Reflections on the Earth Markets and sustainability

The Earth Markets are one of the most ambitious and complex Slow Food projects, requiring significant and continuous logistical organization between the participating producers. The goal is to create direct links between producers and the public, cutting out the middle-men and making good, clean and fair food more accessible.

But just how effective are the Earth Markets in achieving these goals? Dr. Burçin Hatipoglu, Visiting Fellow & Lecturer at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and Kıvanç İnelmen, have conducted a wide-ranging study of the Slow Food Earth Markets and their contribution to biodiversity conservation and social justice within the framework of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We spoke to Dr. Burçin to get a more detailed look at her findings.

Slow Food: What do you think is the relevance of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12 to the Earth Markets, and how does that goal fall short of the radical change we need to enact? Do the Earth Markets go beyond the scope of SDG 12?

Dr. Burçin Hatipoglu

Dr. Burçin Hatipoglu: Sustainable consumption and production (SCP) is considered very important for the UN’s Agenda 2030 and it appears in 13 of the 17 SDGs, though SDG 12 is the standalone goal with regards to SCP. Its emphasis on the issues of sustainable sourcing, resource efficiency and minimizing material footprint and waste generation are critical for the food sector. However, food systems transformation requires a holistic approach, which suggest that all the components during the transformation process must be considered. The role of consumers and their food choices shouldn’t be underestimated, yet the indicators for SDG 12 ignore the role of the consumer and distributional issues. Our research demonstrates that the Earth Markets go beyond SDG 12; Earth Markets exemplify how SCP can be applied at the community level through participatory processes. The Earth Markets encourage SCP by asking the organizers and the producers to educate the public on their food choices. Furthermore, Earth Markets show that they care about both the producers’ and the consumers’ health and wellbeing.

What evolution would you like to see in the Earth Market project in the future?

Our research investigated the environmental externalities of the Earth Markets in terms of packaging and waste management, and suggests that there is room for improvement. Only three-quarters of the Earth Markets use compostable packaging and organize differentiated waste management. We see Earth Markets as agents of change in their communities. Therefore, we suggest that the Earth Market committees work together with local government agencies on the issues of differentiated waste management and also the availability of public transport near the markets. We also need more information on the sustainable agriculture practices of these small-scale farmers to make further evaluations.

How important is the participatory process of the Earth Markets for their success?

The community-based governance model and participatory decision-making lie at the center of the Earth Markets’ management and it differentiates them from other farmers’ markets. It is not only the Slow Food members, volunteers, chefs and Cooks’ Alliance members that are taking part, but the producers themselves taking responsibility for the management of the Earth Markets. In half of the markets, producers constitute more than 25% of the Earth Market committees. These numbers illustrate the involvement of the producers in everyday decision-making and the future of the Earth Markets. During these meetings, the producers also internalize the Slow Food principles and later apply them to their production processes and sales. This democratic processes at the community level are closely aligned with the sustainable development agenda.

Earth Market in Milan. Photo:

Do you think this idea of cutting out the middle-man and creating direct links between producers and consumers, even financially, is as important to Earth Market customers as it is to the producers?

Cutting the middle-man makes a significant change both socially and economically to all parties. For the farmers and producers, it creates an alternative source of income. Furthermore, the producers are proud to be part of these markets; here are some of their statements: “Our market is run by 100% rural women” (Penco Earth Market ‘Feria Campesina’, Chile); “Food has become an instrument for social cohesion, a meeting and also exchange place” (Sannio Earth Market, Italy); “We are able to share our knowledge about food with the consumers” (Mukona-Wakiso Earth Market, Uganda).

What are the most common, general benefits that a local community can expect to enjoy from the establishment of an Earth Market?

Local food does not automatically imply that the food is both of quality and safe. Earth Markets provide greater traceability of their food to the public. The customers can trust that their tomatoes did not come all the way from another part of the world, and if they are sold in the Earth Markets then they are in season and it is safe and healthy to eat them. The farmer does not have to hide behind a certification, but is ready to share knowledge or even accept farm visits.

How else are the Earth Markets more sustainable than other markets?

First and foremost through their encouragement of sustainable agriculture practices, which are very important for the transformation of the food system. But it does not end there. We also need to consider water and energy use, and food loss and food waste in every stage of the food supply chain.

Earth Market in Alba. Photo:

The Earth Markets are small, but they demonstrate how both production systems and consumption patterns can be taken together for transformation. The implications touch all three pillars of sustainability that are economic, social and environmental. They not only contribute to SDG 12 but also to other SDGs like SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, as we see for example in the creation of a community around the Earth Market in Milan, and SDG 15, Biodiversity and Ecosystems, once we consider all the unique local agricultural varieties sold at them, for example Arsoli Bean found at the Rocca Priora Earth Market in Lazio, Italy.

Terra Madre

Walter Orsi

On April 7, as part of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, Dr. Burçin Hatipoglu and Kıvanç İnelmen presented their findings at Earth Markets’ contribution to sustainability, heritage preservation and tourism, organized HTHIC and SlowTourismLAB in collaboration with Slow Food.

Also present at the meeting were representatives of two Earth Markets: Walter Orsi of the Cairo Montenotte Earth Market in Liguria, Italy, and Astride and Guntars Rozite of the Straupe Earth Market in Latvia. Regarding the impact of the Earth Market on their respective communities, Walter Orsi said, “The presence of the Market has contributed to putting agriculture and local products back at the center of an area where these things are considered a curiosity rather than a resource; the role of the producers in the choices and objectives (both general and specific) has grown, and becoming a determining factor, actively involving them in the Market and restoring value to the role of hospitality and the promotion of these food products in traditional recipes, even from a tourist point of view, whereby the Earth Market is a gateway to places to discover, products to taste and producers to get to know.”

Astride Rozite & Guntars Rozitis

Regarding the Straupe Earth Market, Astride and Guntars consider its main impact to be “creating opportunities for small producers and thus reviving economic activity in the area, leading to the preservation of sustainable agricultural practices and local gastronomical heritage.”

There are now 75 Earth Markets around the world, 40 of which are in Italy, though in total the network is now present in 28 countries. Through continuing hard work and reflection on how the Earth Markets can expand and improve, a task facilitated by the valuable research of Dr. Burçin Hatipoglu and Kıvanç İnelmen, the network aims to create an even bigger and holistic impact on the food system in the future.

by Jack Coulton,

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