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When it comes to food, fresh and straight from the farm has always had this undeniably delectable taste and, as such, for this paper, I chose to explore the local farmer’s market which is just a minute’s walk away from the station which for me is a rather convenient place to go. When I visited the location, first at 9 am then at 11 am, it was unbelievably packed with people quite literally covering nearly every single square inch of my walking space. It was not just one particular age group or ethnicity that was there, in fact, there was a diverse array of people ranging from people that were teens (the Twilight t-shirts were a dead giveaway) to people ranging from their late to early 20s, 30s, and even 60s.
The distinctiveness of the Food Event
There was a sense of exploration in the place in that people did not just congregate in any specific area, rather, they went from stand to stand buying, tasting, and, enjoying themselves. If I were to describe the entire scene an apt description would be to call it a scene of ordered chaos in that despite the sheer amount of people crisscrossing in front of me there was at least a sense of order in that the booths themselves were lined up in a particular way and people did at least stand in line when it came to buying different kinds of produce. There were a few instances where my foot was stepped on and the sheer amount of people crushing me from all sides made me feel like my personal space was violated but I guess that is to be expected given the schedule I chose to make my observations.
Socio-Cultural Tradition of the Farmer’s Market
It is quite interesting to note that the current iteration of most farmers’ markets that are set up within metropolitan areas is that they are a representation of how the sale and consumption of food used to exist within society (Farmer’s Market, 54). It used to be the case that farmers farmed their goods, brought it to the local market, and sold it themselves (Shonrock, 37). Homemade jams, preserves, and other types of farm products were also regularly sold in this manner and were the primary source of income for some farmers. In the modern-day era, such processes have been eschewed in favor of supply chains and modern-day methods of food preservation and transportation wherein food that is from a farm can be transported hundreds of miles away before spoilage ensues (Justice, 16-38; Ng, 247-249).
While this has enabled society to grow and expand into a diverse array of regions, it has also resulted in a distinct socio-cultural loss wherein consumers no longer interact with the people that make their food (Shonrock, 37). As a result, this faceless method of food production and distribution has, in a sense, desensitized people towards the various plights of farmers wherein increases in food prices are viewed as merely corporate greed instead of as farmers merely trying to survive (Shonrock, 37).
Examining Consumer Behavior
When observing the various individuals, it became apparent that the number of people congesting the paths in between booths was not due to a continuous buying streak (though there were quite a few people with large bundles), rather it seemed as if people lingered to explore all the booths. Based on my own experience of coming to the Farmer’s market, I have always lingered for quite a while out of a sense of curiosity for the various products on sale.
You see, this particular market has always had a plethora of items for sale, it is not like a grocery store where there are a certain order and sterility to things rather everything is homemade, has a certain “personal touch” to how they were made and this results in what I would describe as “a farm-fresh taste” to the products which makes them far better than what I would normally find at grocery stores (McClellan-Brandt, 1).
Other people have the same idea since even if they are laden down with various bags and boxes, they always seem to go from booth to booth, exploring products, seeing the personal touches people have done, and determining which booth to come back to once they get back (Story, 822-828). Another interesting observation I made was that consumers enjoyed actively talking to and socializing with the farmers that were selling their products (McClellan-Brandt, 1).
From this behavior, I assume that including a certain degree of social interaction in the purchasing experience improves it. For me, this is indicative of similarity in cultural performances such as during family meals, birthdays or other such special events wherein social interaction was a cornerstone of such events. When considering this, it can be stated that the increased level of apparent happiness in direct interaction with a farmer that is selling his/her goods is in a way a fulfillment of an innate desire to socialize and to interact. Such aspects are not present in the case of normal grocery stores and supermarkets and, as such, are indicative of why farmers’ markets are deemed more “attractive” in the sense that they help to fill the innate desire to interact and be interacted with.
Examining the Differences in Buying Behavior
Feeling rather curious, I attempted a rather simple experiment and went to a grocery store that was a few blocks away to see the difference in buying behavior between people at the farmer’s market and people at a grocery store. During my brief period of observation at the grocery store, I never once saw a person carry several bags worth of groceries and a box full of apples (I saw more than a few people do this at the farmer’s market) and gone from one grocery lane to another just to “explore”. That in itself was the main difference I saw in buying behavior when I compared what I saw in the Farmer’s market to what I saw in grocery stores, supermarkets, or specialty stores like Whole foods.
There is no sense of “adventure” and “exploration”, people do not seem happy, interested, or even curious to shop in mass-produced and sterile stores rather they just seem satisfied enough to get the task over and done with (Winson, 584-600). Yet, with people shopping at the farmer’s market, despite being burdened with heavy packages and having to deal with the sheer amount of people, the experience for them seems to more pleasant for them, it is a far happier one and you can even see it on their faces their very expressions show that they are enjoying the experience of shopping for food (Knoblauch, 15).
Determining the Cause
Taking this into consideration, I have a slight hypothesis, I believe that people enjoy shopping when it is an “experience” rather than a requirement and this makes them shop longer, buy more products and patronize a location more so than other establishments. The farmers market can thus be thought of as a type of cultural experience that is associated with the consumption and sale of food. Such an experience can be compared to food festivals, fairs, and other such events albeit on a smaller scale that is more profit-oriented.
To better understand the point of view of a cultural experience, I interviewed several of the local participants of the farmers’ festival such as some of the farmers and buyers. One distinctive line of thought from among the consumers was that they felt better connected to the producers of their food and found the experience more fun as compared to merely buying the same items from their local grocery store. This is indicative of the earlier assumption of this paper which categorized a farmers market as not only a food event but a cultural experience as well. The same line of reasoning was evident in the case of the sellers wherein they believed that by selling directly to consumers, they were better able to know the needs of their clientele and respond to their needs and requests (Ng, 248).
From this perspective and the fact that I truly enjoyed walking around the booths eating cheese, an apple, a few sandwiches, some freshly squeezed orange juice, and a rather tasty apple pie, an experience at the farmer’s market is truly enjoyable and this in itself is what causes people to come back for more.
“Farmer’s Market”. Time 54.10 (1949): 54.
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Justice, Hilary. “The Consolation of Critique: Food, Culture, And Civilization In Ernest Hemingway.” Hemingway Review 32.1 (2012): 16-38.
Knoblauch, Mark. “Food For Thought: Essays On Eating And Culture.” Booklist 104.22 (2008): 15.
McClellan-Brandt, Sarah. “Farmer’s Market Thriving. (Cover Story)”. Fort Worth Business Press 18.25 (2005): 1.
The story, Mary. “Eating When There Is Not Enough To Eat: Eating Behaviors And Perceptions of Food Among Food-Insecure Youths.” American Journal of Public Health 99.5 (2009): 822-828.
Ng, Maria N. “Eating Chinese: Culture on The Menu In Small Town Canada.” English Studies In Canada 37.3/4 (2011): 247-249.
Shonrock, Diana. “World Food: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, And Social Influence from Hunter-Gatherers To The Age Of Globalization.” Booklist 109.11 (2013): 37.
Winson, Anthony. “The Demand for Healthy Eating: Supporting A Transformative Food ‘Movement’”. Rural Sociology 75.4 (2010): 584-600.