Farmers markets

Evidence Rating  
Some Evidence
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  

A farmers market is a multiple vendor farm-to-consumer retail operation, where producers sell goods at a set outdoor or indoor location. Farmers markets usually sell fresh fruit and vegetables, though meat, dairy, grains, prepared foods, and other items may also be available. Markets are usually held once a week and vary in size from a few stalls to several city blocks. Most farmers markets are organized and operated by community organizations, public agencies, or public/private collaborations with volunteer support.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased access to fruits & vegetables

  • Increased fruit & vegetable consumption

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased healthy foods in food deserts

  • Strengthened local & regional food systems

  • Improved local economy

  • Reduced emissions

What does the research say about effectiveness? This strategy is rated some evidence.

There is some evidence that farmers markets increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and increase consumption of fresh produce1, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Establishing farmers markets is a suggested strategy to increase fresh produce in areas that lack access to stores selling reasonably priced, high quality produce12, 13. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Farmers markets are associated with increases in fresh produce purchases and self-reported increases in fruit and vegetable consumption11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22. Individuals who shop at farmers markets more frequently report higher levels of consumption than peers shopping less frequently23, 24, 25. Farmers markets with education, promotion, and financial incentives may substantially affect consumption26, 27, 28.

Multi-component interventions that include cooking classes and produce allocations increase self-reported fruit and vegetable consumption and farmers market shopping29. Farmers market cooking classes can improve physical, social, and emotional well-being for children and adolescents30. Multi-component interventions are a suggested strategy to increase farmers market shopping and produce consumption among individuals who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits31, 32. Peer-to-peer programs, such as Food Navigators, may also increase vegetable purchase and consumption among participants33, 34.

Zoning that supports farmers markets, street food vendors, and other public markets may strengthen local food systems, enhance local economies, and contribute to a livelier pedestrian environment35. Research suggests that farmers markets may function as regional food destinations that can support the local economy36. Shopping at farmers markets that offer seasonal, locally grown foods may reduce emissions from fossil fuels used to produce, process, and transport food37, 38, and may reduce the energy intensity of an individual’s diet if more plant-based foods are consumed in place of animal products37.

High quality produce, produce variety, and lower prices are the most commonly reported reasons for shopping at farmers markets39. Increasing transportation options, developing safe routes to healthy foods at farmers markets, expanding market hours and locations, promoting awareness, and offering community health education may support farmers market use16, 40, 41. Research suggests that including a wider variety of vendors is associated with increased sales42. Locating farmers markets in central, accessible sites may also lead to increased sales43. Farmers markets operating in underinvested communities can offer community-tailored services, develop community outreach and partnerships, and leverage public transportation to increase access to farmers markets44. Farmers markets can also contribute to sustainable community building by offering programs within the market, working in partnership programs with other community groups, and engaging in community planning processes45.

Limited transportation options, lack of information about the location or hours of farmers markets, and markets not accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) payment for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are frequently reported barriers to farmers market use3, 16, 39, 40, 46, 47, 48.

Prices at farmers markets are often lower than supermarket prices49, 50, 51, although prices vary and may be higher than supermarket price in some counties18, 52.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated potential to decrease disparities: suggested by expert opinion.

Farmers markets are a suggested strategy to reduce disparities in fruit and vegetable consumption between people from communities with low incomes and those from communities with higher incomes12, 13. Farmers markets can increase fruit and vegetable consumption in communities with low incomes8, 9, 10, 11 and among individuals with low incomes who have diabetes1. An evaluation of the Fresh to You partnership program suggests markets can also increase consumption among children from families with low incomes when discount produce is available65.

However, research suggests that farmers market locations are associated with communities that are more wealthy, white, and educated66 and many consumers and managers of farmers markets tend to be white, educated, and affluent67, 68. Farmers markets can be exclusionary towards people with low incomes and people of color69, 70 and are unlikely to be in areas that lack access to stores selling reasonably priced, high-quality produce71. Experts suggest that farmers markets in low income, minority communities may have difficulty balancing shoppers’ needs for low-cost produce and vendors’ needs for profitability72, 73. Farmers markets in neighborhoods with low incomes also appear to be smaller and provide fewer fresh fruits and vegetables than typical markets in more affluent communities74. Research also suggests that increasing proximity to fresh produce alone may not increase fruit and vegetable consumption26.

Nationwide, farmers markets have been started and sustained in communities with low incomes to improve access to fresh, healthy foods despite the challenges involved43, 44, 75. Experts suggest that farmers markets should strategically consider location, including proximity to public transportation31, 43, 44. Farmers markets can use communication and outreach efforts, as well as partnerships, to encourage community development31, 45. Inclusive farmers markets respect, value, and seek out the perspectives of individuals with low incomes and people of color rather than dismissing their views and concerns76, 77.

Farmers markets may increase fruit and vegetable access in rural communities24. While farmers markets can be perceived as assets to rural communities, barriers for rural residents include limited market hours, lack of EBT acceptance, and lack of transportation78.

What is the relevant historical background?

Throughout U.S. history, discriminatory housing, lending, and exclusionary zoning policies entrenched racial residential segregation and concentrated poverty79, 80. This systemic disinvestment and exclusion by both government and private entities created and maintains community environments with limited resources, deteriorating infrastructure, hazardous industries and waste disposal sites, and many other factors that lead to poorer health outcomes for people of color and people with low incomes81, 82, 83, 84. Communities shaped by discriminatory policies are often areas that have limited access to healthy and affordable food, formerly known as food deserts85, 86. Individuals who live in these communities face higher food costs, fewer store options, and must travel further to purchase healthy food than those who live in well-resourced communities85. Residents also have increased exposure to high calorie foods that have little nutritional value, which often leads to worse health outcomes86. Many rural areas also lack access to fresh and affordable food, even in areas where farming is an important part of the local economy87.

The origins of farmers markets can be traced back to public markets, which were a primary source for food purchasing in U.S. cities in the 1800s35, 88. In the 1930s, public markets began to be replaced by chain grocery stores and nationalized food distribution systems35. From 1940-1980, the agriculture industry changed rapidly as large farms increased in both size and number while the number of small family farms decreased89. Consolidating farms can increase labor productivity and economic growth, though it also concentrates corporate power in the food system, may increase food waste, and may not improve conditions for workers90. Farmers markets, where small farms often sell products, surged in popularity beginning in the 1990s, though growth has slowed in recent years91, 92. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a long and ongoing history of discriminatory policies that advantaged white farmers over Black farmers, as well as Native American, Hispanic, and Asian farmers93, 94, 95, 96. Despite oppression and exploitation, many Black farmers resisted and played an important role in the development of agricultural practices in the U.S.97, 98 Although relatively fewer farmers markets have been implemented in communities with low incomes, many cities, communities, and local food system advocates have recognized the potential benefits farmers markets could offer these communities and their local small farmers promoting social, economic, physical, and environmental health99.

Equity Considerations
  • Who regularly attends farmers markets in your community? Who has transportation to farmers markets in your community? Who has time to attend farmers markets and prepare meals using their purchased fresh food?
  • What food assistance programs are available at farmers markets in your community? Who decides what food assistance programs will be offered?
  • Where are farmers markets located in your community? How are they connected to public transportation? Who provides input to decide where to locate farmers markets and when markets will be open?
  • How can vendors and managers create an inclusive market, especially for people with low incomes and people of color?
Implementation Examples

As of August 2023, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) includes over 6,900 farmers markets in the National Farmers Market Directory53. Various state and local policies can encourage the establishment of farmers markets54. For example, in Fresno, CA local zoning ordinances establish zones where farmers markets are an approved land use, and in Minneapolis, MN streamlined permitting processes support small farmers markets55. The Produce Plus Program in Washington, D.C. and Gorge Grown Food Network in Washington state are examples of collaborative efforts to support farmers markets in urban and rural areas56, 57. In Michigan, the Flint Farmers Market and the Eastern Market in Detroit are examples of markets working with partners to address economic, social, and civic issues in the community44, 45, 58

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) operates the Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program, which will distribute about $15 million in 2023 to support farmers markets and other direct to consumer retail outlets59, 60. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity provides guidance and funding to state health departments to support interventions promoting access to fresh produce and encouraging healthy eating, including establishing or supporting farmers markets61. Farmers markets working to become more inclusive can use the SNAP Consumer Environment assessment tool62 and review diversity, equity, and inclusion resources63, 64.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

ChangeLab-Land use and FMs - Wooten H, Ackerman A. From the ground up: Land use policies to protect and promote farmers’ markets. Oakland: ChangeLab Solutions; 2013.

PolicyLink-FMs 2008 - PolicyLink. Equitable development toolkit: Farmers markets. 2008.

USDA-Farmers markets - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Farmers markets and direct-to-consumer marketing.

USDA-FMPP - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Farmers market promotion program (FMPP).

CDC-Supporting FMs - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). Current practices in developing and supporting farmers’ markets.

CDC-HFR 2014 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. Healthier food retail (HFR): An action guide for public health practitioners. 2014.

CDC DNPAO-Data - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). Nutrition, physical activity and obesity: Data, trends and maps online tool.

PolicyLink-HFAP map - PolicyLink, The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), The Food Trust. Healthy food access portal (HFAP): Research your community interactive map for healthy food access.

PAS-Zoning 2016 - Planning Advisory Service (PAS). Planning & zoning for health in the built environment. American Planning Association (APA); 2016.

SRTSNP-Safe routes to healthy foods - Safe Routes to School National Partnership (SRTSNP). Healthy communities: Safe routes to healthy foods.

ISU-Food and sustainability resources - Iowa State University (ISU), Sustainable Food Processing Alliance. Online resources for food and sustainability.

Utah Farmers Market Network-DEI - Utah Farmers Market Network. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

FMC-DEI - Farmers Market Coalition (FMC). Resource library: Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

HFFI - America's Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI). America’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) aims to build a more equitable food system that supports the health and economic vibrancy of all Americans.


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