Home » Farmers’ Markets » Recent Articles:

I Scootered To A Working Farm Yesterday

Few people on small 49cc scooters make it out to rural farm country. While I did visit a farm yesterday, it wasn’t a long trip through the ring of sprawl to reach my destination . My Environmental Planning class at Saint Louis University visited the New Roots Urban Farm on St. Louis’ near north side.


New Roots is located on Hogan Street adjacent to the vacant but stunning St. Liborius church.


You can almost just pass right by — the quarter acre urban farm is very unassuming with the exception of the lively sign.



Rows of basil yet to be picked. Mmmmmm, pesto! Newer homes, set a suburban distance back from the street, complete the block and much of the street to the east.


Above, wire fencing guards the hen house.


Today was a day for members to pick up their weekly veggies. Above, a father and daughter make their way to the pickup area.


Co-founder/Farm & Program Manager Trish Grim was our instructor and guide. In the span of four years this cooperative group has gone from four vacant city lots to a working farm that feeds themselves and 25 shareholders per season. Their annual budget is now up to $50,000. Yes, a mere $50K annually. They have roughly 4 people that work full time as well as numerous volunteers and interns. Clearly they are not in this for the money.

Payments from members of the CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) make up roughly 25% of the budget, the balance coming from various grants. These members get “10-15 pounds of produce” each week during the growing season. There is a waiting list to be a member. New Roots has teamed with the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group on the North City Farmers’ Market which opened this season on 14th Street across from Crown Candy Kitchen. Saturday is the final day for that market this season — they are ending with a big “Hoe Down” with BBQ, games and music (9am-1pm).

New Roots also teamed up with St. Patrick’s Center and Gateway Greening on the City Seeds project at 22st & Pine. Where you say? The leftover/wasted land at the old 22nd Street interchange. Here the homeless are hired at minimum wage to work 3 days per week on this 2-1/2 acre farm. New Roots provides the expert knowledge on the project and another grant funds the wages for the workers. A couple of years ago I argued with developer Kevin McGowen about this project — I wanted the land to be reused in the future when the excess roadway was removed. I am correct in that in the future it will be hard to take back the land for development but I think Kevin was right — this is really a good project. Produce grown on this urban farm is sold at the North City market and the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market.

One of their goals is to be sustainable — environmentally and fiscally. So far, they are quite environmentally sustainable given their practices which includes transporting goods to the North Side Market via bicycle carts. Fiscally, however, they are not so sustainable yet. Trish referenced groups in other parts of the country —- one getting as much as 70% of their funding from sales of product.

Lest you think this is all some hippie festival, I happen to know at least one self proclaimed Republican that is a member.  In fact, the supporters tend to be more affluent types which allows New Roots to sell their produce at very fair prices to lower income folks at the local market (all are welcomed regardless of income).  To me there is something really neat about seeing our food being grown on a real working farm so close to downtown.

Be sure to check out their website at www.newrootsurbanfarm.org and especially their unique newsletter.


Project for Public Spaces Focuses on Public Markets with Valuable Insights

The outstanding Project for Public Spaces continues to illustrate why they are the world leaders in creating quality public space — they understand fundamental relationships between humans and space. While we like to think we are unique in St. Louis the fact is human nature and how we perceive public space is similar throughout the world. Granted, some cultural differences do exist in the world — two men kissing each other on the cheek in Eastern Europe or the Middle East means something entirely different than on Castro Street in San Francisco. Regardless of cultural customs, what makes a good or bad space for human interaction is much the same.

Project for Public SpacesPPS divides their information into various areas of public space; parks, transportation, civic centers, downtowns, mixed-use
development, campuses, squares, waterfronts, and public markets. In each of these areas they’ve undertaken extensive research into what works and what does not work. Of course they continually monitor what is happening as demographics and technology change, recognizing that what may have not worked 20 years ago may work today, and vice versa. The lesson, continual evaluation.
The area of public markets is the topic for their September 2007 online newsletter. Note that I didn’t say “farmers’ market” as they don’t limit their markets to simply food — throughout the world much commerce takes place at public markets. These markets are a great form of low-overhead retailing.

In the St. Louis region the historic Soulard Market comes to mind as the most well known. As public spaces go, the Soulard Market is one of the best in the region. The diversity of shoppers, the various languages spoken, the vendors yelling out their specials, the decidedly non-uniform booths, and the shoppers negotiating the best prices all contribute to an experience you’ll not find in a big supermarket.

This month PPS’ newsletter included the following articles:

  • A Ripe Time for Local Food, four ways markets improve our communities by strengthening ties between urban and rural people.
  • What We Need to Learn from America’s Classic Markets, applying the lessons of Pike Place and other great markets.
  • Markets for All, how innovative markets serve the needs of low-income customers.
  • The Happy Shopper, why the most satisfying shopping experiences are more about social interaction than consumer acquisition.
  • Making the Case for Markets in Cold, Hard Cash; new tools and recent studies prove the positive impact of public markets on local economies.
  • Remarkable Market Anniversaries, historic markets around the U.S. are celebrating milestones this year.

All of the articles are easy reads and highly recommended for a good understanding of public markets. I’ve selected some paragraphs from each to peak your interest and present some key points:

To rebuild agricultural systems that can provide people with fresh, local food, we need to reverse the long deterioration of urban-rural connections. For years, the ties between urban consumers and nearby farmers–so strong before World War II–slackened and fell apart. Teeming market streets disappeared, farms were swallowed up by subdivisions, and the vital networks of market gardens that many cities once relied on shrank and fell into obscurity. City dwellers lost access to the freshest food and its inherent health benefits, and small producers in the countryside became an endangered species. At the same time, the social connections and sense of place fostered by local farmers markets slowly dissipated.

Believe it or not, America’s two most productive agricultural counties in the 1880s were Brooklyn and Queens. And all that produce didn’t just come from farmland untouched by urbanization. A lot of it was grown by city dwellers on garden plots, or “market gardens,” an important supplement to food shipped in from outlying farms.

“As more Asians and Latinos are immigrating to this country, they are bringing their own market traditions,” said PPS’s Steve Davies. “There is a great expansion of markets in diverse neighborhoods, where new arrivals are shaping the markets around their own cultures. Markets are places where all of these cultures, in fact, really come together.”

In addition to financial hurdles, indoor markets run the risk of appearing “Disneyfied,” Tumlin cautioned. “That’s true,” said Ron Binaghi of Stokes Farms. “That’s why some of the [Greenmarket] farmers are nervous about our moving into something more permanent. We don’t want to lose the special feeling of the outdoor market.”

The experience of a market is far more important to its success than any issues involving permanence or structure. In all the market surveys Project for Public Spaces has done around the world, the question “what do you like best about this market?” is always answered the same–it is the “experience” that attracts. The “3 Ps”–people, products and personality, plus that deeper sense of equality and reassurance–are what draw customers. Snazzy designs rarely register beyond a blip of a response.

Markets must not become so regulated or precious that their life and spontaneity are squeezed out. They must stay unfettered by convention and remain, as D. H. Lawrence said in his essay Mornings in Mexico, a “babel and a hubbub”, a place “to buy and to sell but above all to commingle”.

Another method to make markets more accessible is to bring them closer to customers. That’s what a Toronto organization called FoodShare accomplished by setting up small produce stands called “Good Food Markets” in low-income neighborhoods throughout the city. “Most of the farmers markets [in Toronto] are based in middle- and upper-income communities,” said Angela ElzingaCheng of FoodShare, adding that the cost of traveling across town to get fresh food is “very expensive for low-income communities.” To reduce those costs, FoodShare launched the first Good Food Markets in 2005. That summer there were two locations. This year there are twelve.

One time-proven way to gauge the effect of a market is to conduct an economic impact study, which gauges the positive influence on local communities in quantifiable terms. Comprehensive economic impact analysis, however, is expensive and beyond the means of most public markets. PPS asked Econsult to create a typology of public markets which takes into account their diversity and the diversity of the communities they serve. SEED is a web-based tool that provides a straightforward mechanism for collecting data about farmers markets from customer surveys and counts, and then uses the data to estimate direct and indirect economic impacts using a standard “multiplier” — that is, the potential indirect and induced expenditures of specific public markets. The website also provides useful information about economic impact studies.

