The Joys Of Farmers Markets

During the Medieval period, farmers and craftsmen traveled from the countryside and set up stalls in the heart of town. Shopkeepers closed for the day, and sold their goods from a stall at the weekly, open-air market.

Today, just as a thousand years ago, markets are more than a place to buy fresh, vibrant food and handmade crafts. It’s an opportunity to stretch your legs, and visit with the residents of your community. It’s a place to meet the person who grew your food, ask them questions, and pick up new recipes. They’re also an excellent way to contribute to the local economy.

When the Hanalei Farmers Market suddenly closed down on June 2, more than 50 vendors were distraught. Some likened it to a massive layoff. Residents who were frustrated by the high traffic on market days complained, and Hale Halawai Ohana O Hanalei, a 501C3 nonprofit that manages the market, was forced to shut down and obtain proper permits, or face litigation.

On June 15, the Hale’iwa Farmers Market in Oah`u was shut down. The market had been operating under a month-to-month agreement with the state Department of Transportation for three years, when the state decided to enforce a law that prohibits vending from public highways, even though the parcel is no longer used as a roadway. Sixty vendors were suddenly displaced, and today the market is still closed.

Friends of the Earth, a global network representing more than two million activists in 76 countries, examines the socioeconomic impacts of markets in a report called “The Economic Benefits of Farmers Markets.”

The report found that farmers markets put more money into the local economy, and that the money circulates in the locality for longer periods. There is high spending in other shops on market days. They provide an outlet for local produce, help start new businesses, and reinforce local job and business networks while maintaining local employment.

Popularity has grown since the opening of the Hanalei Farmers Market in 2000. The same day of the market closure, vendors created a “Save The Farmers Market-Hanalei” Facebook page, and circulated a petition in which 1,500 people from around the world signed.

Kaua’i County officials quickly granted the proper permits, and on June 16, the Hanalei Market reopened. “We’ve had a very good relationship with the County,” says Carol Ann Washburn, executive director of Hale Halawai Ohana O Hanalei, “and we’re very glad we only had to shut down for a week.”

Before the closure of the Hanalei market, consumers parked in a field adjacent to the market that is not permitted for public parking. “People can park in legal, designated areas,” says Washburn. “The Wai`oli Hui`ia Church, the Saint William’s Catholic Church, and the old County Courthouse have been gracious and kind to share their space. We also have staff in orange vests who will direct people where to park.”

Fallout from the Hanalei and O`ahu markets include complaints about the authenticity of locally grown produce and locally made products. “We are working to follow the Kaua`i Made guidelines,” Washburn says. “There are some things that aren’t grown on Kaua`i, like cotton, but there is some open area in the Kaua`i Made guidelines to allow for that.”

“We also visit farms to verify that produce is grown here on Kaua`i,” she says.

“Our vendors are an ohana that are very supportive and helpful with one another,” Washburn adds. “The spirit and quality of the people who are at the market, as well as the food and the beautiful things that they’ve made with their loving hands, is exceptional.

“We thank the people who come to the market. Especially now that they are being asked to walk further. Their support of the market is greatly appreciated in so many ways.”

Hanalei Farmers Market Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.