The evolution of Oklahoma's local agricultural markets were a logical consequence of community-based barter systems. From the early territorial period throughout the 1930s farmers transported surplus produce, various homemade dairy products, surplus portions of their crops, and livestock to the nearest town(s) to trade for farm implements, cloth to make clothing, and other daily necessities such as sugar or coffee. Once household inventories were replenished, farmers also realized income by taking remaining items to nearby open markets where town residents could purchase fresh items. In many cities, mass retailers, modern transportation, and urbanization led to a rapid decline in farmers' markets. In Oklahoma, however, modernization fostered local commerce. By the 1920s motorized trucks came to the farm. Combined with the development of better roads, farmers used their trucks to supply the farmers' markets, as well as to set up shop along the roadside.
The beneficial relationship between the local market and the farmer was short lived as grocery stores became the norm. By the early 1980s Oklahoma City's Farmers' Public Market, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 (NR 82001497), was the only farmers' market still operating in the state. Realizing the need to reinvest in local agricultural economies, in 1981 Oklahoma's House of Representatives passed legislation to finance and promote the growing, producing, and marketing of fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural products.
The effort coincided with a broad national trend that combined new outlooks on diet and nutrition with an increasing interest in organically grown foods. Under the tutelage of the U.S. Department of Agriculture the number of markets in the United States increased 79 percent from 1994 to 2002, and by 2002 more than 3,100 farmers' markets operated. In Oklahoma the State Department of Agriculture also nurtured and monitored a growing farmers' market presence. As of August 2002 twenty-six farmers' markets from Ada to Woodward met communities' needs by providing everyday items such as produce, as well as gourmet foods, herbs, and spices.
Although there are exceptions, Oklahoma's farmers' markets are typically located in a county seat. Seasonal and out-of-doors, their venues include fairgrounds, courthouses, and community centers. The majority are open twice weekly, with Saturday being the busiest day.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: "Farmers' Markets," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Ellie Sutter, "Farmers Market Turning 60," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 15 June 1988.
Darin J. Combs
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