Food’s place on the urban, municipal agenda has become an increasing focus in the emergent fields of food policy and food planning, whose leaders argue that food needs to be more explicitly added to the urban agenda. Yet, public food markets are a food system activity that municipal governments have been long engaged in. Reports from leading health, planning, and food organizations assert that farmers markets—the dominant form of public retail food markets in the US today—should be explicitly included in zoning and other municipal codes to ensure that they can be created and sustained. Despite their popularity as a local sustainable food system and healthy food access strategy, it is unclear whether markets have been codified through municipalities’ planning and policy instruments, and research has largely not addressed this topic. This study aims to elicit whether markets have been codified into law, focusing on US municipal charters, codes and zoning ordinances, using Michigan, an upper Midwest state, as a case. After analyzing municipal documents to determine whether and where markets have been codified into law in ninety Michigan cities, this study concludes that markets are highly underrepresented in municipal policy, rarely defined in code, and mostly absent from zoning ordinances, even among those cities with currently operating markets. Market presence in code is, however, associated with the presence of historically operated markets. These findings raise questions about why markets are missing from codified food policy and what risks this poses to the future of markets. They also highlight the need to better document the market sector and underline the importance of including historic perspectives when examining the efficacy of current food policy efforts.
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