Endless Bounty: The Transformative Benefits of Public Markets

February 28, 2010

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on pps.org. The benefits of public markets, identified by Project for Public Spaces nearly two decades ago, impact all aspects of our communities, including public health, social cohesion, climate resilience, and the ability to make a decent living. Expanding these impacts through the power of public markets is at the heart of the Market Cities Program. — Kelly Verel, Program Director, Market Cities

Public markets are as old as civilization. For millennia, cities have shaped and been shaped by public market activity. But what does it mean to be a public market in the twenty-first century? The term “public market” covers all types of markets, including open-air markets, covered markets, permanent market halls, market districts, and even informal markets of street vendors. Public markets can be temporary and seasonal or permanent and in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Depending on the type of public market, vendors may sell fresh and prepared food or non-food items, such as household goods, crafts, and antiques. 

The bustling Middle Eastern souks, grand European market halls, informal African street markets, vibrant Central and South American mercados, and charming North American farmers markets are all types of public markets and they all uniquely contribute to culture and a sense of place. 

However, public markets are not just places of commerce. What sets public markets aside from other retail locations is that they operate in public space, serve locally owned & operated businesses, and have public goals. This focus on the public good is what makes successful markets grow and connect urban and rural economies. They encourage community and economic development by keeping money in the local neighborhood. Public markets also offer low-risk business opportunities for vendors, often from vulnerable populations, and depending on the type of public market, they feed money back into the rural economy where farmers grow, raise, and produce their products.

The spin-off benefits of public markets are numerous. From increasing access to fresh, healthy food to providing important revenue streams, markets positively impact local businesses, governments, and residents. But perhaps most importantly, public markets serve as public gathering places for people from different ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic communities—markets are our neighborhoods’ original civic centers.


Project for Public Spaces, with support from the Ford Foundation, researched the impacts public markets have on their communities. Six of the most prominent impacts are below. These findings helped frame a three-year grant program funded by Ford and the W.K. Kellogg Foundations, and in our ongoing work we continue to see that successful public markets are more than just business enterprises—they are public spaces that shape communities and economies for the better.

The Benefits of Public Markets

Provide Economic Opportunity

Public markets are the ultimate small business incubator. From your casual, one-day a week flea market vendor to your serious, seven-day a week market hall vendor, public markets are wonderful places for people—especially minorities, immigrants, and women—to grow a business.

Typically, markets work as entry points for new entrepreneurs because they are relatively inexpensive to start and operate. Vendors often only have to invest in minimal stall infrastructure which requires fewer resources and risk than building up a stand-alone business. In fact, PPS’ Ford Foundation research showed that most market vendors start their businesses using their own money.

Self-motivation, energy and commitment have fueled market vendors for centuries. To serve the growing number of people who are interested in becoming market vendors, PPS recently developed a handbook which identifies the best practices for starting and growing a market business.

Resources

How to Start Your Business at a Local Market: a Vendor Handbook

Diversifying Farmers Market Report

Public Markets as a Vehicle for Social Integration and Upward Mobility

Link Urban & Rural Economies

The nation’s local food systems, vital to our health, security and economic well-being, have long been an under-recognized as force for regional economic development. As these systems have become more nationally and internationally focused our rural and even urban communities have suffered. In fact, many of our country’s cities and towns would run out of fresh food in just three days if national distribution channels were interrupted.

Markets are the focal point for the restoration of these local food systems and are one of the few places where the divergent worlds of city and country meet and mutually support each other. Through commerce and conversation public markets link urban and rural economies and communities.

Resources

Expanding the Potential of State and Regional Farmers Market Associations

Bring Together Diverse People

Many cities and towns across the country are experiencing notable demographic shifts as immigrant groups move to the U.S. and establish new families and communities. Public markets have often been the most socially diverse public places in a community, bringing people of different ages, genders, races ethnicities, and socioeconomic status together around the experiences of food, shopping, music and conversation. While markets vary in their degrees of social interaction, few are homogenous and many are represent the diversity of 21st century American communities.

