Food For Thought: Public Markets as Economic Catalyst?

The Project for Public Spaces published an article this month calling for a national study on the economic impact of public markets, with one of the goals being to find out just how many jobs are and might be created by the development and presence of a public market in a community. This would be a valuable reference for both market advocates and political types with job-creation on their minds to have.

Personally, I have always loved the cry of vendors hawking their wares. It varies by location and in intensity and pitch, but inevitably exudes such a natural, yet practiced and practical, enthusiasm.

History also supports my romanticized vision, having shown that markets have been gathering places throughout the world for people of all walks of life. It has only been in industrialized, technology-centered societies that the natural appeal and applicability of public markets waned (or was suppressed). Now, in an era where jobs are scarce, trendy trappings are more a luxury than a given, and “fresh” + “sustainable” + “community” is to food as “vintage” is to clothes, it makes sense that public markets are making a comeback.

My personal bias aside, such a study would certainly provide welcome data about the economic potential of public markets in communities of varying sizes, from an urban metropolis to a small town. Our nation is in need of any project that has economic viability, on top of the social and environmental benefits offered – perhaps a study on social potential should be called for? – so this type of collaboration would be ideal.

Some of the other topics and goals of the study are as follows:

• The number of jobs created by a public market – directly and indirectly. These could include farmers, seasonal farm workers, market stall employees, market managers, and even seed salespeople.

• The economic impact on the businesses around the market.

• The economic benefit of participation in a public market for the farmer/producer’s business, including an understanding of their cost of production and the cost of their market operation.

• The economic impact on the participating farmers’ rural communities.

• What else needs be evaluated? And how can this study take shape?

Browse the PPS’s article for more about the background of public markets and the logistics and collaboration that such an impact study would entail. The nonprofit is also soliciting reader feedback and ideas on their “Markets Economic Impact Study” at info@pps.org.

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