ONE BRIGHT SUNNY Saturday in September I was traveling with students in Cincinnati to explore its contemporary architecture. After lunch I had a chance to walk over to the city’s marvelous Findlay Market located in the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Findlay is one of the oldest and most beloved city markets in America. As I approached the market building entrance plaza from Race Street, I had to weave my way through massive three-foot-tall pots overflowing with flowers and red metal tables surrounded by groups of people absorbed in conversation. Off to the side I saw metal racks nearly filled with bicycles of all types and sizes. The scene reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw that read, “Meet Me at the Farmers Market.”
Standing in front of the two-story portico entrance, I took in the rainbow of painted colors before me – the lavender columns, the orange window frames, the red door frames with green surrounds, and the market sign, orange with “Findlay Market” in blue letters and a red tomato at the center. Peering through the glass doors I saw the interior market hall filled with shoppers looking into glass cases filled with fresh cheeses, meats, poultry, and baked goods. Then looking overhead, I saw a banner directing people to the opposite end of the market, to Findlay’s Biergarten on the Elm Street esplanade. I headed that way, turning down Elder Street, which is lined with a variety of vendor stalls spilling out into the street. I was struck by the sense of spatial intimacy created by crowds of shoppers wandering through the stalls, stopping at times to talk with or buy from vendors. Finally arriving at the Biergarten, I settled in with a pint of local beer to relax and people-watch. Findlay Market is precisely what one regional tourism website calls it, a place to be part of a “quintessentially urban shopping experience” (see image 0.1).
Through my journeys across our country visiting a spectrum of farmers markets, I’ve learned that all markets have their own distinct character that makes them unique to their own communities. For instance, the Charleston (SC) Farmers Market is a temporary market that began in 1989 with the support of the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. On Saturdays, Lowcountry farmers and artisans set up their tables and canopies amid the trees around the perimeter of Marion Square with goods that make a community connection to its regional heritage. However, in Lancaster, PA, the historic Central Market with its Romanesque Revival architecture (late 1800s) provides the unique character for this community gathering place in Penn Square.
Despite the obvious diversity among the many markets that I’ve visited over the years, I have found three distinct architectural types that appear again and again across the country. I call the three types heritage building, open-air pavilion, and pop-up canopy. In addition, I’ve identified a newly emerging type of market that I call the mobile market. In this book I take a closer look at all four types of markets, paying special attention to their architectural features, whether the markets are made up of monumental buildings, simple structures, or transportable assemblies. I am also very interested in the specific local context in which the buildings are situated, because there is a unique spatial relationship between buildings and their locales that shapes the experiences of all of those who gather at markets and make them truly function as places for community gathering and civic engagement.
This brings me to a point about terminology. Markets for farmers to directly sell their harvest to local urban communities are deeply rooted in American history and culture. In the early republic such markets, which at the time were called public markets, typically operated under the oversight of the local government, which assured fair sales and sanitary practices to ensure abundance of nonspoiled food. Over time, it became increasingly common for nonfarming vendors to join farmers as vendors at these markets. The new vendors practiced what is known as “resale,” which involves purchasing fresh food from local farmers or from wholesale merchants that could bring produce to market from local or even distant farms. In other words, not all vendors would necessarily grow, raise, or otherwise make the food products they sell. This distinction has led some to differentiate between farmers markets (places for local farmers to sell their harvest) and public markets (places for both farmers and vendors who practice resale).
Today, however, the line between farmers markets and public markets has blurred considerably, and it is common to find resale vendors at both types, depending on each market’s regulations. For example, the original nineteenth-century building at Findlay Market is where farmers from the region around Cincinnati would come to sell their harvest. Today most of the vendors in the building are not selling food and goods they have grown, raised, or made. To further complicate things, midway down Elder Street there is a heavy timber pavilion, referred to locally as the Farmers Market, where local farmers sell their produce and fresh foods. In addition, along one side of Elder Street there are pop-up canopy vendors selling fresh foods and handmade crafts from various origins.
Given the increasingly fuzzy line between farmers markets and public markets, I will mostly use the term farmers markets throughout this book, and occasionally I may use the two terms interchangeably. This is not to say that public and farmers markets are always the same, but for my purposes the distinction is not important in discussing typologies and how they relate to the making of an architecture of place.
