Like many U.S. cities, farmers markets in Hartford thrived in the form of public, outdoor markets from the late 1700s up until the 1930s. These markets were scattered around the city, in neighborhoods, in downtown, and for some years in the same building as Connecticut’s government seat. Hartford’s markets have not always flourished, and just prior to World War II, most markets in Hartford, and in many other US cities failed and disappeared for nearly thirty years.
In the early 1970s, farmers markets started cropping up in a few cities around the nation as communities sought to reconnect local farmers with consumers. Many people active in the Hartford community tried to reintroduce farmers markets in Hartford in the mid-1970s. Though a lack of support frustrated such attempts, inadequate access to fresh produce among many low-income city dwellers and difficulties small farmers experienced marketing their goods encouraged several local organizations to pursue farmers markets.
Advocates for local food in Hartford saw urban farmers markets as one of the first steps in alleviating these problems and building strong connections in the local food system. Farmers markets bypass supermarkets and grocery stores, giving farmers a right-sized marketplace for the amount of produce they grow. Direct sales increase the farmers’ net revenue, and quality produce becomes affordable and accessible to consumers.
The Hartford regional market has long provided Connecticut farmers with an outlet to sell their produce at the largest perishable food distribution facility between Boston and New York. However, with about 15% of the farmers in the late 1970s than there were in 1944, farmers were losing ground in a system that was beginning to favor imported produce over local, Connecticut grown products. Efforts by a progressive administration in Hartford in the late 1970s led by deputy mayor, Nick Carbone, as well as support from ConnPIRG, helped to create the FarmMarket at the Old State House with its opening day on July 19, 1978. A focus on community-based food systems during these years led to the creation of Hartford Food System (HFS) in 1978, which has kept farmers markets and food access as an organizational focus through the present day. HFS took over the operation of the FarmMarkets the following year, as well as the expansion of four farmers markets in additional neighborhoods as their first program. As the farmers market movement took hold in Hartford, a new wave of farmers markets began spreading all over Connecticut.
Since then, farmers markets have been integral to connecting Hartford’s residents to local farmers, including a farm stand program and from 1991 to 1997, the Main Street Market. Today, seven farmers markets span a variety of Hartford neighborhoods and occur every day Monday through Friday.
There are countless reasons to shop at farmers’ markets. They bring people together and strengthen the fabric of communities. They restore the link between growers and consumers, support local food systems, and encourage community members to eat seasonally and purchase locally. Here are a few more reasons to keep in mind when considering where to do your grocery shopping:
- The produce sold at farmers’ markets is fresh and high quality. Many times it is picked the morning of the market!
- When selling at markets, farmers get to keep all the profits from the sales. When they sell to a supermarket they keep considerably less—only about a quarter of the sales!
- At a farmers’ market you can get to know the farmers who grew your food, ask them questions, and make requests for other products you might want to buy.
- You can support regional farming and protect the environment. Buying locally means fewer resources put towards shipping and less transit-related pollution!
- If you shop locally, you stimulate the local economy since money spent locally is more likely to stay in the local community.
- You can save money shopping at farmers’ markets by buying products that are in season–when they are most plentiful and least expensive!
- Farmers’ markets provide a pleasant environment, act as a community gathering space, and give people the chance to catch up with their neighbors. Sometimes there is music or other entertainment!