Conservatives often scoff at the mentioning of farmer’s markets for all the wrong reasons. What comes to mind for most Conservatives are dreadlocked hippie-hipsters dressed in plaid and hemp, selling veggies out of the back of their Prius that is adorned in peace symbols and Obama stickers. Need I mention they generally fall under the label of progressive on the political spectrum? These stereotypes are for the most part accurate, but they are not good reasons to scoff at and avoid farmer’s markets. Nowadays, farmer’s markets are counter-cultural to mainstream Conservatism. This should not be. If we further examine the nature of farmer’s markets, we will find that they are a Conservative cause.
A strain of Conservatism that embraces farmer’s markets and the like is nothing new; farmer’s markets are just one small portion of what Rod Dreher called “Crunchy Conservatism”. Crunchy Cons hold a very traditional stance in Conservatism. Dreher best summed up their beliefs in these few, simple sentences:
Generally speaking, Small and Local and Particular and Old are better. That beauty in all its forms is important to the good life. That the bright glare of television and the cacophony of media culture make it too hard to discern the call of truth and wisdom. That we are citizens before we are consumers.
Farmer’s markets are a perfect example of the free market at work. Farmers, families, small businesses, and artisans come together to sell their goods and products, and and others come to purchase; it is a simple example of exchange. Often, there is little to no regulation; perhaps only a small fee for space to set up and directions on when and where to do so – practically anybody can buy or sell. Competition is at work with the adjustment of prices and the quality of produce and other goods. I have never been to a farmer’s market where a monopoly controls the market or a governing body overreaches with regulations on vendors. Abuses of the market are virtually nonexistent: most of the time, farmer’s markets are small enough where participants find no gain in taking advantage of each other, or simply cannot do so. Best of all, eclectic tastes are easily fulfilled by variety, thanks to competition.
Farmer’s markets put community and health first (and no, I am not going to examine the benefits of organic produce). By shopping at farmer’s markets, Conservatives can shed the materialism, consumerism, and individualism associated with mainstream Conservatism. In doing so we would be (or already are) supporting and strengthening our community ties through localism and agrarianism which both have conservative roots. This support of community would not only be economical but also socially and culturally, since for Conservatives community is the most important institution behind the family.
In actively participating as citizens in farmer’s market one is strengthening the community; the enlightened Conservative can use this to further strengthen and educate on what Kirk and Eliot called “the permanent things” that are worth conserving. Kirk, a self described “Northern Agrarian”, held that the family is most essential to conserve, and by doing so you are in effect conserving community as Dreher explains it. Families can use farmer’s markets to teach their children about sustainability, conservation, commerce, and build respect for what Burke called the “little platoons” and participate in what Tocqueville called the “voluntary associations”.
Another aspect of farmer’s markets which is countercultural to mainstream Conservatism is simply: beauty over convenience. There is something aesthetically pleasing about a tote full of fresh vegetables and fruits chosen by oneself in contrast to a cart of plastic bags full of boxed, processed, and ‘roid-injected foods. The former is certainly not the more convenient of the two. You might have to pay a little extra for fresher produce, or have to go out of your way to get to a farmer’s market rather than just going to a one-stop supermarket.
This talk of beauty over convenience might be another reason Conservatives are scared away from farmer’s markets. It does sound like a statement that would be muttered from a liberal’s mouth! Yet, part of this beauty is it brings with it a greater respect for the environment (which most Conservatives roll their eyes at). An embrace of farmer’s markets can make Conservatives more environmentally conscious while still avoiding the environmental absolutism adopted by many on the left. As Conservatives, we should not be so afraid of a healthy environmentalism distinct from absolutism – after all this is a form of conservation. As most Conservatives would agree we are stewards of the earth God has gifted us with – so lets work to conserve it.
Although farmer’s markets sound like an unsavory environment to most Conservatives, they can have great benefits for the individual, the family, and the community. The enlightened Conservative can make the most of their action in such a market by teaching and understanding the “permanent things,” honoring the “little platoons,” and participate in this “voluntary association”. Since the Conservative goal is to conserve institutions starting with the family and community, we must understand that one way to strengthen these institutions is by participating in “Crunchy Con” activities like farmer’s markets.
It may seem overly simplistic or overstated, but there are many invaluable lessons Conservatives are missing out on by avoiding such a “lefty” environment as farmer’s markets. Conservatives can fit in there too.
Derek Draplin | University of Michigan | @DDraps24