A number of factors contribute to whether or not a market is successful in a community. One of these is location. Is the market positioned well in a town or city so that people are motivated to visit it? The heritage market building serves as a landmark, a familiar reference point when finding one’s place in a neighborhood. In addition to Cincinnati’s Findlay Market, Eastern Market in Washington, DC, and Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia are two remaining heritage markets. Varying in size, multiple-purpose pavilions often coexist where urban development engages with the natural landscape, most often in a public park. In cities such as Durham, NC, and Little Rock, AR, open-air pavilions have assisted in revitalization at the core of the city. Pop-up canopy markets are the most adaptive, sprouting up in a parking lot or even a wide street in a historic district.
Architecture and urban design are also important. What I have learned over the years is that markets originate and persist where elements of architecture (columns, thresholds, archways, windows, floors, and roofs) combine with circumstances of an urban setting (surrounding buildings, plazas, sidewalks, parking, transit access, and topography) to create welcoming places where people with shared interests come together for economic and social exchange.
For the featured markets’ stories, I defined eight scales using architectural elements combined with urban circumstances that give identity to each market while fostering interaction between vendors, shoppers, and the community at large (see image 0.2). The scales of interaction and interface include: (1) hand, (2) container, (3) person, (4) individual vendor stall, (5) group of stalls, (6) street, (7) block, and (8) a market’s situation within a town and region. Each of these scales has a relationship to a physical dimension: a measure of length, width and/or height, or distance. From the scale of the hand to a display of goods and related exchange to a market’s configuration within a neighborhood or district, the environment of farmers markets nurtures camaraderie through the shared experience and appreciation of obtaining local, fresh healthy food. In chapters that focus on three seminal types of markets, case studies of farmers markets that I visited within the United States provide tangible understanding of architectural elements and relationships as well as spatial urban conditions at the eight scales listed above.
Our hands can grasp with ease an array of food items up to twelve inches (see image 0.3). All types of markets share this scale of interaction, but each market has its own way of enticing shoppers to reach for and examine goods, whether fresh-grown produce or homemade items. At most markets, shoppers grab half-dozen radishes bundled with a rubber band around their tops without pause, but hesitate to pick up carrots with their long leafy greens attached and stacked high in a heap. From late July to early September, bright red, yellow, orange, and green tomatoes laid bare on a table sparkle in the sunlight, radiate juiciness, and seduce shoppers to bring their hands to their noses for a sniff. Likewise, fresh young ginger alongside just-cut sprays of herbs dazzle the eyes and nose, while bushels of string beans spilling onto the table lure shoppers to grab a handful or two to purchase. It becomes important what kind of container the goods are presented in.
Vegetables, baked goods, and homemade items are displayed in boxes, baskets, and crates, all giving of an air of controlled disorder. Although varying in size and capacity, they tend toward a managed human scale of interface, a scale that generally ranges from four to twenty-four inches (see image 0.4). Although vendors often use the same or similar containers, each vendor has a unique identity based upon different placement and methods of display that serve to entice shoppers into the stall. Glass vases holding bouquets of seasonal flowers stand adjacent to stainless steel bowls overflowing with salad greens. Eight- to ten-inch woven baskets lined with colorful cloths and brimming with muffins, scones, and brownies sit beside twenty-ounce bottles of pink lemonade with blueberries. For a short time in the spring of each year at most markets, dozens of four-inch-square plastic mesh cartons filled with blueberries and strawberries glisten alongside pints of peppers. Some produce, like cucumbers, beans, and apples, are displayed in their containers of transport: the traditional eighteen-inch round wooden bushel, or the now-ubiquitous cardboard box measuring twelve by eighteen by eight inches (see image 0.5). A container’s dimensions are inextricably linked to the scale of a person, the measure of the body.
The height of the average human is between five and six feet. This is the most important dimension for establishing the scale of a farmers market (see image 0.6). Of course, there are many children of shorter height and numerous people over six feet tall at markets, but it is adults that typically make the purchases, so markets are designed to entice them as buyers. Also included in this scale of interface and interaction are tables, chairs, shelves, umbrellas, benches, banners, and any other items that support the display, purchase of food and handmade goods, and transport to and from the market (see image 0.7). The scale of an adult unites the parts to the whole within the market itself and beyond its situation in the town or city (what I call the district scale), as people travel to and from the market by walking some portion of their journey. Sometimes, as is the case at Eastern Market in Washington, DC, the human scale stands in strong disparity to the building, which dwarfs the size of a person. Contrast this to Cincinnati’s Findlay Market, where despite being nearly four hundred feet long, the market is comfortable at the scale of a person, thanks to variation in the size and frequency of its perimeter stalls (see image 0.8).
