Farmers Markets Around the World

Exhibit by:  Matthias Ellis

Portland State University Farmers Market

Farmers Market outside Portland State University, Oregon. credit

As many Western cities have looked to modernize their food economies through technology and profit-driven market capitalization, many farmers and consumers have spent the last few decades simplifying and streamlining the way they sell and acquire food. Only a few decades earlier saw large multi-national corporations saturating smaller Western markets with all-in-one superstores, controlling not only where food is bought from (typically not local farmers), but also what products are available, and sourcing profits out of communities into a decentralized corporate hub.

With the size of the globe shrinking each and every day with increased technology and communication, many of these large food companies were able to eliminate costs to the consumer and deliver consistent products to areas without a widespread agricultural economy. But often, these options affect the farmers attempting to turn a living wage out of their product as well as grow communities by encouraging microeconomies, and keeping money within local hands.

With the arrival of the Western Farmers market, many cities in Europe and America have begun to emulate similar markets across the globe, some of which have consistently existed for hundreds of years. And while the function of many of these markets seems less than ubiquitous, the core structure and value behind each serves a relatively similar utility within their local economies, as well as what value they serve to the cities they exist within. This interaction with the City might be the single most defining characteristic of these markets, which look to blur the dividing line between the urban and the rural and bring economic and social uplift to both areas with a multi-faceted approach to eating, living, and finances.

Markets across the globe

Alqaisareya Market, 1822

Alqaisarey Market, 1822

Alqaisereya Market, 2010

A spice seller in the Alqaisarey Market, 2010







Many markets in the Middle East and Africa have existed for the better part of 200 years. The Alqaisarey Market in Alhassa City, Saudi Arabia was built in 1822 and has operated continuously since, save for a damaging fire in 2001 that took nine years to recover from. The market is a central hub for the city, existing within buildings that have spread out to house the market like a nexus hub from which the citizens of Alhassa spread outward into the extremities of the city limits, keeping money within the community and supporting both local businesses as well as holistic economical practices.

The market is broken into a number of sections, including a Sooqe al-bedo, which sells spices (pictured above), a Sooqe al-hwawedge, selling health care products, a Sooq al-bshoot, selling clothing, a Sooq al-nohas selling cooking utensils, and finally a gold market where vendors sell jewlery. More than 1000 local Saudis are employed by the market, which not only enriches the city’s infrastructure and economy, but also boosts its tourism industry.

New Ngara City Park Hawkers Market, Nairobi, Kenya

New Ngara City Park Hawkers Market, Nairobi, Kenya

The Hawkers Market in Nairobi, Kenya is known across the world as one of Nairobi’s top economic hubs and centers of culture across the world. But Nairboi’s population deals with pervasive poverty, watching as 1.6 million of its 3.5 million citizens live in the city’s neighboring slums. The Hawkers market provides some of the only economic avenues for local Kenyans to engage with their greater populace, but still many of the nation’s most disadvantaged, including young girls who have no support system or economic training, find themselves stuck within a debilitating cycle of poverty. In 1993, in conjunction with the Hawkers Market, Shariffa Keshavjee founded the Hawkers Market Girls Centre, which seeks to empower and educate young girls with a Learn and Earn initiative, giving these women their own booths in the market to sell vegetables and fruits as well as learning about nutrition and sustainable community business practices.


produce market

And in Japan, many markets have sprung up to take advantage of a booming tourism industry to help prop up local farmers and fishers in markets known as Roadside Stations, or Michi no Eki. The 987 roadside markets in Japan offer 24-hour access to not only local produce and goods, but hubs of culture, information, and shelter for travelers, proving that local markets can often adjust to their communities particular needs and historical development.

The Western Farmers Market

So what does this leave for the Western Farmers market, which has seen a recent surge across Europe and North America in recent decades? Looking to sustainable and historical business practices across the world has proven a successful model for many new markets springing up within cities such as New York, Toronto, and Portland, Oregon. And the value that these markets instills within each community is complex, reaching far beyond simple economic development.

  • Benefit to Farmers: By rerouting the economic model of a corporate supermarket, farmers can sell their products directly to local consumers, increasing their profit and retaining wealth within their local community, giving them deeper control over their financial lives. In addition, farmers can learn new business skills as they sell their products themselves, interact with neighboring farmers, and market their product to a consumer base with more options than a single consolidated grocer provider.
  • Benefit for Consumers: By bringing the food providers directly to the consumer, less “food miles” are required to keep produce fresh. This cuts down on delivery time where one’s carrots might be sitting in the back of a truck for a week, and also eliminates the need for special processing to keep the food fresh, offering healthier alternatives and options. Consumers pay the farmers directly and can see the economic benefits much quicker, as they are dealing directly with the distributor and skipping the middle man. In addition, many farmers markets are a key component as a cultural center for citizens, bringing together live music, dancing, and artisan crafts in the town square in addition to buying food.
  • Benefit for the City: Many farmers markets in Western Europe and the Americas have developed out of a pre-existing city, in a sort of inverse model to Alqaisarey Market in Saudi Arabia. They also help to blur the ever widening line between the rural agrarian populace and the concrete urban development of modern cities, proving that an interconnected civilization thrives when disparate portions of the population interact with one another. But because these markets are often temporary–say, only on the weekends or select weeknights during the summer, they must be placed in a portion of the city with both enough space to instantly handle up to one hundred merchant tents, and immediately be vacated by the drone of the clock the very next morning. Many farmers markets are governed by a local board of community members and farmers, in order to organize meeting times and booth spaces–but these boards are typically non-profit and very small. As such, they cannot usually afford permanent real estate, and usually end up renting or placing their markets within an underdeveloped portion of the city. This model has seen rapid success with the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City.


Union Square Market, New York. courtesy Union Square.

Union Square Market, New York. courtesy Union Square.

New York’s Union Square was infamous during the 1960’s and 70’s as a drug-addled area, known as a junkie haven and infected with poverty and a lack of economic opportunity for its neighborhood. But when the Farmers Market moved in in 1976, the struggling Hudson Valley farmers from outside New York moved into a neighborhood the city was having trouble cleaning up, and helped to it themselves. The now revitalized area is one of the most successful markets in the state, and is open year-round, bringing money back into a once-abandoned part of the city and injecting it with culture and opportunity. It is a similar story to St. Lawrence’s Farmers Market Emporium in Toronto, Canada, which was built in 1803 but underwent 150 years of poor maintenance and difficulty drawing consumers. But after a 20-year redevelopment plan started in the mid 1970’s, the market not only had a powerful resurgence, but injected life into the local economy, raising real estate values by creating a hub of commerce, and now has over 120 retailers dispensing goods only one day out of the week.

Farmers Market in Paris, France

Farmers Market in Paris, France

But economic development aside, many of these markets add simple opportunities and growing cultural richness to communities within cities, from a 250-year old Borough Market in London, to a recent popular market built around Portland State University’s park blocks (pictured above, at top), proving that an evolving urban commitment will adapt through centuries of change, societal, economic, and culturally, to provide the impetus for progress and change.