May 31, 2023

All roads lead to Rome

The World Farmers Markets Coalition (or WorldFMC) held its first General Assembly of more than 75 market leaders, farmers, and partner organizations from over 50 countries on World Biodiversity Day 2023. While the primary order of business was to give the mandate to its first President and Board of Directors, the gathering also provided the WorldFMC opportunities to present a local development strategy that resonates all over the world.

The mandate

I am humbled and elated to announce that I now hold the responsibility of the mandate as President for the next three years. While my nearly three-decade track record in food and farmers markets may prepare me for this moment, in many regards, it was unplanned. As the pandemic has taught us, trajectories are often not nonlinear. In 2020, the director of Italy’s 1,200 farmers markets began to engage farmers market leaders around the world, in order to determine if the lockdowns were triggering creative responses. Fondazione Campagna Amica’s Carmelo Troccoli contacted me. Very soon, he and I began to recognize how through the lens of crisis management farmers markets were exhibiting the kind of shared leadership characteristics that demands study and evaluation. By July 2021, this inclination to assemble resulted in a world report, a United Nations Sustainable Food Summit side event, and the first steps towards formalizing these inventive efforts.

 It is a dream team: Carmelo Troccoli (Director General) leads the Secretariat in Rome with a small staff. A geographically-representative Board of Directors exhibits the depth of leadership now present in the movement: Selorm Akaba (Ghana), Naima Akter (Bangladesh), Randi Ledaal Gjertsen (Norway), Jean Charles Khairallah (Lebanon), Thiago Nasser (Brazil), and Ha Tran (Vietnam).

Each of these leaders is driven by different passions (from agriculture to public health). However, what they share is a universal commitment to a strategy: professional management, transparent governance, and pluralism. This is our mandate: To translate these operating principles among practitioners into a community of practice. While local success for farmers, consumers, and communities that host farmers markets may emerge at key moments in communities large and small, our intention is to provide the tools to sustain success, to leverage success in order that farmers markets serve as a starting point to regrow local food systems and to redraw the social contract that delivers dignity, rewards ecological wisdom, and cultivates social trust where it is needed most — especially between town and country.

Validation from those in power

This is an ambitious mandate. In many parts of the world, farmers markets have been relegated to the margins as niche operations. If this 21-22 May General Assembly is any indication, the perception is shifting. The primary instigator of this new WorldFMC is Italy’s (and Europe’s) largest farmers’ union, Coldiretti. In 2001, the union achieved an important milestone: to craft the core principles for Italy’s Modernization of Agriculture Law, most notably those for multifunctional agriculture. (In an earlier blog entry, I describe multifunctional agriculture in some detail. The link can be found at this entry.) When the regulatory environment began to change, Coldiretti established the Fondazione Campagna Amica to launch farmers markets with a single set of operating principles, an agriturismo sector, and social farming. These provide the general public and decision makers with tactile expressions of what multi-functionality means: An agriculture more interested in generating net wealth for families on the land, than growing larger production operations. This is the success that caught the attention of the Director General and Deputy Director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Executive Director of the UN World Food Program, the Italian Ministers of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs, Albanian Minister of Agriculture, Egyptian Minister of Internal Supply and Trade, and many more. See a full list of speakers and the General Assembly agenda. There were some disappointing omissions, most notably from the United States Department of Agriculture and USAID. However, we will work hard to bring these important agencies aboard.


Next steps

It is one thing to throw around concepts like building a community of practice, and yet quite another to do it. We have much to do. We will continue to raise the profile of farmers markets as strategic interventions that mitigate risk for stakeholders, just as we will facilitate communication within the community. We will construct instruments with which to share knowledge, build capacity, research and evaluate (most notably via a Farmers Markets Academy). Already, we are well on our way to achieve one of the more rewarding objectives: To build community. Considerable thought went into designing the formal programming for the General Assembly. We gave voice to the practitioner and the policy maker. However, the real indicator of success was heard in the unmistakable joy of laughter among those who perform the unenviable and early morning market tasks (of moving tables, erecting tents, and creating temporary town squares). If you swap stories and insights, you build trust. When else do you get to walk a market with a brand-new peer from the other side of the world only to learn that they, too, noticed how the tent’s weights were decorated, or the unexpected width of the aisles. Perhaps, this is what I love about the farmers market world. It combines the practicality of produce sales with the imaginative courage to create hopeful institutions out of … almost nothing. This is the alchemy from which a better world can flourish.

For further reading:

  • WorldFMC website: Link
  • A glimpse into the WorldFMC General Assembly: Video link
  • Full agenda for the General Assembly: PDF link
  • 2023 Strategic Direction for the organization: Slide deck link
  • FoodTank story about the General Assembly: Link
  • My blogpost about multifunctional agriculture in Italy: Blogpost link