Public Markets Promote Economic, Social, and Health Benefits - And Should Be Encouraged

June 21, 2006

Steve Davies and Dr. Neal Kaufman contend that farmers' markets are far from quaint trappings of gentrification -- their health and social benefits should be available to all communities.

The idea that public markets can play a role in improving the public health of neighborhoods is gaining acceptance. Please explain this trend. What roles can public markets play in inner-city and inner-suburban neighborhoods?

Steve Davies: There’s been a resurgence in interest generally in farmers’ markets across the country, and the numbers show an increase from 1,700 markets in 1994 to 3,700 in 2004. Somewhere around three million consumers shop at the markets, and 30,000 farmers sell in them, and research suggests that these markets create $1 billion in consumer spending.
Over the last two or three years, we’ve been working with the Ford Foundation and more recently the Kellogg Foundation, which are interested in how markets can serve as a catalyst for lower-income communities, especially communities that the Ford Foundation calls “shifting sand communities.” Those are communities that are undergoing demographic change because new immigrants are moving in, real estate value is changing, etc, and Ford is interested in the role markets can play in enhancing and stabilizing these neighborhoods.
These and other foundations are beginning to see that these markets can achieve many benefits in these communities — if they can be economically viable. That’s one of the questions we should probably start talking about, but assuming that you can make these markets economically viable, then they can help stimulate the revitalization of neighborhoods, and be used as catalysts for improving the health of the community. They can create jobs and businesses and achieve a wide range of other potential benefits. I think we’re going to see an even greater interest in these markets in the five or ten years, because of their broader benefits.
Particularly in the Los Angeles region, markets present an ideal opportunity for creating job opportunities for immigrants as well as farmers. Many immigrants come from agriculture backgrounds and they can reestablish themselves with farms. Others can be more involved in crafts or urban food production, but I think they represent the real opportunity both in the sense that immigrants can run businesses and in the sense that there is a really direct connection for these immigrants who come from countries with a tradition of vital markets. People often want to replicate what they had in their home country after they settle in their new homes in the United States.

Neal, as a pediatrician and First Five L.A. commissioner long interested in the connection of place-making and community health, why have you turned your attention to farmers’ and public markets?

Neal Kaufman: Healthy communities have vibrant centers that encourage interactions between people. These interactions are essential for the health of the people who live, work, shop and play in the area. A variety of locations can serve as these centers —schools, commercial sites, farmers’ markets—what matters most is that there are these centers and a vibrant farmers’ markets can be a centers of neighborhood vitality.
Farmers’ markets can provide direct services as well as have indirect effects. If the market chooses to, it can offer direct services on-site. For example, it can have health education, cooking classes, physical activity, exercise, yoga, etc. They can have health screenings for individuals to help them identify high-risk conditions like obesity, cancer, asthma or depression. They can provide immunizations. They can do a range of direct services, and that by itself can attract more customers and have a very significant impact on the health and well-being of the people who use the market.
One can also think of a vibrant market as a part of a healthy place-making strategy that improves the health and well being of the individuals in its community. For example, markets can help increase physical activity and social and emotional well-being. If a market is well planned it is able to link to its community facilitating walking to and from the market, within the market and to nearby commercial venues. The increased walking is an important component of well-being.
In addition, if a market can give people a sense of place and stability and enhance the cultural values of that community, it can enhance the social well-being of the people in the community and foster social interactions. For example, a study showed that the average number of social interactions in a large grocery store is one or two per visit, but if you go to a farmers’ market it’s 15 or 20 per visit. Many people go there just for the social interaction, and, when there, they buy some things too.

You both took part in a recent PPS conference on farmers’ market. Talk a little bit about the agenda and conclusions of that meeting.

SD: Last October, we held our sixth International Public Market Conference in Washington, D.C., and over 300 people attended, mainly from the U.S. but also internationally, to exchange information and share innovations in public markets. We had quite a diverse crowd, and we focused many of the sessions on the larger benefits of markets.
At the conference, we also presented the results about the economic multiplier effects of markets. It turns out that every dollar spent generates up to two dollars in community spin-off benefits. These markets are real engines of economic opportunity!
In 2005, with the support of the Ford Foundation, we established a grant program to enhance the community impacts and economic viability of public markets. We awarded $1 million in grants last year and we’re doing the same this year, with support from the Kellogg Foundation. In total it’s a $3 million, three-year program for small- and medium-sized grants for farmers’ markets, public markets, and market associations in states and regions.
To guide the grants program, we established a diverse advisory group – including Dr. Kaufman – because we recognize that we need to look not only at how markets can function economically but also at how they affect these broader issues of health and community development.
This year, we received about 350 applications for grants, and we’re probably going to give our around 20 or 25 grants – so there is a lot of need and a lot of demand nationally for this support

NK: The other part of our effort is a UCLA research project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to work with Project for Public Spaces to scientifically measure the health impacts of particular policy decisions. That process is called health impact assessment, and it’s done with a 30 year old methodology that started in Europe and then spread to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. It’s now emerging in the United States to help decision makers creating a non-health related policy, project or program get information about unexpected health impacts from their decisions so they can mitigate bad outcomes and enhance good ones.
We are interested in making available unbiased information about outcomes for the different alternatives. For farmers’ markets we are helping planners understand how to make the markets health promoting.

