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What's the Future of the Urban Farmers' Market?

As grocery delivery ramps up, these bastions of local food are no longer offering something quite so unusual. Who is the model serving—and can it survive?
Shoppers at a farmers' market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., in October 2013
Shoppers at a farmers' market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., in October 2013Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Locally sourced food, it seems, is pervasive these days—especially in cities. Once only available at a farmers’ market one morning a week in front of city hall, it’s now on offer at most urban supermarkets, many bodegas and corner stores, on converted buses driven deep into neighborhoods, and even delivered straight to the doorstep. Now that Amazon has acquired Whole Foods, some are speculating that drones will bring us our fresh produce in the not-too-distant future.

But don’t count out the traditional farmers’ market just yet. These aren’t the fusty, American Gothic-like experiences of your parents and grandparents. Farmers’ markets, especially the ones in cities, are adapting to the times, getting smart about data and technology, catering to new customer bases, and offering lots more than just food.