When you think about it, shopping at a farmers market is already a pretty green thing to do. Food grown in close proximity to where it is sold saves fossil fuels due to transportation. And, the food at farmers markets is often grown organically, which means fewer chemical fertilizers and more carbon trapped in the soil. So, how do you make a farmers’ market greener? Just add recycling. That’s what the Memphis (TN) Farmers’ Market did starting in 2008. The market in Tennessee’s largest city implemented an environmental policy that included making it easier for shoppers to recycle, reuse and compost products while shopping at the weekly event. Market officials put out bins so attendees could recycle their aluminum cans and plastic containers. Vendors sell coffee in compostable cups, which are collected and added to compost piles. The information table sells reusable shopping bags so customers stop relying on paper and plastic ones. To help shoppers continue recycling at home, the market occasionally offers recycling bins, Earth Machine composters and educational materials. The program seems to be working — in 2009, the market recycled and composted more than 1,000 pounds of material.
The farmers market in Brighton, NY, a suburb just south of Rochester, is another example of successfully combining recycling with fresh fruit and veggie sales. Color Brighton Green, a nonprofit organization that educates consumers about reducing carbon emissions, helped start the farmers market in 2007. One of the group’s major contributions is setting up a booth that accepts hard-to-recycle items such as CDs and DVDs, candy wrappers, batteries, crayons, cosmetics packaging and other items. Volunteers staff the table. “We’re very happy to have them at the market,” says Sue Gardner Smith, Market Manager. “People are crazy about the recycling booth. They’re really a draw.” They’re also a force for change. Up until 2010, Monroe County (which includes Brighton) only accepted plastics numbers 1 and 2 in its curbside program. Color Brighton Green took plastics numbers 3 through 7 at the market, and they were some of the most popular items for recycling. It also meant volunteers were hauling home bags and bags of the material. Pointing to the success of the program, Color Brighton Green convinced the county to start collecting more plastic at the curb. Today, Monroe County residents can put plastics numbers 1 through 7 in their curbside bins. In 2011, the City of Williamsburg, VA, sent its recycling coordinator to the local farmers market to collect batteries and trade plastic bags for reusable bags. She also spent time educating people about the city’s Green Williamsburg program, including the curbside recycling program, water conservation and BikeWalk to Work Day. Why push recycling at produce markets? Maybe cities, counties and nonprofits figure people who want to support local farmers are more willing to recycle. Or maybe they just figure it’s a good way to reach more people. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers markets in the U.S. more than quadrupled between 1994 and 2011 as the demand for fresh, local food has increased. Expect that number to continue to increase in 2012 and beyond.