Marketscaping: A Tool for Promoting the Local Economy, Sustainability, and the Creative Class

by Vicki Oppenheim, AICP

Artisan and farmers markets have been in existence for centuries, including the agora in ancient Greece. The open-air/indoor market is still an essential place where people in many countries purchase their weekly groceries and other local goods. Recent examples of markets in the United States show the potential for creating a sense of vibrancy and local community. Though it has leveled off recently (Kurtzleben 2013), the rise in the number of farmers markets in the United States indicates interest by the American population in local food and the farm-to-table movement (Farm Futures 2013). Farmers and artisan markets (community markets) also correspond with the "go local" movement.

"Marketscaping" is a new term coined by Green Leaf Environmental Planning for the process of using farmers and artisan markets as a tool for downtown revitalization. Markets, whether in temporary or permanent locations, can create a sense of place, activate the creative class, and catalyze the local economy.

Two markets located in the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex illustrate the potential economic, social, sustainability, and redevelopment impacts in communities. The Denton Community Market, established in 2009 in the City of Denton (pop. 121,000), has been successful in promoting local agriculture, businesses, and a sense of place. The Coppell Farmers Market, started in 2003 in the City of Coppell (pop. 39,000), has become a destination for residents, new food-related businesses, and "foodies." Both markets are included in city plans in different ways, but the Coppell Farmers Market will now have a permanent location in the center of a new major development in the downtown (Oppenheim and Vanhoozier 2013).


The Denton Community Market in downtown Denton is currently a temporary use, located on leased property (the Historical Park of Denton County), but the market is searching for a permanent location. Activity at the market has increased from a frequency of once a month for six months in 2009, to once a week for eight months in 2013. The market started as an all-volunteer operation and now has two part-time staff members, as well as a paid attorney, accountant, and other professionals. The market is in the process of obtaining its nonprofit 501(c)(3) status to avail itself of future grant and donation opportunities.

Families with children often have picnics and eat food purchased at the market. Students from the University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University, senior citizens, and out-of-town visitors regularly attend the market. A survey of patrons reveals that approximately 25 percent are from outside the Denton zip code. The market attracts visitors from the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex and beyond. International visitors, on occasion, comment about their interest in the local goods available at the market, similar to those they have in their own countries. In addition to food and craft items for sale, the market also features water slides, live music, inflatable bounce houses for kids, balloon animals, face painting, and sustainability activities for kids. The community at large is truly active in the market (see Figure 1).

Visitors enjoying food and music at the Denton Community Market
Figure 1    
Visitors enjoying food and music at the Denton Community Market

Denton's sustainability plan, Simply Sustainable, has eight focus areas, one of which is local food production. The sustainability plan calls for expansion of the market and an increase in the number of vendors. The plan also mentions evaluating the feasibility of a permanent, multi-purpose market location. The market helps fulfill the mission "to strengthen the Denton community by providing economic opportunities for local artists, businesses, food vendors, and food producers to contribute to the vitality and livability of Denton."

The market follows these sustainability practices:

  • All items must be produced within a 100-mile radius of Denton. Most food and goods are produced within the City of Denton and Denton County.
  • All vendors must sign a green vendor agreement that promotes using recycled materials, avoiding foam containers, and reducing waste. 
  • All farmers must use sustainable farming practices. USDA "certified organic" produce (i.e., meeting U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for organic farming practices) is encouraged but not required.
  • The market promotes sustainability by using recycled materials and educating the public about sustainability. Bicycle use, walking, and public transit also are encouraged.

Denton's creative class (i.e., artists, musicians, intellectuals, and technical innovators) is expanding and having a significant influence on the city's culture and economy. The music scene continues to be important for the local economy and culture, as are the intellectuals and technology-centered graduates from the area's two universities. Some recent graduates are choosing to stay in the city and open their own businesses. The market offers an outlet for students and residents who want to focus on selling art, reading poetry, or playing music. All of this creative energy contributes to a unique experience, and the market itself contributes to place-making in the downtown. At recent "creative mixers," the market was identified as one catalyst for developing art-oriented businesses in Denton since the demand has been demonstrated by the success of market vendors.

The Denton market has achieved significant accomplishments in the last four years: 

The Emergence of Brick-and-Mortar Businesses

Earthwise Produce (Figure 2) and the Dime Store both started as vendors at the market and now have brick-and-mortar businesses downtown. Earthwise Produce remains a regular weekly vendor at the market and has expanded business significantly over the past three years. The Dime Store emerged out of festivals in Denton for local crafters. The owners started the first year at the market selling their own goods and then expanded to include crafts from other makers. All of this led to the creation in 2013 of the Dime Store, which sells locally made art items.

Earthwise Produce, a brick-and-mortar store in Downtown Denton, Texas
Figure 2    
Earthwise Produce, a brick-and-mortar store in Downtown Denton, Texas

The market currently has approximately 80 vendors, about 30 to 35 of whom attend the market each week. Many of the businesses have an online presence as well, and also sell products at other venues and festivals. Some examples are the Denton Vegan Cooperative, Denton Juice Co., Coffeewright Roasters, Austin Street Apothecary (lotions and cosmetics), and Royal Pencraft (handcrafted pens). Fees from reasonable start-up costs — a $90 membership fee and an $11 daily fee — are used to support the development of entrepreneurs. As the reputation of the market grows, exposure at the market also plays a greater role in business development.

The Emergence of Food Trucks

The City of Denton approved a food and food establishments ordinance in 2012. A major component of that ordinance was permission for food trucks to be parked within zoning districts that allow restaurant establishments. While this ordinance is part of a national trend in accommodating food trucks (National League of Cities 2013), the Denton Community Market also served as one impetus for its passage. Food trucks are now regular vendors at the market. The Pickled Carrot, which serves Banh Mi sandwiches, started as a vendor booth at the market and now is a successful food truck (Figure 3). Since the ordinance's passage, the market regularly has between two and four food trucks on site.

The Pickled Carrot food truck at the Denton Community Market
Figure 3    
The Pickled Carrot food truck at the Denton Community Market

Expansion of Local and Urban Agriculture

The first market season in Denton included one local farmer as a vendor, Cardo's Farm Project, from Ponder, a rural community outside Denton. In 2013 the same farm moved to Denton within the city limits. This move was done for many reasons, but in part because of the market's influence and the rise in interest in local agriculture. In addition to local produce, the farm will be providing educational programs for children, and the location within the city promotes this farming model. There are seven additional growers, three of whom are also located within the city limits of Denton. These urban farms did not exist before the market, and their growth is associated with the market's existence and growth. It is also interesting to note that the urban farmers, in their 20s and 30s, cooperate with each other in the exchange of materials and labor.

Creation of Sense of Place

The Denton Community Market is a weekly gathering place within a quarter-mile of the Courthouse-on-the-Square, the historic core of Denton. It has become a Denton institution. Visitors and vendors alike expect that the market will be there every week from April to November. The market reflects the unique Denton culture of musicians, art, local food, and local business. There are regular visitors to the market who walk or bike there, as well as other visitors who drive from within the Metroplex on a regular basis. The vendors enjoy seeing their regular customers each week, and the social aspect of interaction is an appealing reason to join the market.

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