Problem: Famers’ markets may play an important role in improving access to fresh vegetables and fruit in underserved urban communities. However, few studies have examined the type of product offerings in markets by neighborhood. Improving our understanding of farmers’ markets as a potential source of healthy food will enable planners to better regulate them to improve food security and quality of life.

Research Strategy: We audited 24 farmers’ markets located in a diverse set of neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Selected communities contrasted by race/ethnicity and risk for poverty. We constructed a database of products from inventories conducted in December 2013 and June 2014 to compare the availability of fresh vegetables and fruits and control for seasonal variation. We interviewed managers of 8 of the markets to better understand our results.

Findings: We found that although farmers’ markets enhance local nutritional environments, the availability of fresh vegetables and fruits at each of the markets varied widely—ranging between 13% and 67%. Farmers’ markets situated in low-income, non-white communities tended to offer fewer fresh vegetables and fruits than markets situated in other communities. Consumer demand, farmer awareness and knowledge, as well as seasonal variation interact with the efforts of market managers to provide a rich selection of fresh produce.

Takeaway for Practice: For practitioners charged with enhancing local food systems, farmers’ markets may generally bolster local availability of fresh vegetables and fruits, but may not address the spatial inequality of opportunities to consume healthy food. Making sure communities have the opportunity to purchase and consume fresh vegetables and fruits may involve more than simply bringing a farmers’ market to a neighborhood. Land use policies that dictate placement would likely need to include strategies that provide consumer incentives and training and technical assistance for farmers in collaboration with organizations addressing food security at state and federal agencies.

Authors: Bryce C. Lowery & David C. Sloane