IN THIS ISSUE: Editorial / Interviews with Food System Changemakers around the World / Suggested Readings & Resources / Policy Highlights / Previous Video Recording / Upcoming Events


Greetings CUNY Urban Food Policy Monitor readers and members of our food policy learning community!

Farmers markets are springing up in towns and cities all over the planet. While this phenomenon can be seen as a revival, it represents something new at the same time: independent, multi-stakeholder collaboratives that share key traits that contribute to their appeal and success. These include the presence of management, the capacity to launch new programs, and a commitment to balance the interests of consumers, farmers, and communities that host markets. While there is much to learn about replicability and promising practices, there is reason to believe that in this era of pandemics, supply chain disruptions, and a growing distrust in large and opaque institutions, the promise of farmers markets to deliver transparency and trust elevates its potential far beyond the observable and measurable direct transactions between farmers and consumers. A growing body of evidence suggests that farmers markets can serve as pivotal institutions to reshape territorial economies and food systems. Moreover, they tend to be organized specifically around such goals.

The pandemic catapults a marginal mechanism to the center of the plate

During the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers market activity was halted nearly everywhere. Competent authorities interpreted farmers markets first and foremost as events or gathering points, rather than as points of distribution. The emergency forced farmers market managers to clearly define their role in the food system as an essential service (whose operation should continue during lockdowns). This became essential in 2020 and 2021 precisely because the industrial food distribution system (long chains) struggled to deliver food safely. Systems simply broke down. Meanwhile, as farmers markets successfully lobbied to be deemed essential, they adapted to the emergency realities in many creative ways. Around the globe, weekly farmers markets set up online pre-orders and arranged pick-ups and deliveries. Farmers markets also demonstrated the flexibility to redesign public space to accommodate physical distancing for farmers and shoppers, one-way traffic patterns to limit physical contact, and operate for extended hours.

This period of compressed and comprehensive innovation reenergized many markets, gaining attention not just from consumers but also from policymakers. Once derided as small and marginal, these institutions have proven to possess the kind of resilience others claim to have but, in reality, possess little.

The rise of a global community of practice

As the world scrambled to recalibrate life during and after the COVID-19 emergency lockdowns, farmers markets reemerged with a more coherent sense of urgency and purpose. One significant development is the World Farmers Markets Coalition (WorldFMC), a membership-based non-governmental association organized in July 2021 as part of the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Coalition, to develop and affirm the role of farmers markets as a necessary component of local food systems in the world. It has established its headquarters in Rome, Italy, to continue and promote close ties with the agri-food agencies of the UN, European Union (EU) and European Commission (EC), and key Mediterranean governments. It aims to be the intersectional linkage to achieve the economic, social, health, and environmental goals of the UN’s sustainable development (SDGs). As of 2023, it boasts 60 member organizations in over 50 countries, representing 20,000 farmers markets, 200,000 farmers, and over 200 million consumers. While the perception before the pandemic may have been that “boutique” farmers markets are an anomaly in North America, it is now clear that not only is the movement worldwide, but that despite differences in location, scale, language, and currency, there is more that unites farmers markets than divides them. Moreover, the WorldFMC is managing to facilitate shared learning that constitutes a true community of practice. While these are early days, evidence of such a community is witnessed through regular (in-person and virtual) meetings to share promising practices, as well as its synchronous and asynchronous Academy to disseminate new and existing knowledge. WorldFMC has also endeavored to work with the UN, EU, and other regional inter-governmental organizations to create new knowledge-sharing tools, develop and field-test farmers markets evaluation methodologies, and trailblaze capacity-building avenues. One significant project is the Mediterranean and African Market Initiative (MAMi), implemented by WorldFMC and CIHEAM Bari and financed by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, to build capacity for farmers markets in five countries in Africa and the Mediterranean as a resilient alternative to the industrial market and effective levers to revitalize rural communities. As Head of Strategy at WorldFMC and Guest Editor of this edition, Dr. Robin Moon leads the evaluation of farmers markets and strategizes sustainable implementation practices. Holly Isenberg, WorldFMC Research Assistant and Assistant Guest Editor of this edition, supports Dr. Moon in these efforts.

Adaptive leadership and strategic intervention in local food economies

There is growing consensus that territorial markets – terminology used outside high-income countries, these are formal and informal key retail outlets for fruits and vegetables, animal source foods and staple foods – contribute to territorial health. Small farmers and traders produce and sell fresh, culturally appropriate, and familiar foods to consumers. Farmers markets, a subset of territorial markets, offer an important innovation that sets them apart: the presence of management. Management is responsible for proposing and defending a market’s mission. While farmers market missions may vary in subtle ways, there is near-universal agreement that farmers market management represents and balances the interests of farmers, consumers, and communities that host markets — the triple bottom line. Management alsovets farmers to secure the “sell what they grow” ethos and maintains spaces that are free and open to the public. When these elements are combined, farmers markets mitigate risks farmers face when attempting to market their products; risks that consumers face when attempting to access fresh, healthy, and local food; and risks that communities face to animate public spaces with socially beneficial activities. While efforts to evaluate the success of farmers markets in creating more sustainable food systems are still in their infancy, most practitioners can point to proxies to indicate success for farmers (the financial benefits of direct marketing), consumers (improved access to local food), and communities (simple and sustainable measures to animate public spaces).

