Are you planning on visiting a Farmers’ Market this summer? Chances are your great-great-grandparents did back in the day.
As long as humans have traded together, food markets have flourished. The earliest markets were established in ancient Persia and spread throughout the Middle East and into Europe. In England, the Domesday Book recorded the existence of fifty markets at which food was sold, although many historians think this is a very conservative number. By the thirteenth century, the number had risen to 356, and a hundred years later it had reached 1,746.
Ancient food markets played a significant role in the development of local economies and contributed to the social fabric of communities. In addition to being places of trade, markets were also meeting points. Vendors knew their regular clients’ names and buying habits, and shoppers encountered their friends, neighbours, and acquaintances on a daily basis. There was a familiarity and loyalty between vendors and shoppers, which promoted an ethic of quality products and honest exchange.
In Public Markets and Civic Culture, historian Helen Tangires writes, “The public market is a key piece in understanding the profoundly important shift from agrarian to industrial food systems in nineteenth-century America.” More than a place to buy and sell food, public markets were civic spaces, the common ground “where citizens and governments defined the shared values of the community.”
In the Far East, Thailand is famed for its floating markets, where produce is bought and sold from hundreds of small boats, floating stalls, and piers.
The Story of Food