Urban farmers' markets: accessibility, offerings, and produce variety, quality, and price compared to nearby stores

Sean C Lucan, Andrew R Maroko, Omar Sanon, Rafael Frias, Clyde B Schechter
Appetite 2015, 90: 23-30
Most food-environment research has focused narrowly on select stores and restaurants. There has been comparatively less attention to non-storefront food sources like farmers' markets (FMs), particularly in urban communities. The objective of the present study was to assess FMs' potential contribution to an urban food environment in terms of specific foods offered, and compare FM accessibility as well as produce variety, quality, and price to that of nearby stores. Investigators conducted a detailed cross-sectional assessment of all FMs in Bronx County, NY, and of the nearest store(s) selling produce within a half-mile walking distance (up to two stores per FM). The study included 26 FMs and 44 stores. Investigators assessed accessibility (locations of FMs and stores relative to each other, and hours of operation for each), variety (the number and type of all food items offered at FMs and all fresh produce items offered at stores), quality (where produce items were grown and if they were organic), and price (including any sales prices or promotional discounts). Analyses included frequencies, proportions, and variable distributions, as well as mixed-effect regressions, paired t-tests, and signed rank tests to compare FMs to stores. Geographic information systems (GIS) allowed for mapping of FM and store locations and determining street-network distances between them. The mean distance between FMs and the nearest store selling fresh produce was 0.15 miles (range 0.02-0.36 miles). FMs were open substantially fewer months, days, and hours than stores. FMs offered 26.4 fewer fresh produce items on average than stores (p values <0.02). FM produce items were more frequently local and organic, but often tended toward less-common/more-exotic and heirloom varieties. FMs were more expensive on average (p values <0.001 for pairwise comparisons to stores) - even for more-commonplace and "conventional" produce - especially when discounts or sales prices were considered. Fully, 32.8% of what FMs offered was not fresh produce at all but refined or processed products (e.g., jams, pies, cakes, cookies, donuts, juice drinks). FMs may offer many items not optimal for good nutrition and health, and carry less-varied, less-common fresh produce in neighborhoods that already have access to stores with cheaper prices and overwhelmingly more hours of operation.

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