The path to a career reads as a straightforward one.
You graduate high school, pick a major, study hard, maybe complete an internship and graduate college. For me and many of my peers, there’s a roadblock after you walk across that stage with your diploma in hand: “What do I do now?”
Beyond an education in sustainable agriculture and unwavering passion for local food, I had no idea where to start my career.
Should I work for a co-op retailer to increase access to high-quality fruits and veggies? Could I work for a farm-to-table restaurant to inspire diners to become local-food enthusiasts? Should I join a food justice organization to influence local food policy? Could I teach cooking classes and empower kids to make healthy food choices?
This summer I found a way to do all those things: I worked for a neighborhood farmers market.
With less time spent in transit, local produce at the farmers market is picked and sold at peak ripeness, assuring consumers their produce is the best quality for their dollar. Neighborhood markets are also often in walking distance of residents’ homes, increasing access to high-quality produce.
Farmers markets have also evolved beyond a place to buy fruits and vegetables. Our markets feature at least two to three fresh prepared food vendors, allowing customers to pick up restaurant-quality breakfast or lunch on the go.
Our markets accept SNAP-EBT benefits, making the outcome of state funding legislation critical to market accessibility. Markets also feature kids activities — from crafts to taste testing — to expose children and families to new vegetables and encourage healthy eating habits.
Farmers markets are a vital part of a city’s local food system. They’re a place for consumers to learn about their food directly from the people who are growing, baking and selling it. They’re a space for neighbors to gather and spend the day exposed to fresh air, new ideas and a variety of produce.
For someone interested in local food, it’s simply immensely energizing to spend the day surrounded by farmers and consumers who also value local food and supporting their community.
Supporting your local farmers market doesn’t require the specialized local food wystems degree I earned or a change in career path. There are a myriad of ways to demonstrate your support for your farmers and community.
Markets like Neighborhood Roots’ Kingfield, Fulton and Nokomis markets are often facilitated by a board of community members and always looking for new members and ideas to grow. Local, state and national legislation is always changing and requires advocates to support fair policies. You could set up a sustaining donation or encourage your business to sponsor your neighborhood market.
Markets often rely on volunteers to set up and take down the market each week, and volunteering is a great way to spend a few extra hours working with your neighbors and local farmers.
Not sure you’re ready to volunteer your time? Simply spend your money where your values are: the farmers market.
Personally, I will continue to support the local food movement by being a face for farmers markets. I’ll be at that market information booth ready to explain why there aren’t tomatoes in May or rhubarb in October. I’ll scold my partner for buying ingredients for dinner at the grocery store instead of the farmers market. My social media accounts will almost exclusively feature bright pictures of seasonal farmers market produce.
If I can inspire and empower just one more person a season to shop at their local farmers market, then I am doing exactly what I want to do. As my time with the Kingfield, Fulton and Nokomis farmers markets comes to an end and I look for the next opportunity, I am confident I found my place in the local food movement.
Victoria Hoffman is the Neighborhood Roots assistant market manager for the 2017 outdoor market season, a recent food systems graduate of the University of Minnesota and a local food enthusiast.