trans•act is an international research fellowship funded by the Ford Foundation and housed at marketumbrella.org in New Orleans, LA, since the summer of 2007.
- trans•act tests the hypothesis that public markets in general, and farmers markets in particular, are not just good for local food producers and consumers. They, in fact, are good for communities overall because they build social cohesion, particularly among groups that otherwise have little reason or opportunity to interact, such as rural farmers and urban consumers; rich and poor; old and young; black and white. We call this threefold set of benefits a “triple bottom line” because they have the capacity to build three types of capital: financial capital, or profits, benefiting farmers; human capital, or health, happiness, and other benefits to consumers; and social capital, which we define as community cohesion or TRUST, benefiting communities as a whole. By understanding these benefits and how they accrue, we can begin to communicate to various constituencies why and how they may wish to utilize farmers markets.
We named the fellowship “trans•act,” with the following rationale:
1. Public markets and community health can both be described by their transactional relationships. More specifically, markets and healthcare service delivery systems are, and can be, points of entry through which communities can establish new relationships and achieve multiplier effects in economic viability, nutritional health, civic engagement and improved way of life.
2. By considering the community health implications of public markets, we naturally are inclined to take a more intentional, or proactive, approach to their design so as to encourage community-building transactions among participants. We begin to think of markets as a public sphere for all sorts of activities, reminiscent of the “town square” activities of yesteryear, rather than simply a space where people buy and sell foodstuffs and other products. The more we increase positive interactions among diverse members of the community, the more we build social cohesion, inclusivity, mutual understanding, and other benefits, which we have summarized in the term TRUST. By the same token, feelings of isolation, social exclusion, segregation, and vulnerability can be decreased.
3. These transactions occur at markets, whether naturally or by design, and play a role of increasing individual and community assets, thereby lessening vulnerability within the fast-transitioning communities that are the focus of our research.
trans•act offers a paradigm for a successful market—one that benefits farmers, consumers, and communities—which we illustrate as follows:
We believe that this paradigm provides the market community with a means to engage partners regarding their common interests. Public health advocates, for example, may be interested in farmers markets as a means to deliver fresh foods to vulnerable populations, but may care little about the economic outcomes. This paradigm provides the market manager with the language to explain the interplay. Similarly, it also equips the market manager with the means to evaluate whether public health innovations like the Farmers Market Nutrition Program actually deliver the intended triple-line benefits: increased consumption of healthy foods to seniors, increased sales to farmers, and increased social capital in the form of trust between the market and vulnerable consumers.
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