Community activist, public market consultant and writer
Working since the 1980s on social change issues while encouraging civic activity across North America. I live in the Gumbo Nation (New Orleans) and raised here some but mostly in Buckeye Nation (Cleveland). I provide support and consulting for localized food systems, especially farmers markets. Bicycling, clean water, pocketbook issues, true wealth generation, reanimating public spaces and direct action democracy are also within my focus. Have blogged for a decade, have published essays and non-fiction since 2001.
Independent Researcher and Trainer Darlene Wolnik offers:
Analysis: Research and reports on public market organizational structure and governance or logistics.
Conference or workshop preparation: Building or running educational/networking events for food organizers.
Grants: Assistance with public market project grant-writing including research of subject, draft narrative and final editing.
Reports: Researching and writing for public market organization or food system projects.
Speaking: Keynote speeches or workshop development and/or facilitation.
Technical Assistance: Phone, email, webinar or in-person technical assistance for public market startups or project work for market organizations. Phone, email, webinar or in-person technical assistance for funders or stakeholders of food system projects.
Fees upon request: a percentage of pro bono time offered with most individual market-level projects.
This blog focuses on the intersection of retail anthropology and social justice issues in order to start some ideas flowing and conversation about how we can use public markets.
It's updated Mondays and Thursdays.
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Click here to read about sailing alone and anchoring together….
Darlene Wolnik-Helping Public Markets Grow
Recent and current work:
•Independent research for case studies of governance of markets. Found at helpingpublicmarketsgrow dot com
• Independent research for market characteristics. Found at
helpingpublicmarketsgrow dot com
•Brooklyn NYC-Conducted a series of trainings for community markets for the Brooklyn District Public Health Office (BDPHO).
•Brooklyn NYC- Assisted BDPHO with developing farmers market technical assistance programs.
•Colorado-Assisting Boulder Farmers Markets with strategy sessions.
•Farmers Market Coalition-Writer/Researcher: Assisting with University of Virginia Morven Summer Institute course on farmers market evaluation.
•Farmers Market Coalition: Writer/Researcher for training and technical assistance project.
•Louisiana: Assisted LSU AgCenter and Farmers Market Coalition with first statewide market conference.
•Louisiana: Assisting students at Southeastern University in Hammond with food system research and farmers market strategy.
*Louisiana: Assisting Urban Conservancy with day-long Community Wealth Workshop featuring Michael Shuman in New Orleans LA
• Maine: Researched farmers market job descriptions for People's Regional Opportunity Program work with farmers markets.
•Mississippi: Assisting Gulf Coast markets with surveys for location and customer/vendor satisfaction.
•NOFA-VT- Designed and led evaluation workshop for VT markets.
•VT-Dept of Ag: Researching SNAP, FMNP technology and policy answers for VT farmers markets in collaboration with NOFA-VT
•Wallace Center: Researching and writing case studies of successful direct marketing Mississippi farmers and markets.
*Why Hunger: Creating online toolkit for grassroots communities in 3 regions.
*Creating articles and researching resources for WhyHunger's Food Security Learning Center
Feel free to contact me at my name at gmail dot com I might be able to help your market or business.
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Public Markets Book Club
Category Archives: state associations
Old friends and multiple-movement-colleagues Ken Meter and Karen Lehman lead a cooperative sing along at the Illinois Farmers Market Association with a song found in a attic of a woman organizer from the 1930s, song to the tune of Auld Lang Syne called Cooperate. A sweet moment.
The late winter and spring are mad times for a farmers market consultant. The numbers of workshops and conferences has doubled or tripled in the last few years and every year since 2005 or so, I have been honored to be asked to present at 4 to 10 state or national convenings. I very much appreciate the opportunity to work with many market and market advocates at one time and to hear about new ideas and to meet some of those names I read from reports and posts on listserves.
In January, I spoke at NOFA-VT’s Direct Marketing Conference for the second year and I must say it’s a favorite of mine-a great mix of market organizers, farmers and agencies. Very focused and well attended. NOFA does an extremely professional job putting this on without showing the blood, sweat and maybe even tears, but knowing them its probably blood, sweat and laughs…
Part of why I went there was to conduct interviews with farmers and market operators to ensure their point of view is included within the state feasibility report that I am doing for NOFA and VAAFM (Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets) on their EBT, WIC, FMNP systems and what steps it would take to build a comprehensive and universal system for their markets. (And no, I don’t ski or participate in winter sports so outdoor fun doesn’t factor in….)
Unfortunately, my schedule, vendors winter flu and other issues prevented me from getting enough interviews, so I decided to come back and to buttonhole some more folks at the other conference I have heard about from many Vermonters-NOFA’s Winter Conference. Workshops, TED talks, a multitude of different points of views from producers to “eaters” and a seed swap among many other things.
If you’re nearby and can make it, you might want to register and check it out for yourself. If you’re further away, you might want to download their brochure and put one on in your town.
This is the kind of action alert that farmers and ranchers miss when there is no substantial statewide sustainable agricultural organization on which to rely. Again, to take it back to the market organizations-how can we help build the advocacy organizations for our farmers so they have access to programs to grow a better earth?
Living in New Orleans used to mean that I had a mild winter (if any) to deal with each year and January was about celebrating Carnival from Twelfth Night up until Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). Now as a market consultant, I spend the winter traveling to conferences and meetings, oddly almost all held in the northern climes!
Even with my aversion to cold, I am excited to be returning to Vermont for my third visit with NOFA-VT, and the second time I will be attending their Direct Marketing Conference held in lovely South Royalton VT.
Beginning last fall, I started work with NOFA-VT and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to study their card and token currency systems in the markets and comparing them to other states’ systems in view of the 2020 implementation of WIC to EBT cards – as well as the new technology that is swirling around like Square and the new upcoming Novo Dia Group smart phone app for cc/debit/food stamps. Also included in this research is the need to ascertain if these systems (which of course include incentives, FMNP coupons, WIC vouchers and in some states veggie prescriptions too) are working well at market level and how to measure them.
I have been calling on my colleagues across a dozen states and networks to hear their analysis which has been shared most generously. Now, I go to Vermont to gather some case studies from farmers and market managers to round out the raw data which then will need to be crammed into a manageable report for Vermont come early spring.
wish me luck.
And, email me or call me if you have data on a network or state level that you wish to share.
I’m off this morning to visit with my wonderful colleagues in North Carolina. Sarah Blacklin of the Carrboro Farmers Market has invited me to interrupt her very busy work schedule to talk about evaluation, federal benefit programs and (maybe) assisting in convening the North Carolina markets so that they can share more fully and learn from each other’s excellent examples.
I originally went to Carrboro in 2006 when Sheila (the then market manager) invited me to take part in their Katrina gumbo fundraiser which was to benefit my own New Orleans farmers markets. It was such a great idea. They asked 5 restaurants to make their own version of gumbo and then sold each for 1 hour at a time at the market. Sold out or not, they went to the next one at the top of the hour with much fanfare (they ripped off the previous name and uncovered the upcoming with great cheers.) Of course, they almost all sold out and people hung around to get their favorites, not knowing which hour each would be sold. They raised over 6000.00 for my markets and vendors!
The market had over 5500 shoppers that day (not an unusual number for this excellent market) and their support was so genuine and warm that I have always considered the Carrboro Farmers Market (CFM) to be the sister market to Crescent City Farmers Market (CCFM) and whenever I can go and see their excellent work and the nearby Durham Farmers Market market, I go.
I am very lucky to be working with so many state and national leaders – I am honored to be asked to help them figure things out for their markets – but I will always save some of my time for those individual market leaders who inspire me with their own local vision and joie de vivre.
A few years ago, I was watching a Charlie Rose interview with Tori Amos, the musician. She was going on tour with Alanis Morrisette and Charlie asked her how that worked-how could they combine their shows. Tori frowned and said (I’m sort of paraphrasing here):
it’s not like that. I have a pirate ship. I have a captain, I have my own mates…..and so does she.
That comment stuck in my mind, and when I went to work the next day, I shared it with the Executive Director of Market Umbrella. We were constantly searching for metaphors for farmers market organizing and we had used a few to indicate that this IS moving towards being a true movement (rather than a series of random events in towns and cities) but still wondered if we had yet found the best way to describe it.
“A pirate ship. hmmm,” he said.
Often my job is to listen to market organizers and network leaders like Richard and help them move forward by creating resources, encouraging partnerships or adding skills. However, when I’m out in the field, I find that much of what we do in markets and in food systems is duplication of the worst sort, meaning unnecessary and a time waster for hard-working markets or networks, or as bad, an expectation that all markets should operate the exact same way. Why is that, I often wondered? Why don’t markets or organizers talk more to each other, sharing more tools peer-to-peer and find the strength to resist being measured and judged by inappropriate metrics?
Well, I do know why it happens. It happens because the work of community organizing is so delicate and yet unrelenting that it is hard to find time to share. And then what should be shared and how it could be shared is often as complicated.
The Tori Amos interview spoke to that idea. The idea that innovation and creativity is handmade and often an individual exercise, or coming from a small committed group learning as they go. And that sharing is not necessarily about combining efforts, but more about connecting when needed and not overemphasizing one set of values over another.
That individuals or small groups need some autonomy and yet, in order to build a movement there are times when building the networks is as important.
So from that Amos interview came this line that Richard and I created while standing outside of a coffeehouse:
Sail Alone, Anchor Together
Like pirate ships or if you prefer, privateer ships, markets have their own flag, their own code and their own mates. However sooner or later, they may need to join up in order to defend themselves from other forces or come together to succeed on an issue.
How they do that is important. When they do that is important too.
The lack of a national or even a regional convening for farmers markets alone may be starting to hamper our efforts for long term policy changes and capacity building. We can (and should) moor our nimble little ships to sides of elegant liner like a re-imagined public markets conference or join a strong armada like a well-organized school food initiative when we can, but when we don’t know what success means to us is it’s hard to contribute meaningfully. Yes, we do learn a great deal when we hear about our fellow food organizers working on other projects, but we still need to deal with our own issues too.
What about SNAP at markets? Disaster planning for market farmers? Training for market managers? Food safety issues? Permanent locations? Sustainable funding? Building appropriate networks for policy work? Evaluation? We need to work this stuff out together and decide how it’s appropriate to our scale.
Honestly, some market networks are lucky. They have solid food systems that they work in and grow in sustainably. But even the best need to anchor with the odd little markets and share and hear, because innovation often comes from unlikely sources. And sometimes it’s as hard to get the larger, more established markets to take the time and find the right voice in which to share their ideas and plans, to do that even as they are piloting ever more complex projects. It’s not easy to build these convenings, to find the money and the right timing; THAT I know and am grateful to CFSC, PPS and others who have made room for us.
Yeah it’s hard, but I say get those flags ready; it’s time to anchor together to build our markets.
Farmers Market Coalition Board President Bernie Prince visits Ohio to support their state association and to promote FMC’s work.
This is from St.Louis which has received new proposed regulations for farmers markets from the state that to the editorial writer sound like “special event rules warmed over.” Very well put.
The need to push back on over regulating market farmers does need to go in hand in hand with a well managed risk mitigation strategy on the markets behalf. In other words, we should run ahead with good, appropriate rules rather than boo from the back.
Kansas Rural Center is doing great work, keep an eye on them! They have a weekly eblast you can subscribe to: