A Tale of Four Farmers Markets: Recreation and Leisure as a Catalyst for Sustainability


  • James R. Farmer
  • Charles Chancellor
  • Andrew Gooding
  • Devorah Shubowitz
  • Adrianne Bryant


Local food systems, locavore, farmers’ markets, sustainability, community, recreation


Local foods have most recently received heightened attention as an important component to community sustainability due to the production process that generally separates small, local food growers/vendors from their larger conventional production style brethren. Specifically, local foods are those that are consumed within a 100-mile vicinity of where they were grown/produced. As such, farmers markets are positioned as a vital component to local food systems, an important aspect of a community’s long-term sustainable development. Additionally, farmers’ markets are the fastest growing direct producer-consumer food venue, having seen an increase in market numbers by 349% in the past 16 years. Though research concerning farmers markets is not new, most studies focus on the vendor/grower perspective as well as the economic attributes to farmers markets. The purpose of this study was exploratory in nature, considering the farmers’ market experience from the consumers’ perspective. Subsequently, we sought to understand the factors that may contribute or inhibit participation and engagement in the market, as well as the variables that may promote success in farmers markets. We used applied ethnographic research methods in order to study the consumers’ participation in farmers’ markets, which included informal in-depth interviews (n=25) and observations at four various farmers’ markets. The results of this study highlight three salient findings. First, recreation may be an important part of the farmers’ market experience, a concept that has received little attention in the recreation and leisure literature. Secondly, the recreation occurring at the farmers’ market strengthens community bonds. Finally, agencies such as parks and recreation departments are key to the facilitation of successful farmers’ markets. A major contribution of this study is that its findings suggest recreation and leisure play a significant role in both attracting consumers to markets, and in being an important outcome of the farmers’ market experience. Further, it may be an influential study that speaks directly to recreation practitioners and scholars, bringing attention to the fastest growing distribution network for sustainably grown foods. Further research ideas evolving from this study include exploring how parks and recreation agencies may: 1) solidify their role in local food systems; and 2) further connect recreation and leisure opportunities with local sustainability initiatives.