Saturday, August 18, 2007

Organics @ Waverly Market

I just came back from my usual Saturday morning shopping trip to Waverly Market. The vibe there is great.

Why are there so few (only one) organic produce seller at the Waverly market? It seems like the whole point of going to a farmer's market is so you can get local and organic fruits and vegetables. These sellers are local (and I'm guessing what they sell is mostly from their own farms) but generally not organic.

Generally, folks who favor eating happy free-range lettuce and such (I count myself in this group) like organic food because it is healthier and better for the environment. Buying locally is allegedly better for the environment because you don't have to use as much energy in shipping. However, the latter rationale was recently undercut in a recent article by James McWilliams in the New York Times. So why do Baltimore consumers value local produce but not the organic stuff? Why don't these farmers find it worthwhile to farm organically and pass the increased cost on to consumers? That's what farmers who sell to farmer's markets do in most other big cities.

From the look of it, the Waverly market crowd is exactly who you would expect to buy organic food. We bring our own re-used plastic bags and carry our purchases in re-usable totes bearing NPR or Whole Foods logos. In short, they look just like shoppers at other farmer's markets, who demand and get organic produce. Maybe the marginal purchaser of these local producers' produce is not farmer's market customers at all. Perhaps in Seattle these growers can sell overstock to crunchy local markets. In Baltimore, such places don't exist or exist in fewer numbers (I think Whole Foods is the only game in town, and I believe they buy organics mostly from industrial, non-local organic farms), so these farmers have to sell to producers who don't value organics. So even if farmer's markets have similar clientele the world over, they are still left with different products.

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