The size of the typical stall varies from seven to twenty feet in width and five to twenty-five feet in depth; height is contextual and depends on the type of market: heritage building, open-air pavilion, or pop-up canopy. Often in a heritage building market, a vendor occupies two spaces. At pop-up canopy markets, the collapsible tent-like, fabric-roofed structure provides minimum boundary and shelter for a vendor’s stall and on average covers an area of twelve square feet (see image 0.9). Even more influential than the type of market in determining stall height is the configuration of tables and display of goods—which gives the vendor identity and therefore more often determines specific dimensions in this scale of interface (see images 0.10 and 0.11).
From my conversations with vendors and shoppers I learned that a grouping of at least a half-dozen vendors within an area of fifty to seventy-five feet constitutes a farmers market (see image 0.12). Pop-up canopy markets replicate this scale the closest; they are set up in public spaces and configured in various ways: linear, L-shaped, and U-shaped. Vendors at the North Union Farmers Market in Cleveland’s historic Shaker Square first set up their canopies in 1995 with only six vendors lined up adjacent to a commuter train stop; today, the market boasts eighty vendors. The market is comprised of two rows of canopies on both sides of the rail and overflows with people who momentarily pause each time the commuter train stops. However, I have also observed that pop-up canopy vendors selling specialty items, such as crafts or food prepared on site, often situate themselves adjacent to heritage building and open-air pavilion markets. Such is the case at my hometown market, which has expanded beyond twenty spaces under its pavilion to include at least twenty additional canopies set up on the cobblestones adjacent to the open-air structure (see image 0.13).
Some markets are associated with adjacent businesses, as the ground floor activity of each supports the other. Pedestrian activity is a constituent part of any place that thrives on community gathering and civic engagement. Close proximity to adjacent businesses is tantamount to convenience—a necessity of everyday life that, if capitalized on, can be extremely beneficial for markets. I define a market as in close proximity to an adjacent business if the cross section of a street includes both at a distance of no more than 100 feet. One of the most distinctive examples of a market’s close proximity to adjacent businesses is Roanoke, Virginia’s farmers market, where vendors’ narrow tables covered by fabric canopies cover two blocks squeezed between parking spaces and the sidewalk lined with storefronts (see image 0.14).
It is not unusual for a market to take up an entire block. Blocks vary in size: Blacksburg historic blocks are on average 265 feet by 300 feet, Roanoke’s are bit longer. Heritage building markets typically cover most of a block, while open-air pavilion markets are situated within a block. All markets rely on the surrounding district, neighborhood, or region—usually identified as an area within a quarter-mile or a fifteen-minute walking distance. Other markets extend their accessibility to customers by taking advantage of multiple transportation access modes. While markets depend on their location for their livelihood, they can also assist in renewal of the neighborhoods that support them. Cleveland’s West Side Market is a case in point.
Cleveland’s heritage building market was built in 1912 in the heart of the bustling Ohio City neighborhood across the river from downtown (see image 0.15). It became accessible to more customers in 1955 when Cleveland extended its Rapid Transit Red Line and located the first stop just two blocks from the market. More recently, it was a $2.6 million renovation of the original utilitarian station in 1992 that spawned the architectural refurbishing of West Side Market a decade later. Both stimulated the arrival of new businesses that renovated adjacent buildings and now provide an array of goods and services for residents; the Ohio City neighborhood is once again thriving, as it was at the turn of the twentieth century.
Farmers markets have historically played a significant role as one of handful of key civic institutions in a town or city. Indeed, many American cities were built around their public markets. Several of these markets that began with the founding of a city continue in their role as community gathering places today. Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for Washington, D.C., included multiple parcels designated for farmers markets. One these markets remains today: Eastern Market, which is one of the markets I explore in the heritage building markets chapter. In the 1730 town plan for Lancaster, PA, James Hamilton laid out the town and gave sites for three public places—a jail, a courthouse, and a market house.1
In Celebration, FL, planners made the farmers market a centerpiece of its new town development plan. In doing so, they were drawing upon the principles of “New Urbanism,” an urban design and planning movement that started in the late 1980s. Built in 1994, Celebration’s farmers market remains vibrant today as vendors set up adjacent to Lakeside Park every Sunday. In recent decades, proponents of New Urbanism have proven instrumental in coaxing numerous municipalities to revise their zoning ordinances in order to mandate parks, plazas, and other public gathering places as part of new building plans and redevelopment. Farmers markets often thrive in these new civic spaces due to their ability to nurture a sense of community through daily and/or weekly routines of shared purpose and interaction.
The growth of farmers markets and renovation of public markets may also stem from a yearning for authentic experience, in contrast to a daily routine filled with simulation and virtual reality. People long for the kind of multilayered experience that farmers markets can offer: the capacity to sponsor personal interaction between shoppers and among vendors. People want to experience the intimacy of knowing the person who grew or made the items they purchase (see image 0.16). At the outset, the book explores farmers markets’ role as environments that nurture fellowship and ritual. The significance of a market’s location is evident in its capacity to serve as a gathering place, offer identity for its surroundings, and build a sense of community. I have found it a common belief among consumers and vendors alike that the market does not belong to its owners, or the city government, but to the people who shop there.2
From my personal experience and interviews with many shoppers, a market’s lure is in the experience of fresh food by sight, smell, touch, and taste, as well as a feeling of camaraderie for producing and enjoying fresh food. The sensory experience of shopping in a market makes it impossible not to pick up a piece of fruit without sniffing its sweet fragrance. The luminosity of the colors makes everything irresistible. The surprise of a unique, authentic experience persists from a shopper’s first visit to the weekly ritual. Describing the joy of shopping at Berkeley’s Farmers Market, Alice Waters, acclaimed chef of Chez Panisse restaurant, asserts that “there are times of the year when we can hardly wait to go to the farmers market in anticipation of the treasures we will find there.”3 The market’s ability to offer uniqueness lies in its ever-changing variety of produce and goods, particularly locally grown and handmade ones, as well as in its evolving assembly of stalls, tables, and displays.
We often think of farmers markets in contrast to supermarkets. These elements that make up farmers markets are powerful enough to sustain them in the face of the predominance of supermarkets, transcontinental trucking, and e-commerce. The predictability and standardization of the supermarket starkly contrasts with the excitement and uniqueness afforded by the space and place of farmers markets. Shopping in a supermarket offers monotony and detachment compared to the direct, idiosyncratic, and personal contact at farmers markets.
Ironically, the supermarket originally represented a sign of progress in post-WWII industrialization and the emerging corporate dominance of all commerce in America. In the realm of food production, bigger was (and is still often believed to be) better; chemicals promoted the growth of larger produce, and factories manufactured more goods with consistent quality. The use of preservatives was touted to extend “freshness.” By the early twenty-first century, food purchased at the supermarket travels an average of 1,500 miles from its source. Over the past four decades agribusinesses have purchased over 600,000 farms and aggregated them to form megafarms.4 Fortunately, in recent years many shoppers have discovered that locally grown food is fresher and actually tastes better; in most situations, small farms in close proximity—50 to 150 miles—to farmers markets are providing this delicious and more wholesome food.
In addition to the three types of markets I explore in this book, I have noticed in recent years the emergence of what is likely a fourth type of farmers market, the mobile market, which has the potential to increase access to nutritious food for hundreds of thousands of people in underserved communities. This food-on-wheels farmers market takes the goods to neighborhoods often referred to as “food deserts”—areas often but not always urban, where it is difficult to buy affordable quality fresh food. In such places, neighborhood stores stocked with nutritional edibles have vanished; only convenience stores with cheap and unhealthy fast food persist. Small grocery stores in walking distance from one’s home have been driven out of business by big box stores with food departments, such as Wal-Marts, which are strategically positioned on the edges of towns and cities, easily accessible by car rather than by foot.
Mobile markets do not necessarily follow the same rules of place-making that I have identified with heritage buildings, open-air pavilions, and pop-up canopy markets. Nevertheless, they serve important functions that cannot be denied. I explore some of these mobile markets at the end of the book along with stories about nonprofit groups that team with municipalities to establish community gardens and urban farms to grow their own food. No matter how one looks at it, farmers markets of all types have led the local food movement and continue to alter how our food is grown and distributed across America. The continuing evolution of farmers markets reflects our changing way of life, how we produce and how we consume food. Healthy eating improves our bodies, and urban farms improve our landscape.