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Farmer's Market Dissenters: What Does It Take To Get Kicked Out Of The Group?

It’s a fact: people love local. As reported by Business Insider, local food sales in the US increased from five to 12 billion dollars between 2008 and 2014.

Stats produced by the USDA in 2015 report there were 1,800 direct-to-consumer markets operating in Utah, which generated a total of $28.2 million in sales.

It wasn’t always this way, however. Richard Wagstaff, a local farmer, remembers how our own Cache Valley Gardener’s Market began.

“People ask me, ‘How long have you been growing and selling produce?’ And I say, ‘Well, I grew up selling plums and things of that nature I could find down along the ditch bank,’” he said.

The market began as a government program.

“Fifteen years ago, there was a young gal that was working for the USDA and they gave her some seed money to start a market that local farmers could sell the amounts they don’t use,” Wagstaff said.

Richard was one of the few who helped launch the county market. The selection was plain at first, just crops for feeding livestock, like corn, wheat and barley.

To expand what the market could offer, Wafstaff first reached out to major growers in Brigham City, you know – famous for its summer peaches. It worked, but according to Wafstaff, something changed.

“As the market began to grow, we found there was people – I call them “earthlings,” they’re going to save the world if we don’t buy anything a diesel truck brings to the valley,” Wafstaff said. “Still, I did have some good friends in that group. But they decided to become more solidified and start having some rules.”

Wafstaff was in favor of bringing in produce from other parts of the state, but the market board wasn’t. Soon, he was kicked out of the market just two years after it formed. Wafstaff does believe in climate change, as well as stewarding the land, but he also feels the market’s local-only rule – products must be grown or made within the “Bear River Drainage Area” – is too strict.

One major argument local food proponents raise is the possible reduction of man’s carbon footprint. Katie Wagner, a horticulture professor at Utah State University, stated that shopping at farmers’ markets has no significant impact on greenhouse gases.

“It’s been pretty well substantiated that going and shopping at farmers’ markets is not substantially lowering any individual’s carbon footprint,” she said. “A lot of people find that really hard to believe, ‘How can that be? Food is literally traveling thousands of miles.’”

Professor Wagner said this is because distribution networks around the world moves produce in such large quantities that it makes up for the carbon emitted. Still, there are many good reasons to shop local.

“However, you are doing a lot of great things by purchasing locally,” she continued. “You probably are purchasing food that’s fresher and you’re putting your money back into your local economy.”

Mary Laine, manager of the local gardener’s market agrees.

“We’re a 501(c)(3) that’s trying to sustain local agriculture, so the more local, the better,” she said. “Because in order to have farmers you have to have farmland; in order to have farmland you have to have a market for the farmers in order to sell their stuff.”

It makes sense. The market is about Cache Valley, and its members want to support local farms and businesses. Still, Wafstaff said he faced some challenges after being ejected.

“The problem that stems from breaking away is that it’s almost like starting over again,” he said. “I didn’t have the wherewithal to tell people, ‘I’ll be moving up the street, here.’ Most of them had to find out, like, ‘Oh, we didn’t know you were here!’”