From value to values: sustainable consumption at farmers markets
Agriculture and Human Values December 2008, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 487-498
Alison Hope Alkon, December 2008
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Advocates of environmental sustainability and social justice increasingly pursue their goals through the promotion of so-called “green” products such as locally grown organic produce. While many scholars support this strategy, others criticize it harshly, arguing that environmental degradation and social injustice are inherent results of capitalism and that positive social change must be achieved through collective action. This study draws upon 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork at two farmers markets located in demographically different parts of the San Francisco Bay Area to examine how market managers, vendors, and regular customers negotiate tensions between their economic strategies and environmental sustainability and social justice goals. Managers, vendors, and customers emphasize the ethical rather than financial motivations of their markets through comparisons to capitalist, industrial agriculture and through attention to perceived economic sacrifices made by market vendors. They also portray economic strategies as a pragmatic choice, pointing to failed efforts to achieve justice and sustainability through policy change as well as difficulties funding and sustaining non-profit organizations. While market managers, vendors, and customers deny any difficulties pursuing justice and sustainability through local economics, the need for vendors to sustain their livelihoods does sometimes interfere with their social justice goals. This has consequences for the function of each market.