Publication Date

2006

Abstract

In 1994, the U.S. Department of Agriculture counted 1,755 farmers' markets in the United States. By 2004, this number had more than doubled, to over 3,700 such markets. Though most consumers continue to buy the majority of their food from large supermarkets, farmers' markets are becoming more common across the country. In the last 15 years, farmers nationwide have benefited from a "relocalizing" trend in U.S. agriculture that Cornell University's Thomas Lyson has labeled civic agriculture. This trend, spurred in part by an increased demand for fresh, healthy, organic produce, has brought about significant growth in the number of farmers' markets, CSA farms, community gardens, roadside stands, "pick-it yourself" farm patches, neighborhood kitchens, and locally controlled cooperatives. Though civic agriculture is notable as a growingly important way of producing and distributing food, it is also, according to Lyson, important in meeting a variety of social needs, enabling citizens to feel more connected to their communities, facilitating mutual relations, interactions, and networks among citizens. Using social capital theory as a conceptual framework, this inquiry qualitatively analyzes this phenomenon, exploring the extent to which the farmers' market of one small town - Brattleboro, Vermont - affects social cohesion, civic engagement, and quality of life for different groups of residents in the town. In analyzing the social dynamic at the farmers' market - how social capital is exchanged, what types of social networks are formed there, and how citizens benefit (or do not benefit) from these relationships - the study asks readers to consider how and to what extent the forces that motivate individuals to participate in the market - the town's largest weekly social gathering - also inspire them to shop at locally owned businesses, participate in local politics, and exhibit other behaviors that affirm and enhance their commitment to community.

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