Many of the markets awarded funding from PPS, through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant program, were located in communities with growing immigrant populations. Market organizers saw an opportunity through their markets to bring together different and new members of the community. They developed strategies to create spaces of inclusion by having non-English speaking individuals on their staff, recruiting new growers from immigrant communities, and transformed their market spaces into places where cultural barriers were dissolved, marginalized residents were empowered and differences were celebrated. Increasing cultural diversity became an asset that brought new products, customers, vendors and social programming to their markets.

Resources

Diversifying Farmers Markets Report

Markets for All


Promote Public Health

An unhealthy diet is the leading risk factor for death globally. This public health crisis hits vulnerable populations especially hard due to racist policies, which have shaped low-income neighborhoods and led to limited access to healthy food (otherwise known as food apartheid).

Public markets can play a key role in alleviating these health concerns, improving access to fresh fruits and vegetables, especially for those without grocery stores, and serving as a public gathering place that helps reduce social isolation and depression. Through a W. K. Kellogg Foundation-funded grant program, PPS supported efforts across the country to create economically sustainable markets in low-income communities. With support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, PPS, in partnership with Columbia University, analyzed how eight of PPS’s grantee markets were serving to increase access to fresh food in their communities.

We have prepared a handbook to identify best practices for farmers markets interested in redeeming the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) at their markets. This effort makes markets more accessible for lower income customers who are most at risk for obesity-related disease.

In addition to offering access to healthy, fresh foods, markets can also offer critical health and wellness education and information in a friendly, welcoming public gathering space. PPS assisted Kaiser Permanente, the country’s largest HMO, make their network of farmers markets operating at hospitals and clinics more sustainable and beneficial for vendors and customers. And, through a series of grants PPS supported the Camden Area Health Education Center in Camden New Jersey, one of the poorest cities in the U.S. grow their farmers market network from one farm stand to five markets, which are all centers for health information.

Resources

Farmers Markets as a Strategy to Improve Access to Healthy Food for Low-Income Families and Communities

Diversifying Farmers Market Report

Public Markets and Community Health: An Examination

SNAP/EBT at your Farmers Market: Seven Steps to Success


Create Active Public Space

In the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY a Saturday farmers market transforms a street, normally reserved for vehicles, into a public gathering space for the community. East New York Farmers’ Market, operated by the United Community Center program East New York Farms!, organizes neighborhood youth and senior citizen urban gardeners and regional farmers. In addition to helping to increase food access, the street-closure farmers market better connects neighborhood destinations, such as an adjacent park and library, while creating a fun event the community can regularly look forward to.

Neighborhoods like East New York are not unique and they show that vibrant public spaces can be created relatively simply through public markets.

Resources

Diversifying Farmers Market Report

Renew Downtowns & Neighborhoods

Successful public markets are the heart and soul of downtowns and neighborhoods, infusing our towns and cities with new energy and social and economic activity. Public markets, even if they only operate one day a week, act as an anchor for local businesses, encourage spin-off development, and and keep dollars in the local economy.

Markets attract new life to a downtown and encourage customers to spend more money and time, not just in the market, but in nearby shops and businesses. In a PPS survey of over 800 customers from a variety of indoor and open-air markets around the country, PPS discovered that 60% of market shoppers also visited nearby stores on the same day; of those, 60% said that they visited those additional stores only on days that they visit the market.

Resources

Estimating the Economic Impact of Public Markets

Diversifying Farmers Market Report

Public Markets as a Vehicle for Social Integration and Upward Mobility

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Heading One

Heading Two

Heading Three

Heading Four

Heading Five
Heading Six

Body Text    Body Link

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Here is some highlighted text from the article.
Caption
Caption
Caption
Caption

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

  • Bulleted List Item 1 Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.
  • Bulleted List Item 2 Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.
  1. Ordered List Item 1
  2. Ordered List Item 2
Stay Connected
Sign up for the Biweekly Bazaar—a round-up of public markets news, events and opportunities, and the latest announcements from the Market Cities Program.
Thank you! Your information has been received! Please check email to confirm subscription.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.