Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Farmers' Markets and Social Entrepreneurship

On Saturday, I visited both farmers' markets in Ward 8. The farmers' market shuttle bus made this relatively easy, and I would highly recommend taking the shuttle to see the markets and the wide area that the shuttle covers. FYI: due to lack of further funds, next Saturday's shuttle will be the last one of the season.

The St. Elizabeth's market is small and on an amazing location. It would be particularly interesting to visit the market and go on an organized tour of the expansive campus of St. Elizabeth's (one of the buildings is pictured to the left). The market at THEARC is larger and is definitely worth visiting. THEARC is a wonderful community center that probably was originally for Parklands public housing across the street. On Saturday, Parklands looked particularly beautiful. THEARC (pictured to the right) includes activities organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Levine School of Music, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Washington Ballet (a ballet class was just letting out while I was there), as well as health, parenting, and educational services. I talked with Michael, the director of the market, who said that kids visiting the market were so excited to learn how to open pea pods and to choose their own apples. I thought: yeah, sure. Then, I got on the shuttle with a mother, her 10-year old son (I think that might have been his age), and her 2-month old. When I asked the 10-year old how he liked the market, he said, "I learned how to eat snap peas!" Then, he proceeded to tell me the recipes he learned for cooking eggplant and green tomatoes. The most important part of each recipe was: "Then, the next step is you eat them!" At the market, I saw numerous young kids happily eating whole apples. THEARC space is very inviting and encourages kids to investigate.

The experience reminded me of a discussion we had in class about Logan and Molotch's Urban Fortunes. In the book, the authors talk about how "use value" (how we use land, buildings, and communities in our daily lives for shelter, for friendship, and so on) often comes into conflict with "exchange values" (how we seek to make money off land, building, and communities to pay for retirement, to make a living, or, for some people, to make a fortune). For nearly a decade, Ward 8 did not have a grocery store because grocery stores did not find it economically advantageous to work there; exchange values trumped residents' use values. In contrast, farmers' markets are businesses that try to bring together use values and exchange values, which can mean that the businesses are less profitable but they help low-income people get access to fresh food. Farmers' markets are part of the social entrepreneurship movement, which also includes micro-finance discussed by Muhammad Yunus' Banker to the Poor and is presented as a new form of capitalism. Social entrepreneurs seek to create new markets/economies that are more inclusive and accessible.

However, as discussed in my previous post "What is Neoliberalism? Is there Neoliberalism in Ward 6?," social scientists have criticized such market-based programs in part because these programs cannot provide solutions to the root causes of increasing inequality; rather they mobilize often flighty (especially during economic crises) philanthropic funds to attempt to deal with basic issues of hunger and malnutrition. Are there alternative programs that might help reduce inequality and poverty in Ward 8, as well as in Ward 6?

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