Do we need local governments to subsidize the development of farmers’ markets? Farmers in fact already have developed markets for their products-the CBOT (Chicago Board of Trade). More and more farmers are utilizing the risk management tools offered via futures markets. In addition direct contracting with buyers allows other firms to share market risk traditionally associated with agriculture.
According to the USDA, 40% of total agricultural production in 2003 (vs. just 11% in 1969), and 47% of livestock production, was accounted for by contract marketing. For small operations this accounted for 20% of their production and more than 50% of production with regards to larger operations.
Of course this mostly comprises major food staples like livestock, corn, wheat, and soybeans as opposed to produce. More so than farmers, city and local governments have stronger interests in local ‘farm’ produce markets for the sake of local tourism and to promote so called ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, or ‘organic’ agriculture (see also 'Is Organic Better').
The truth is, as agriculture has evolved into a heavily capitalized information driven industry, there are too many other profitable investment opportunities for producers to engage in as opposed to tomatoes and carrots. Investments in RTK (real-time-kinetics) technology or a GPS consulting service can save enough in production and energy costs to pay for itself sometimes within one season -and is a free market solution to environmental pollution (see 'Free Market Agriculture-Green Profits').
Livestock markets have overcome the equivalent to the age-old ‘lemon’ problem by using micro chip inserts. This technology can guarantee the identity, health, and genetics of livestock, allowing producers to receive a premium for better livestock.
It's likely that many of the ‘roadside pickup truck’ marketers are the weekend gardener types. Local governments and fad enthusiasts may be trying to capitalize on the romanciticism of old fashioned agriculture to promote tourism via pork barrel spending. I think this undermines those legitimate producers interested in transitioning from tobacco to produce, and tarnishes the image of the modern producer and the self-reliance that modern technology makes possible.