What are the economic challenges to be overcome if these markets are to be viable in more neighborhoods and adaptable to more community environments?

SD: There’s a range of different types of markets that represent different levels of investment. The simplest kind of market is an open-air farmers’ market that might set up on a parking lot or in a park one day a week; these are temporary and have no investment in infrastructure. At the opposite extreme are markets like the Grand Central Market in Downtown L.A., which is an indoor market is open almost every day, and sells a wider range of products than you would find at an open air market.
There’s interest in all of these types of markets today, and of course the difficult ones to pull off are the indoor permanent markets because they are major real estate projects, and some are not doing so well because of the costs of maintaining a permanent facility. Having said that, there are also some real challenges to starting almost any kind of market in a lower income neighborhoods, which are, of course, the neighborhoods that need them the most. These neighborhoods have the fewest places to gather, and they have the least access to fresh food and all kinds of services, including those that benefit community health.
One of the things we’re encouraging in our grants are networks of markets so that not every market is operating by itself but is operating under an umbrella, which can share operating costs. We also think these systems of markets can have more potential to partner with major organizations like, for example, a health organization.
Kaiser Permanente Medical Center has sponsored a large number of markets, maybe 20 or 25, in both Northern California and Southern California. These partners can also provide funding because they can justify supporting the markets because they help a medical institution or the community development organization achieve its own goals.

NK: One way to do of this is to have a free-standing market that offers a range of different non-market related programs or services; that works in some places. The other way is to identify a co-tenant, so to speak, whether it’s a school district, a health facility, a YMCA or a community center or park – some location that already has the physical space and individuals who come to that space for some other reason. You can then bring to them this new service and it makes it easier for that market to be both sustainable and able to meet some of these other community revitalization goals.
There has been a public commitment to try to host at least eight farmers’ markets at LAUSD campuses. The markets would be on a school parking lots on a Saturday or a Sunday. That’s a good example of bringing a market to a large organization. That is much the same as the concept at the heart of New School Better Neighborhoods, which is taking a community need – in this case, access to fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy food at an affordable price – and linking it to a school that then has another reason to be a stronger part of that community.

If both of you were to share an open letter with the planning directors of cities in metropolitan Los Angeles, what would be the outline and substance of your letter to these local planning commissions, planning directors, mayors and city councils?

SD: First, I think you’d want them to be aware of the potential that markets can play in community development and health. I think there are a lot of markets in L.A. now, and maybe people are just thinking of them as nice places to go on Saturday morning to get some good tomatoes, but I would focus on their broader potential as catalysts for creating community places and becoming anchors for revitalization.
For communities that don’t have a town center, there are a number of projects around the country where the markets are going into retrofitted strip malls. One neighborhood strip mall in Madison, Wisconsin, is being converted into a community center with retail as well as a library and a health center; an open-air farmers’ market will be another anchor.
We have done some national analyses of farmers’ markets through Drake University in Iowa, and they have identified a number of policy obstacles that exist at state and local levels that inhibit the development of farmers’ markets. For example, many cities require open-air farmers’ markets to go through the same planning approval process as a million square-foot shopping center would have to go through. They don’t have another planning procedure for these lower-cost, temporary, flexible activity spaces. So, it becomes very difficult to go through the start-up procedures for some of these markets in these places.

NK: Farmers’ markets can benefit not only inner-suburban and inner-city residents and their neighborhoods as a whole. They can also benefit the farmers. Even in urban Los Angeles County we have a number of farmers, and clearly California has huge numbers of farmers. Providing the farmer with another source of income actually makes the farmer more independent and the entire region more stable.
The second thing I would mention is—and this would be true of many different development activities and opportunities that an urban planner might have—that almost any development opportunity is an opportunity to worsen or improve the health of the population in that jurisdiction. It can worsen it by decreasing the number of people who walk, by increasing air pollution, by changing the face of a community so that it now longer has cohesiveness.
Equally, a policy can improve people’s health and well-being. Public health people should be at the table whenever development projects are being planned. There’s an increasing recognition in the public health community that the built space can have profound impacts on the health of the population.
An increasing number of individuals with expertise in a wide variety of backgrounds—architecture, interior design, landscape design, urban planning, public health, epidemiology, cancer control, tobacco control, obesity control, etc.—are interested in providing input so that decision makers and policy makers can have the right information when they make decisions about their development activities.