Another unique characteristic is that farmers market management is held accountable to stakeholders’ priorities. This means that market management is responsible for defending the market’s social contract and the aims of the mission statement, promoting the concept to consumers and producers alike, and negotiating the often-hostile relations with local regulatory authorities.

Many possibilities when management is present and focused on urban and rural equity in tandem
Through the presence of management, farmers are able to focus on growing and selling products in environments they trust rather than attending to other tasks. As farmers and farmers market managers align their values and beliefs mutual trust builds. This trust provides management with the political capital to experiment and to offer programmatic initiatives that extend far beyond the core set of operations (of direct marketing). The following are but a few examples of innovations in food, agriculture, and health that are made possible by farmers markets:

  • Nutrition incentives
  • Health education
  • School-based programs
  • Capacity building
  • Agritourism
  • Business development and incubation
  • (Social) Entrepreneurism
  • Online sales
  • Community-driven composting

There is still work to be done to improve farmers’ markets’ ability to address the social disparities in access to locally produced foods. Prior studies highlight that effective governance is crucial for creating sustainable food systems that support both the farmers and the communities they serve. Additionally, studies also highlighted the need to develop reliable and valid metrics for evaluating farmers markets to inform interventions, programs, and policies. These principles align with the WorldFMC’s vision of strengthening farmers markets and fostering locally managed food economies.

In this month’s newsletter, we highlight changemakers working to strengthen their local food systems. Christina Ermilio in Italy, Dennis Andaye in Kenya, Jean-Charles Khairallah in Lebanon, and Marcello De Rosa a professor specializing in agrifoods economics and policy, are each making significant contributions through their work with farmers markets, local food economies, and their regional food advocacy.

Epilogue: Farmers markets often operate in disparate ecosystems. Despite different models, all share a fervent desire for investments to build stronger business models for markets and farmers; capacity building to manage a myriad of ancillary programs that reinforce the triple bottom line; and shifts in national priorities away from industrial export-oriented agriculture and towards community food systems. In places where farmers markets have had the opportunity to build popular support that translates into an investment, there are reasons to cheer. However, the growth in recent years has been in places where new farmers markets are just that – very new. These are also places where economies are less stable, demographic pressures are greater, and livelihoods are vulnerable: North and Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. This is also the case within the US, or even within the same state. With promising new markets kick-starting new conversations in these new places, now is the time to make the case for strategic investments to rebuild community trust, food security, and urban-rural connection.


Guest Editor of this Issue: J. Robin Moon, DPH, MPH, MIA, is a transdisciplinary scholar in social epidemiology, a practitioner and entrepreneur for health justice, and an educator in public health. She is currently an Adjunct Associate Professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health, an Adjunct Professor at the CUNY School of Medicine, a Faculty Affiliate of the CUNY Institute for Health Equity, and a Faculty Fellow at CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute. She serves the World Farmers Markets Coalition as the head of strategy. Dr. Moon brings her diverse experience into the domains of public health, healthcare, food systems, and social welfare system development. Her areas of expertise include food systems studies, farmers markets research and evaluation, health equity strategy, US healthcare and social welfare reform, business process engineering, organizational strategy development, quality improvement, evidence-based practice development, and program evaluation. She has led various domestic and international research and evaluation initiatives for public health, and her publications cover a broad stroke of interdisciplinary fields. Dr. Moon holds degrees from Harvard University, Columbia University, and the University of Chicago. She is an Aspen Health Innovators fellow. She has spoken at numerous conferences, convenings, and media outlets.

Guest Editorial Assistant: Holly Isenberg is a CUNY SPH doctoral student in the Community Health and Health Policy program. She is currently a World Farmers Market Coalition (WFMC) Research Assistant and a CUNY CARES/CUFPI Research Fellow. As a WFMC Research Assistant, Holly is working with Dr. Moon on the Mapping of Farmers Markets under the ‘Global Network of Farmers Markets’ Initiative’ to explore the different models of farmers markets internationally and what makes them successful. As a doctoral student, Holly is researching the effects of SNAP benefits on decreasing food insecurity on CUNY campuses through her role at CUNY CARES. Holly has previously worked in public health programming and is passionate about creating more equitable and sustainable food systems in urban areas.

Production Coordinator: Rositsa T. Ilieva, Director of Policy, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute

Digital Content Specialist: Liv Collins, Communications Assistant, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute