Vermont and Illinois market meetings

Sometimes work travel can be lonely. Saying goodbye to family and friends (especially when it’s 80 degrees at home and 15 at your destination), waiting at airports for hours, being at hotels on weekends. In my travels, I see and talk to plenty of people out there who live in the spaces from airport to hotel and back and spend most of their time in dry meetings in some nondescript building. I however, get to go hang out with warm and engaged market practioners who are interested in what a visitor is doing there. How gratifying it is when you bring up a market subject and eyes light up with recognition and excitement. Or that new market manager you spend some time with at lunch has great ideas and plans and you are able to say-“wow, you have an excellent plan, I think this is absolutely going to work” and they convey gratitude which is lovely but unnecessary. Or that you get to reconnect with market advocates you met on a previous trip and laugh, talk and maybe make a friend.
This month I did that in 2 states- Vermont and Illinois. Both are states that I have been invited to previously and was very honored to be invited back again.
In Vermont, I traveled to the conference with a market leader who I admire and can bat ideas back and forth on a wide-ranging set of topics. Once on the Vermont Law School’s beautiful campus in South Royalton, I get to see many peers again who catch me up and share news. The host organization, NOFA-VT is an honorable elder organization that has true leadership and camaraderie and those qualities are shared by those who comes to their events. Everyone shows up for them, from the Agency of Ag to the state benefit program leaders and a whole bunch of assorted activists. Vermont is so focused and collaborative on building their sustainable place that it feels important to keep reminding them how far forward in the vanguard that they are and how we are all watching their work closely for replication.
Adding to that, colleagues from previous years have become friends and take good care of me and make sure I have fun and good food: this trip, Libby was on call for me.
After those few days in Vermont, I hopped over to Illinois, first to Chicago and them to Springfield for the Illinois Farmers Market Association meetings (IFMA). This association has ramped up their activities very quickly, partnering on multiple trainings, analysis, policy work and pilots in every corner of this big state. I was able to drive from Chicago to Springfield with the state’s mother hen of markets, IFMA’s energetic and multi-tasking Executive Director Pat Stieren along with a fellow baseball pal with a wise agricultural/entrepreneurial mind, IFMA board member and Local Food Systems/Small Farms Educator at University of Illinois Extension, Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant. THAT conversation was global in its range and so very entertaining.
The board of the IFMA is one of the most hands-on that I have worked with, no doubt. Washington state’s market meeting seemed this year to have about the same level of participation and leadership from their board, and I am sure that other states that I have not been to recently will email me to tell me how great their board is too, but in Illinois I saw so much integrated activity for markets across all of the disciplines the board represents that I will hold them up this year as a beacon of volunteerism and professionalism.

Illinois also had an impressive amount of partners at both of their meetings, from USDA staff to technology solution providers to regional academic and NGO stakeholders. They are very interested in evaluation for markets and so asked many questions about the Farmers Market Metrics projects being piloted at FMC. I do think that when a state reaches for common sense and multiple ways to measure what is being done at markets, that those states are really ready to boost market capacity. It is no secret that one of my goals as a consultant is to build a professional set of market managers across the nation, well-paid and able to stay in place to pilot new ideas that keep their markets at the center of their food system. Obviously without a way to show how they increase benefits across many types of capital, markets will continue to use all of their energy and strategic thinking time on just the lengthy day-to-day to-dos every market has and as a result, will never grow their markets to sustainability or increase their own leadership.
It was probably not a coincidence that both of these states (and others) have started to create more peer-to-peer discussion opportunities at these meetings, which of course, will lead to more leadership development and embedded practioner problem-solving. I look forward in future years to those discussions being recorded or notes uploaded for other markets to learn from and action items identified to complete.
What both states struggle with at these meetings is how to assist the new markets (and sometimes the even newer organizers who aren’t even sure that a market is what they will do) who tend to show up in large numbers to these events, while still keeping the experienced markets attending. It may be time to create separate tracks for new and experienced managers for half a day and then bring them together at lunch, or to ask more of the experienced managers to design and lead more workshops in the morning and then allow them to meet with their peers in the afternoon. I’d also love to see one or two states pilot a one-on-one training system with a mentor market and a newer one at these conferences, offering 2-3 hour sessions with checklists and worksheets to be completed at the end by the trainee.
In any case, it was a marvelous week of market talk and ideas being offered and expanded, and I look forward to many more of these meetings and a return to two of my favorite market states.

Good information picked up in VT and IL

Good information picked up in VT and IL

IFMA discussion group

IFMA discussion group


Vermont Roundtable

Vermont Roundtable

Grant season has begun

USDA announces grants

I wish everyone good luck with their proposals and hope that my readers know if I can be of assistance to markets to strategize their proposals or to help to embed metrics for evaluation, feel free to email me.

This report that Farmers Market Coalition did with Market Umbrella in 2013 may be very useful for markets to review to see what other markets have done with their funding and to extract grant writing language used successfully by other markets and food systems.

Also, I am linking the report that I assisted the Real Food Gulf Coast folks with last year. They wanted to collect some simple data on how eaters and producers perceive markets (both those that use markets and don’t use them); the recommendations and marketing strategies will be piloted this year in Mississippi.

Please don’t be afraid to attempt a small grant if you have an idea to build capacity for a market or many markets. The assortment of grant opportunities is wider than ever before and can be the difference between struggling to stay relevant and moving a local food system to the next level.
AND please create an account on grants.gov sooner rather than later; this is the site you use for any federal grant so it takes a step from your later work when uploading a proposal as it takes some time to be approved for an account on grants dot gov.

Americans Prefer Their Solutions Locally Sourced – CityLab

This study may be useful for an economic impact study grant or to research this data in your community. And I might suggest that the bolded sentence in the second paragraph could be used as a way to show farmers markets impact already.

Forty-seven percent of people surveyed said that buying from local and small businesses has the greatest impact on improving life in one’s local area, while 29 percent cited voting in local elections as key, and 20 percent favored volunteering for community organizations. And 53 percent of those surveyed said that their personal resources, like time and money, gave them more ability to make an impact in their local areas. That feeling was particularly strong among people age 39 and younger, according to the polling data.

If Americans prefer grassroots action, then they also see the climate for homegrown solutions improving in small ways: Forty-one percent of people surveyed said that average people had more influence now than they did 10 years ago in bringing about changes in their local areas. Interestingly, women of all ages felt like they had more influence now over local issues than men, of all ages, felt like they had.

Americans Prefer Their Solutions Locally Sourced – CityLab.

St. Joseph’s Day-New Orleans style (March 19)

I thought I would share some pictures uploaded by our great nola.com food editor Judy Walker (seen in one picture in the hat standing next to altar host Subil Prosper) of her visits to St. Joseph’s Day altars around town and of Mardi Gras Indians taken by local photographer Roy Guste. The holiday is one of my favorites as it is a true New Orleans experience and involves food, superstition, or faith depending on how you look at it, “visiting” and tradition. Really, this is an extra-extraordinary day among many extraordinary days in New Orleans. The farmers market itself has hosted beautiful altars in years past, courtesy of food maven, media star and Slow Food founder Poppy Tooker. Each item on the altar has meaning, some to honor different saints or the Trinity or local or family traditions.

Fava Beans
The fava bean was the main food that kept families in Sicily alive during the drought. Italians would carry this “lucky bean” with them for good fortune. If you pick up a dried bean from an altar on this day, you will receive good luck all year. I carry one in my wallet.
Fish
The 12 fish represent the 12 apostles.
Breads Shaped into Symbols
Several breads are made that represent both Jesus and St. Joseph. The symbols include ladders, hammers, nails, saws, lilies, and a staff for St. Joseph; and crosses, palms and wreaths (for the crown of thorns) for Jesus.
Olive Oil and Wine
These serve as a reminder of the many vineyards and orchards in Sicily.
The altar is broken up on St. Joseph’s day and food and donations are then distributed to the poor.

March 19th marks the Catholic celebration of St. Josephs Day where Catholic New Orleanians construct elaborate altars in honor of this saint. The tradition, commemorating the relief St. Joseph provided during a famine in Sicily, began in the late 1800’s when Sicilian immigrants settled in New Orleans. Altars are found at local New Orleans churches, especially those with strong Italian roots, but they are also constructed in private homes, halls, Italian restaurants, and public spaces in different communities throughout the city. If you happen to see a fresh green branch over a local’s doorway, it means you’re invited to participate in the altar ceremony and to share the food.

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I’ve also heard raves from friends about this altar.

New Orleans had a large influx of Sicilians in the 19th century who celebrate their patron saint but it is also an important day for the Mardi Gras Indians for more obscure reasons. The Indians activities defy easy description as do their amazing handmade regalia, stitched by the wearers themselves on many a night after getting off their day job. The Indians’s traditions can be viewed at the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme and if you are lucky to be in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday and around St. Joseph’s Day or on the Sunday before, you can view these amazing artists on the streets of New Orleans.

this excerpt gives one explanation:

St. Joseph’s Night with the Wild Indians is not an experience to be taken lightly in any measure. It’s the living manifestation of an age-old ritual, preserved and practiced by the descendants of the African slaves, which goes back to the perambulating societies of West Africa and their call-and-response chants, the secret societies of masked warriors which are common to both African and native American cultures, and the unsanctioned moonlight ceremonies conducted by African slaves under pain of death on the plantations of the American South.

photo by Roy Guste

photo by Roy Guste

Joyce Montana (Widow of Big Chief Tootie Montana) and son Darryl Montana. photo by Roy Guste

Joyce Montana (Widow of Big Chief Tootie Montana) and son Darryl Montana. Photo by Roy Guste

Another detractor and another clear need for better data and reporting

The article found here

For those of you who have read my “Big Data, Little Farmers Markets” blog posts linked here, and the Farmers Market Metrics pilots many of us have worked on, you know this is the kind of media that concerns me. I will fully agree that farmers markets have limits to their ability in carrying food equity on their shoulders, although I am not sure that markets ever promised that.

The findings extracted for this article lack necessary context and since the original academic article is behind a paywall, many are left to wonder how closely this piece extrapolated the best ideas from the study. However, I won’t be surprised if this small study did say exactly what has been used here, but I’d hope it made allowances for the small scope of the research and the lack of comparable metrics between community food systems and the industrial retail sector.

Farmers’ markets offered 26.4 fewer fresh produce items, on average, than stores.
Compared to stores, items sold at farmers’ markets were more expensive on average, “even for more commonplace and ‘conventional’ produce.”
Fully 32.8 percent of what farmers’ markets offered was not fresh produce at all, but refined or processed products such as jams, pies, cakes, and cookies.

As those of us know that are working constantly to expand the reach of good food, there has never been a belief among those that run markets that our role was to replace stores, especially the small stores and bodegas likely to be present in many of the boroughs of NYC. Instead, the lever of markets is meant to offer alternatives AND to influence traditional retail by changing everyone’s goals to include health and wealth measures that benefit regional producers, all eaters and the natural world around us.
As far as being more expensive, one might wonder if that the study did not compare the same quality of goods; these price comparisons often compare older produce with less shelf life to just-picked and carefully raised regional goods. I have bought much lettuce this year from a few of my neighboring markets that lasted 3-4 weeks in my refrigerator, which I have never been able to match with the conventional trucked-in produce seen in my lovely little stores that I frequent for many of the staples I need. Additionally, the price comparisons I have conducted or have seen have shown most market goods to be competitively priced or cheaper in season, so this study may need a larger data set or maybe a longer study period.
Generally speaking, refined or processed foods available from cottage producers at a market are markedly different from what is seen in the list of ingredients in most items on a grocery store shelf. Using fruit or vegetable seconds for fresh fruit spread or salsa is common among market vendors and extends the use of regional goods. And of course, balancing one’s diet means allowing for a treat on the table after that good dinner and may actually lead to less junk food later.

And finally, the article does not even consider the positive impacts found in markets for regional producers or neighborhood entrepreneurs; that omission in these type of articles is always a warning to me that we are reading an author who has spent little or no time quantifying the needs of the entire community being served in the market. If you require proof of the need to show the multiple impacts of farmers markets, the author’s curt conclusion should make that need clear:

Sure, they’re a great place to mingle. But as to whether they are a net nutritional plus for the neighborhood, the answer appears to be: Not so much.

(someone needs to introduce this guy to the idea of social determinants of health.)

Even so, as mentioned in those Big Data and FMM posts (a new Big Data post is coming soon), even these weak arguments are still based on data and analysis which means WE need to do a better job as well. It’s high time that we started to publish regular reports from the front lines of farmers markets, CSAs and other food and civic projects that use our own good data to show the impact that we are making everywhere rather than just keep rebutting these viral pieces that offer incomplete or inaccurate snapshots.

Tyler Ortego’s Big Idea is fighting coastal erosion with oysters

1) Food and environment should be linked more often.
2) I think my region will become ground central for innovation on coastal reclamation.
The work along the Gulf Coast to deal with the loss of habitat because of climate change and natural resource depletion could very well become a beacon for other coastal communities. I can tell you that we are here (at the intersection of the busiest set of ports in the Western Hemisphere by the way) and we will remain here as long as we can to find ways to mitigate the loss of land and food.

Some time take a look at the wetlands map of the coast of North America and estimate how much undeveloped land remains in the South that can be the start of reclaiming food and place.
Tyler Ortego's Big Idea is fighting coastal erosion with oysters | NOLA.com.

Growing populations and development along the coasts increase the vulnerability of coastal ecosystems to sea level rise. Development can change the amount of sediment delivered to coastal areas, worsen erosion, and remove or damage wetlands. For example, coastal Louisiana lost 1,900 square miles of wetlands in recent decades due to human alterations of the Mississippi River’s sediment system and oil and water extraction that has caused land to sink. As a result of these changes, wetlands do not receive enough sediment to keep up with the rising seas and no longer function as natural buffers to flooding. Rising sea levels could also increase the salinity of ground water and push salt water further upstream. This salinity may make water undrinkable without desalination, and harms aquatic plants and animals that cannot tolerate increased salinity. In the mid-Atlantic region, sea level rise is making estuaries more salty, threatening aquatic plants and animals that are sensitive to salinity.

We Eat Our Veggies — When We’re Eating Out

If we want to change our diets, maybe we need to think about why the food we buy at the store has so much sugar and so few vegetables. The committee recommended we eat more meals at home, but while that will get us more fruit and less sodium, it’s not going to increase our vegetable intake unless we change our habits.

We Eat Our Veggies — When We’re Eating Out | FiveThirtyEight.