Interview with Community Farmers Markets Atlanta

Introduction the interview with Community Farmers Markets Atlanta

Can you tell us a little bit about your background/history that has led you to this point? 

Community Farmers Markets was founded in 2011 by leaders in the local food movement in Atlanta, GA to meet the demand for more efficiently-managed, community-based, sustainable farmers markets. These stakeholders included farmers and local leaders who worked for a more vibrant local food system and who had special interests, talents, or resources to build a stronger local food movement. CFM is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that serves thousands of shoppers annually and hosts over 100 vendors at its five weekly markets. 

CFM has a unique, three-tiered approach to food access through: 

1) Distribution of food (at local outdoor markets and Fresh MARTA Markets). 

2) Education. To consumers about the food through educational outreach programming, and to vendors via professional development. 

3) Financial incentives to purchase the food through SNAP (aka Food Stamps) matching program. 

A local vendor at an Community Farmers Markets Atlanta event

How does sustainability play a role in your brand/product development? How important has this been to consumers? 

Sustainability is important in 3 aspects of CFM’s work: supporting our vendors, regenerative agriculture, and the local economy. The success and consistency of the local small businesses are an integral part of CFM’s success. In addition to maintaining the markets where vendors sell their food and art, CFM features vendors in advertising, and facilitates a Vendor Support Program that includes resources and funding for business development. 

When selecting vendors, CFM looks for farms that are organic (certified or otherwise), Certified Naturally Grown, practitioners of sustainable agriculture. Use of any pesticides, herbicides, GMO seeds, or synthetic fertilizers must be disclosed during the Vendor Application process. These kinds of agriculture enrich the soil and store carbon, thus sustaining future bounty and healthy land/water resources. Additionally, CFM’s requirement that vendors are based within 200 miles of the market significantly reduces the carbon footprint relating to transportation of the food

The economic model of the farmers market ensures that the money spent stays in the community, stimulating the local economy, and generating jobs. According to the USDA, when comparing locally-sold produce versus mainstream-supply-sold produce: In all five cases, nearly all of the wage and proprietor income earned in the local market chains is retained in the local economy.” 

We have a wide range of consumers who are drawn to our markets for the atmosphere, the seasonal and local food, and/or the personal connection with vendors. Keeping our quality standards is important as customers trust us to host vendors who are indeed local and use (or grow) regionally-sourced, sustainable ingredients. Finally, as a nonprofit, events facilitator, and food source for our communities, we hope to continue for many years to come (sustainably!). 

What are your thoughts on the future role sustainability plays both professionally in business and in our everyday lifestyle choices, in regards to the future health of our planet? 

We believe in the concepts of “voting” with your fork and your wallet. Each food purchase we make is in support of the growers, supply chain, and carbon footprint that brought the food from soil to your mouth. When we purchase food with non-reusable/non-recyclable packaging, or meat produced in inhumane conditions with questionable labor practices, or purchase conventionally-grown vegetables sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, or even organically-grown food transported many miles, or fast food, we are directing our hard-earned income to support big agriculture and big business. 

Greenwashing, or the overuse of the concept of sustainability in advertising can make us feel good about our purchases, but the truth remains: the over-consumption of cheap meat and the demand for all kinds of produce year-round is contributing enormously to climate change. Simple lifestyle changes in the aggregate could have huge positive consequences. 

Activity at a local Community Farmers Markets Atlanta event

How does technology and innovation play a role in your business? 

At CFM farmers markets, we require vendors to use card readers in addition to cash for ease of transactions. CFM also uses technology to process EBT (SNAP) benefits. Through our partnership with Wholesome Wave Georgia, we match EBT dollars with an equal amount of tokens good for purchasing fruit and vegetables. Simple WiFi and iPads allow CFM to increase customer access to the fresh food our vendors provide. 

Imagine that 25 years from now you are looking back on your life, what would be the legacy that you would hope for your brand to leave behind? 

From our Executive Director, Katie Hayes: "I hope that every person in Atlanta has access to fresh, healthy, and locally grown/produced food through farmers markets, farm stands, CSAs, and other solutions that meet the needs of that community. I hope that every farmer is able to make a living wage and live a sustainable lifestyle." 

Scenes of food and live music at a Community Farmers Markets Atlanta gathering

Do you have a quote, saying or poem you find inspirational and what is it? 

“Eating is an agricultural act.” ― Wendell Berry, What Are People For Essays 

What brands do you admire? 

We’d like to give shoutouts to some of our wonderfully talented vendors. This is only a teeny sampling, so please consider visiting our website to read up on vendors at each market. 

  • Raw Head Bread : unique and creative raw and vegan snack options 
  • Honey Next Door : delicious neighborhood-specific honey 
  • La Calavera Bakery : Mexican breads and pastries including vegan options 
  • Urban Sprout Farms : biodynamic & certified organic urban farm 

Can you tell us something about your product/brand/personal journey that might surprise us to know? 

Because of a new USDA work-requirement rule announced in December of 2019, over 600,000 Americans may lose their SNAP benefits. The Trump administration characterizes the move as a “restoration to the dignity of work,” while opposing politicians and advocates describe the move as simply stripping poor people of food. 

An aerial view of a farmers market

What is one thing you would be willing to or have already given up with the health of the planet in mind? 

We’ve compiled a list of small-but-mighty lifestyle changes for the sake of the earth: 

  • Shop at your local farmers market. Try to purchase local veggies and meat whenever possible. The average food travels 1,500 miles to get to your plate. When you purchase from a local farmers market, food is grown within 200 miles and sometimes as close as 1 mile! The impact on the environment is enormous, from fossil fuels being used, to land stewardship - local is the most sustainable way to eat for the health of the planet. 
  • If you can’t make it to a farmers market, buying local veggies at your grocery store is a “vote” for the store’s continued purchasing from local farms! 
  • Limit meat consumption, and if you do eat meat, eat local meat that is humanely raised with unlimited access to open pastures. Read up on the American meat and seafood industries as you make your food choices. 
  • Tackle food waste: meal plan to reduce overall waste, and compost the scraps! If you can’t compost where you live, there may be a composting service in your area or even a drop off at a local farmers market! 
  • Give up fast food and processed food. Read Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules,” the short handbook on eating consciously. 
  • The “fast flower” industry is also responsible for enormous carbon footprints. You can find local flower florists via Slow Flowers, and local flowers at your local farmers markets! 
  • If you’re a home owner, consider landscaping with native plants that thrive in your unique climate and benefit the local insect, birds, biome, etc. 
  • As always, eat and shop local!

 

Photo credit: Jenna Shea Photography