Farmers Markets Need Support to Collect and Use Data

For the past year and a half, I have been attempting to wrangle the last seven years of FMC’s technical assistance around market evaluation (and the last 18 for me) into some sort of timeline and “lessons learned” to present to researchers and partners interested in farmers markets and data.

The process of writing a peer-reviewed paper was new to me and my fellow authors and the entire FMC team soldiered on with me as best they could, cheering me on and adding much needed perspective and edits at different points of the process. After a year and a half of drafting and reviewing, we released the article linked below through the skill of the JAFSCD team, but also because of the support of the USDA/AMS team. I think it should be said as often as possible that the AMS team is firmly dedicated to assisting farmers markets with whatever trends that arise, and in developing programs at USDA that reflect the current conditions of markets in order to increase their ability to support family farmers and harvesters. The evaluation work is just one example of how they have watched developments and offered support where they thought applicable.
The reason for FMC to put effort into this type of academic article is to make sure that researchers see the opportunity to have market operators be part of the process around what data is collected via markets and market vendors, and how it is used. It certainly doesn’t mean that we think that all of the work to collect and clean the data should be shouldered by the markets only or that using the data is their work alone. I hope that is clear in this paper. But we DO think that market work is increasingly focused around managers and vendors making data-driven decisions, and so the way the market team spends its time and how well it analyzes and shares data also has to evolve. That isn’t our choice; that is the result of the world taking a larger interest in regional food and farming, as well as the constant pressure from the retail food sector. Many in that latter group want to cash in on the trust and authenticity we value without holding the same accountability to producers that we have. We have to fight that, and doing it with data is the best way.

Finally, we think there is still much to know about the barriers to embedding data systems for grassroots markets; this paper only covers what we have learned since 2011 and up to the beginning of 2018. Much more is constantly being learned and will be reflected in the TA we offer markets and their partners.

Please email me with comments and questions about the paper and its findings.

Dar

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FMC press release: December 18, 2018 – Collecting data at farmers markets is not a new endeavor. But until recently, the data was largely collected and used by researchers, often to understand the role farmers markets play in the broader food system. Over the last seven years, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) – a national nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farmers markets – has partnered with research institutions and market organizations to better understand how market organizations have begun to collect and use data.

While until recently it was rare for market organizations to participate in the collection of their own market-level data, more and more markets have reached out to FMC over the last decade for data collection technical assistance. In 2011, the organization began to identify common characteristics and impacts of market programs, and realized more research into evaluation resources and tools that could be used easily by understaffed market operators was needed.

In a new article published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (JAFSCD), FMC outlines the industry need behind creating the Farmers Market Metrics (Metrics) program, and a timeline of the steps and partnerships that led to the creation of the tool, as well as best practices uncovered during its development.

Key recommendations include:

Create assigned roles for the market’s data collection team, and choose training materials that set expectations for seasonal staff, volunteers, and interns to maximize time and efficiency.
Prioritize staff support to allow market leaders more time to oversee data collection.
Gain vendors’ trust in the program for sharing and storing sensitive data.
Patience and support from funders and network leaders for each market’s level of capacity and comfort with data collection.
More assistance from funders and network leaders in helping markets select metrics to collect, as well as advancing data collection training for market staff.
The use of tools such as the USDA’s Local Foods Economic Toolkit, coupled with consistent support from academic partners, will encourage market leaders to delve more deeply into economic data and to feel more confident sharing results.

“FMC’s efforts to craft a suitable set of resources and a data management system for high-functioning but low-capacity market organizations has helped many stakeholders understand and share the many positive impacts their partner markets are making,” said FMC Senior Advisor and article author Darlene Wolnik. “But our analysis concludes that there is still foundational work to be done by those stakeholders to aid these organizations in collecting and using data.”

Wolnik continued, “The good news is that market-level data collection yields important information that markets can use to improve operations, share with researchers, communicate impacts to stakeholders, advocate for and promote vendors, and more.”

Resilience: Having the courage to persevere – Farm Aid

This is so great.

Willie Nelson:

“It’s called resilience – having the courage to persevere – and we heard a lot about it in Hartford this September at Farm Aid 2018. Farmers reminded us how they love tending the earth and its plants and animals, in spite of the struggles. That love and their resolve inspires me. And I hope it inspires you, too.”
— Read on www.farmaid.org/blog/resilience-having-the-courage-to-persevere/

Farm Aid is one of the significant elders of our work, remaining focused on the needs of farmers, responding to their circumstances and amplifying possible policy solutions. The work they have done is so tremendous and grassroots, it sets the standard for all of our work.

This moment from 2018’s FarmAid concert was an obvious favorite among FMC staff:

https://www.farmaid.org/blog/have-you-stopped-at-a-farmers-market-lately/

Support the work of this important organization this year.

Reading material

Dear colleagues,

I’m sorry for the absence from this blog, but have been happily knee deep in surveys and resource development for markets. So first, if you work for an organization that runs markets and the organization has not taken the national State of the Market survey yet, here is the link. Do check to make sure someone else in your organization hasn’t already answered, as we need only ONE response per organization.

I hope the year has been productive and promising for your work and that there are big plans for 2019.

My plans for the new year include increasing my activity to connect our food system work more closely to resiliency initiatives (i.e. disaster mitigation, climate challenges, economic apartheid)  from the municipal level to the international level.

As short and long-term ecological and economic solutions are sought for water, energy, and land planning, it is vital that local food activists and practioners are at the table. I hope to be a bridge while also continuing my work with markets to increase their diversity of uses and of users and to articulate their own theory of change.

In the meantime, here are some wonderful hopeful titles on my current reading list around farming and farmers markets. I hope you find some of them interesting.

 

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And this list of 10 podcasts is very helpful:

https://www.nycfoodpolicy.org/ten-food-policy-podcasts-to-listen-to-now/

 

How Would They Spend It?

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“We like to think of local today being where organic was 15 years ago”

 By Mary Ellen Shoup

BrightFarms is poised to bring its local greenhouse model to a nationwide audience with 15 hydroponic greenhouses to be built in the next three to five years as demand for locally-grown produce outweighs organic, shared BrightFarms VP of marketing and innovation, Abby Prior.

link to story