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"Foodsheds" Spur WI Markets

November 9, 2009

MADISON, Wis. - It's been said that all politics is local, and now more than ever it could be said that more food is local, too. That trend is being pushed by a rapid increase in the number of open-air markets across Wisconsin and the nation.

Alfonso Morales does research on the markets for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Urban and Regional Planning, and he says the trend is good news for smaller-scale sustainable farming operations.

"They started the census process again in 1996, and there were 1600 farmers' markets in '96; now there's more than 5,000 today."

Morales says these markets help create what he calls "foodsheds." He says it works a lot like a watershed, where there are smaller tributaries that gather water from a particular area. A farmers' market helps gather food from agricultural tributaries and pool it for sale, making the model viable. Groups that promote sustainable agriculture in Wisconsin agree.

Faye Jones, executive director of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), says that at their annual conference they've seen a huge interest in market farming, consumer-supported-agriculture farms (CSAs) and direct marketing.

Alfonso Morales says these farmers' markets are a business incubator for smaller sustainable operators.

"Big growers, they're not going to typically cater to these small-scale activities. So, it develops small business; it develops that sort of commerce."

Morales describes so-called "foodsheds" rather specifically.

"The area surrounding a place, from which the food for a place can get to the consumers in that place, in relatively few steps or over a relatively small distance."

Faye Jones of MOSES agrees. She says farmers using sustainable practices are on the cutting edge, reinvigorating farm business models and revitalizing rural communities.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - WI