When shopping is separated from the broader fun of hanging out in friendly, lively places, it becomes a hollow experience. It’s like a dinner party with plenty of food, but no conversation. Most malls minimize public space where folks can comfortably gather because they don’t want to distract us from the business of making purchases. It’s emblematic of the single-use zoning approach to life, where we live in one place, work in another, shop somewhere else and play in an entirely different spot, with none of them really offering us that joyful, biologically-fulfilling sense of being where the action is.

One article takes a good look at how a market in Lynn Massachusetts let’s low-income customers know they accept food stamps — signs were simply not enough. Their solution was creative and effective:

The Lynn Farmers Market responded by promoting the use of Electronic Balance Transfer (EBT), a form of food stamp distribution that works like a debit card. Customers swipe their EBT cards at the market and the price is deducted from their food stamp account. Last summer, Dimond and the Food Project launched a two-pronged strategy: adding a financial incentive for customers to pay using EBT, and marketing EBT at every opportunity.

The incentive, made possible by a small grant from a state-wide anti-hunger organization called Project Bread, gave customers one dollar of additional produce for every dollar they spent in EBT, up to $5.00. For example, if a customer spent $2.50 in EBT, they received $2.50 in additional produce. If they spent $10.00, they got $5.00 of extra produce.

Customers get more mouth-watering produce when they pay with EBT. “That type of promotion got the word of mouth going better than anything we’d tried before,” said Dimond.

The next step was to make sure everyone knew about the EBT promotion. Instead of relying on signs or banners, Food Project volunteers informed every customer that EBT was available, whether they were eligible to use it or not. That helped lessen any stigma associated with EBT, said Dimond.

“It got the word out, and it normalized EBT as a form of payment,” she noted. “A lot more people got the message.” As a result of the promotion, EBT sales grew steadily, eventually exceeding $200 per week.

This summer, the Food Project offered the dollar-for-dollar incentive earlier in the season. When August rolled around, they stopped giving out extra produce with EBT purchases. The timing was by design, because it enabled the Food Project to see if the promotion’s momentum would carry over once the financial incentive was off the table.

Sure enough, even without the lure of free produce, EBT sales have averaged $150 per week, compared to $35 per week at the start of the season. This year, the market’s total EBT sales have already exceeded last year’s tally, and there are still six weeks left in the season.

The Lynn Market accomplished several things with their strategy. First, they made sure customers knew they could buy quality food with their EBT cards. Second, and I think this is very important, they reduced any stigma that may have been associated with using an EBT card at the market, making low-income customers feel welcomed. And lastly after accomplishing their goal of letting customers know that EBT was accepted they eliminated the extra incentive so that it didn’t become a default entitlement.

Much of the talk this week has been about national retailers downtown which is certainly welcomed. But it is the local markets in our city/region that give me hope for the future. It has proven impossible for me to visit the Soulard, Tower Grove or Old North markets without seeing someone I know. To the casual observer, the Tower Grove market is simply some tents on a patch of asphalt. While technically true, the sum is without a doubt greater than the parts. Trying to replicate the dynamic through fancy architectural or planning theory could never be as successful. Certainly physical surroundings are important, a Southtown Center market in the parking lot would not have the same feel.

However, I’ve been to the big Hillcrest market in San Diego which is simply a collection of market tents on a temporarily blocked street and adjacent parking lot for a state office building. The alignment of the tents and throngs of shoppers transform a normally bland area into something special. A few hours later the market is over and the area returns to a rather drab normal level until the following week. The 3 P’s mentioned above come together — “people, products and personality.”

And of course I have some photos to share. First up, the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto:


Above, the large building houses two levels of market stalls.


Inside the shopper is greeted with a large variety of choices — everything from produce, to cheese to wild octopus!


The market spills across the street in a brutal 60s building. The people and activity give the building life and character it lacks on its own.


Still more booths are adjacent to both buildings in the form of tents, great for those vendors that don’t want long-term leases inside.

Back in St. Louis we have the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market, now it its second year:


Above, bike & trailer sit patiently amid all the hubub of the market in the background.


Local merchant, Home Eco, gives a talk on green building adjacent to the market.


The market activity can be seen through the building as a band begins to set up. The interactive fountain is momentarily empty except for me (I couldn’t resist — why should the youngsters have all the fun?).


Earlier this year, in much hotter weather, the 2-section interactive fountain was as popular as the market.


