It is sometimes easy to forget that just a quarter century ago, there were less than 2000 functioning farmers markets in the entire U.S. As of late August, 2018, the USDA has recorded a total of 8730 farmers markets in the U.S., roughly a five-fold increase in less than 25 years. What I love about farmers markets is what I’ve seen in Bloomington, Indiana — an old conservative farmer in overalls selling pawpaws next to a college-age woman in a dashiki dress selling organic chile seedlings… Or what I’ve seen in Flagstaff, Arizona — an immigrant farmer born in Greece selling purslane or “verdolagas” to a Navajo sheepherder or a Mexican-born tortilla maker.
We see all races, faiths, genders, and political persuasions not only represented at farmers markets; we see them interacting, learning from one another, and forging long-lasting friendships. I saw for my own eyes how farmers market vendors come together in the face of adversity after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina devastated the growers who sold their fare at the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans. Naw’lins “native” African-Americans, Central Americans, Cajuns, Crackers and Caribbean immigrants were among those who helped one another get back on track and survive through the post-traumatic stress of it all. Our need for a healthier food system brings many of us together. But it also gives us something to celebrate with. As Slow Food’s Carlo Petrini once admonished Americans to do, “Don’t think of conservation as a hands-off, lock-the-populace-out activity; enjoy the sensory pleasures derived from the success of your own collective labors.”
Join me this month in celebrating the many voices that are rediversifying the American Farmlands and tables while at the same time democratizing society with “a conservation you can taste.” The stories of farmers, fishers, fruit gleaners, ranchers, restorationists and chefs are told in the newly-released Island Press book, Food from the Radical Center.
-Gary Paul Nabhan