Monday, May 23, 2011


Schenectady officials don't
mind being within reach of
crowds who have access to
tomatoes and eggs
The Voyage of the Dragonfly is an exploration of sustainable technologies. As a sideline, we're also interested in sustainable agriculture--reducing our carbon footprint by eating locally. Yesterday, biking around Schenectady, we were excited to find the downtown Greenmarket.

Schenectady's downtown is like many we've seen on this trip: grand buildings from the Gilded Age, storefronts empty, signs of redevelopment investment (like fancy streetlights and sidewalks) that may not have paid off.

The town took a hit in the 1960s and 70s when local manufacturers moved to Sunbelt states, taking jobs with them.  The Greenmarket is one of many projects Schenectady launched to bring commerce and visitors back to downtown.

The market sets up in front of Schenectady's grand town hall, which--with its neoclassical portico, convex rear facade, and other Colonial Revival features--resembles the White House topped with a gold cupola.

The day was cloudy and cool, but a good crowd turned out for the chance to buy local chevre, the season's first lettuce and asparagus, herbs and bedding plants, honey and maple syrup, and whole wheat bread.

This market offers more than just shopping. There's weekly entertainment (jazz combo on stage yesterday), a booth with kids' activities (coming up: "Marley and Her Worms"), and a weekly "Ask Your Local Expert" booth, where a rotating line-up of gardeners, chefs, and health counselor stand by to field questions.  When the market is over, vendors donate leftovers to local soup kitchens and food pantries.

I liked the booth offering a rainbow of handmade pasta, flavored with spinach, beets, garlic, lemon, and made in Rochester from locally grown grains.  It looked mouth-watering. It was $8 a pound. I picked up a pound of ground beef (locally raised and grass-fed) for our dinner. $6.99 a pound. (It was absolutely delicious.)

With prices like these, do farmers' markets make economic sense?  The math is complicated.  Prices are high even though products are transported very short distances because comparable grocery-store products enjoy economies of scale in production as well as government subsidies for transport.

How do you do the calculus on the health care costs avoided when people consume a healthy diet?
How do you measure the value of local jobs created by small farms that are self-supporting?

Portland, Oregon, is known for its thriving farmers' market; a study in 2007 measured how the market captures and recycles local dollars. "The collective impact of farmers markets on the region's economy is $17.1 million," the report concluded  "Equivalent purchases in a grocery store would yield about $5 million in benefits to the regional economy."

The Project for Public Spaces has some resources that farmer's markets can use to calculate their local economic impact.  If you're involved with a local market, tell us what you know about the costs and benefits of your organization.

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1 comment:

  1. We are so glad you posted about Schenectady Greenmarket. We think our market is pretty terrific. Each week we bring anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 visitors to downtown Schenectady to purchase terrific locally-produced food.

    The market was created by a group of local citizens. While the Schenectady community has been tremendously supportive we have no support from, or connection to, the City. We are a non profit organization of volunteers and one part-time paid staff person. We have enjoyed the support of private individuals, Metroplex Development Authority, DSIC, Proctors, the County and the Jay Street Business Association (I'm sure I've missed someone there!). Our expenses are many and we are always looking for support. Anyone who would like to get involved should check out our site and email us.

    We are year round. May-October around City Hall. November-April we are inside Proctors.