Mincing words

Words and their meanings are vital to ensure that consumers know and understand what food they and their families are eating. The term farmers’ market should be simple, a place where farmers bring their produce to sell. However, the phenomenon of greenwashing has made the simple task of going to market a lot more complicated.

Greenwashing is the increasing use of phrases and words such as natural, sustainable, paddock raised, free range, organic, habitat protection or authentic, to create the impression that a product is ethically and sustainably produced. The phrase greenwashing was first used in 1986 to highlight how some hotels were claiming green friendly credentials and an environmental conscience by encouraging patrons to reuse their towels, but all other business practices ignored sustainable criteria.

Greenwashing increasingly gained currency as big companies used multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns to promote their brand as one that cares about the environment. Greenwashing and the mincing of words continues today with major campaigns that tout the sustainability of products from bottled water to car engine emissions.

The problem with greenwashing is that it minces words, undermines trust between consumers and producers, increases consumer scepticism and makes it harder for consumers to use their purchasing power to drive sustainable business practices. Diverse research has highlighted the growing demand from increasingly savvy consumers to know and understand where and how their food is produced.

What does this have to do with the local farmers’ market? Farmers’ markets are making an increasingly significant contribution to local agricultural businesses, providing small to medium producers with opportunity and empowering them to move out of the big company dominated supply chains. Farmers’ markets provide an opportunity for the food chain to be renegotiated, premised upon local rather than food being viewed solely as a commodity driven by the need to maximise profits.

For the skeptical customer, farmers’ markets are pivotal in changing the way consumers eat and think about food. They enable access to local, seasonal fresh produce and an opportunity to learn directly from the grower or maker. The establishment of relationships with stallholders meant market goers were able to gauge value for their food dollars on both price and the environment. Most importantly it reconnects them with the people who grow, make, catch, bake or pickle their food. It is a market place where consumers know they are buying food that is fair, fair to the farmer, the animals, the land, and to themselves.

However, a key challenge for the growth of the farmers’ market movement is greenwashing, where the term farmers’ markets is loosely used and abused to create the impression of local sustainable food supply chains.

Greenwashing leads to confusion as to exactly what a genuine farmers’ market is. A recent report by The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation explored the relationship between farmers’ markets, food producers, and the people. The report stressed the need to clarify what constituted an authentic best practice farmers’ market, highlighted the role markets played in growing and sustaining local food production and the importance of the relationship between stallholders and market goers.

It found that the negative impact of the increasing use of the term farmers’ market by the big players in the food industry as well as small local markets and businesses to create the impression of being in touch with local producers was very real threat. Thus, it was vital that farmers’ markets such as Harvest Launceston Community Farmers’ Market highlighted their point of difference to maintain the integrity and authenticity of true farmers’ markets.

Harvest adheres to the Australian Farmers’ Market Association’s definition of an authentic farmers’ market:

“A Farmers’ Market is a predominantly fresh food market that operates regularly within a community, at a focal public location that provides a suitable environment for farmers and food producers to sell farm-origin and associated value-added foods and plant products directly to customers.”

Therefore the point of farmers’ markets is to connect people with the producers of their food, to grow relationships and explore how best to secure food for the future without mincing words and obfuscating value. Head down to Harvest Launceston this Saturday and take home the freshest seasonable produce from the people who nurture and harvest it.