?

    Its external interface projected to the city paints Tower Grove Market with an aura of of exclusivity, whether intentional or not. In the end, as I suggest above, the farmers and any movement for local produce may be hurt more than the city and customers.

    The fact it is successful in its present location indicates that greater impacts can occur. People are clearly looking for alternatives. Can Tower Grove meet those challenges? Or will another market arise?

    MH, too bad you can’t respond, wrong on every point? The next post from Cheryl indicates otherwise.

    Cheryl, Soulard Market does have farmers who pick their produce near the time of sale. They are mixed in with the vendors who go to produce row. Nor do all of the produce row vendors sell dated goods.

    I remember the Prouhet Brothers, in the bottoms across the river from St. Charles (Hwy 370 runs by their farm now, I think they are still there). Anyway they used to submerge their fresh picked corn into large vats of ice water to cool them down immediately. The vat was in a tent near where the corn was picked.
    Not many farmers, including smaller ones, take this trouble to handle crops properly. Corn loses flavor quickly, the ice water arrests that flavor loss. I always admired the Prouhet Brothers for their commitment to quality.
    Of course the best corn on the cob is eaten on the spot, in the field.

  25. Courtney says:

    I’ve shopped the Tower Grove market almost every Saturday of the season after a few months of moving to St. Louis. I prefer this market because it is a block from where I live and we can walk there.

  26. Regarding the Tower Grove Market location, in our polling (as scientific as we can be…) we have found that almost half of our shoppers walk or bike to the market. That doesn’t surprise me, I recognize a majority of the attendees as residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the park. I wasn’t crazy about the location the first year, but I came to realize that it is ideal being next to playgrounds and a wading pool and expansive green space that allows us to do things like free yoga classes and hosting larger events. Some great farmers’ markets are held in parks, too, see the Austin FM for example. I tried to get the Commerce parking lot on Grand initially, but Commerce wasn’t interested at all. The Tower Grove neighborhood was selected because this is the neighborhood I live in, simple enough. I’m perplexed by the impression of the market as elitist. We have a huge contingent of families shopping at the market and overall I think the mood is pretty relaxed. But, it’s good to hear other impressions since mine is pretty subjective. Finally, just to clarify, we are not affiliated with the city or Tower Grove Park, we are an independent 501(c)(3) organization.

  27. Jazzy Jeff says:

    The best Farmer’s Market IMHO is the one in Ferguson MO. It is located on 20 S. Florissant Rd, at the Victorian Plaza
    just south of the train trestle (check out the restored Whistle Stop Custard and Train Museum which is on the hill by the trestle). There is a marker on the corner noting that it was the location of the Ferguson Loop Trolley. There is a Covered Metro Bus Stop which the #45 Metro Bus services (as well there is the #33 and # 61 which are within walking distance at the intersection of Chambers / Florissant Rd). Also you can get there by the North County Bikeway / Ted Jones Trail (trail from Ferguson to UMSL / connects to UMSL North Metrolink). Ferguson revamped their streets with new sidewalks, cross walks that are ADA complient and pedestrian friendly (also recently passed “Complete Streets” Ordinance). It is in it’s 7th year and was voted best in Missouri for all Farmer’s Markets in 2005 & 2006! One of their newest vendors (North County Produce) lives next to my house and farms out of his back yard and the majority on the shared land at the Oldest Organic farm in all of Missouri: The Mueller Organic Farm. A new group named Earth Dance has been working hard to make both the Organic Farm and Ferguson Farmer’s Market a success. You can visit the web sites for more info: http://www.fergusonfarmersmarket.com/ & http://www.earthdancefarms.org/

    Ferguson is an inner ring suburb which I am only about 1 mile from. I can bicycle in 10 min or walk in about 20 to 25min from my home. Or even take a bus.

    If you choose to drive you can also park right near the market. Aldi’s parking lot or up the hill on Wesley, or near the Savoy entertainment center and finally public parking across from the UMB bank (Florissant Rd and Church St.)

    I am very biased but I have seen this Farmer’s Market go from small to booming in only a few short years!

    I only saw the Overland Farmer’s Market mentioned and figured that I should shed light on this true Gem!

    Jazzy Jeff

  28. Jazzy Jeff says:

    Oh and there is permanent bike parking right near the Ferguson Farmer’s Market!


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