The market in Old North St. Louis is still in its infancy but with increasing demand.  A massive undertaking is the project to remove the failed mall concept and return 14th street to an actual street.  Work has already begun in earnest on nine buildings in the immediate blocks around the dormant outdoor mall.  Next year the next phase of the project will center on 14th and the buildings fronting the street which has been closed to traffic for 30 years.  This market will play in important role in the re-population and local economy of Old North.

Again, check out PPS’ September 2007 online newsletter for great information on markets.


Cycling Organization Giving Away Kids Bike Helmets at Farmers Market

The St. Louis Regional Bike Federation will be holding an interesting event on the east side of the river Saturday morning:

Bike Smart – Edwardsville on Saturday, July 7
Join us on July 7 from 8:00 a.m. – noon at the Land of Goshen Farmers’ Market in downtown Edwardsville, IL for helmet fitting, bike education, and mechanical safety checks for your bike! Helmets First will be there offering 50 free helmets for kids. When the free helmets run out you can buy one for just $7! In addition St. Louis Recumbent Bicycles will provide a bicycle mechanic to check your bike and make minor repairs or adjustments and help you learn how to check your bike before you ride. We’ll have experienced riders on hand to answer your questions about bike commuting, riding safely in traffic, and your rights and responsibilities on the roads.

Bike helmets are very important for safety — having them properly fitted it critical.  I see way too many kids wearing helmets that are angled way back exposing their foreheads (some adults wear helmets this way too).  Please folks, check your helmet for proper fit — go to an event like this or go into nearly any bike shop and talk to them about how to properly adjust your helmet.

It looks like the Bike Fed already made an appearance at the Tower Grove market but I have suggested they do a fitting at the Old North St. Louis Farmers’ Market.

Happy eating and riding!


SLU Sells Bread in Clayton to Help ‘Inner-City’ Kids

Something about a university located within the City of St. Louis selling items in neighboring Clayton just struck me as a bit off. Here is the press release from SLU:

SLU Offers Breads, Vegetables at Farmer’s Market
Event Details: 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., June 30
Check out the department of nutrition and dietetics booths 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. every Saturday at the Clayton Farmer’s Market, 8282 Forsyth Blvd., just west of Straub’s grocers in Clayton.

In addition to the seasonal organic produce and fresh-made artisan breads, bagels and muffins, the group serves omelets with fresh ingredients from their organic gardens.

Inner-city children help grow the produce while learning about healthy eating. Proceeds from the department’s sales help the University’s many projects with city children and fund scholarships.

To get involved with the nutrition and dietetics project, call (314) 977-8523.

Maybe they tried working with local markets in St. Louis but no space was to be found? Of course SLU is good at looking to western suburbs for money.

Wouldn’t it be more interesting if SLU helped start a midtown farmers’ market?


Farmers’ Market Continues Through Winter

January 4, 2007 Farmers' Markets Comments Off on Farmers’ Market Continues Through Winter

Just because we are in the dead of winter does not mean we go into hibernation, we continue to need food. Plus farmers still need to earn a living throughout the winter season. Combine the two and you get the Tower Grove Winter Farmers’ Market. From their press release:

The Tower Grove Winter Farmers’ Market Continues Saturday, January 6!

Where: St. John’s Episcopal Church, 3664 Arsenal (just West of Grand, see map)
When: The first Saturday of each month, 9 AM – Noon
Who will be vending on January 6:

  • Hinkebein Hills Farm – Naturally raised beef and pork
  • Prairie Grass Farms – Naturally raised lamb, eggs
  • Our Garden – Squash, pumpkins, salsas, preserves, applesauce, spinach, turnips, daikon radishes, cheese, yogurt, pies, dry goods
  • Blue Heron Orchard – Organic apples, apple cider, apple cider vinegar, unpasteurized apple
  • Norris Farms – Naturally raised pork and beef
  • Sunflower Savannah – Salsa, canned goods, granola
  • Kimker Hills Farm – Produce, salsas, freshly milled grains
  • Mangia Italiano – Handmade, fresh pasta
  • Murray’s Orchard – Jams, jellies, salsas
  • Seven Thunder Bison – Grass-fed buffalo, buffalo jerkey
  • Pleasant Dream Quilts – Personal sized quilts that fold into pillows

For more information, visit www.tgmarket.org