Patron saints of food, Mardi Gras style

Monday the 27th and Tuesday the 28th of February are the final days of two months of Carnival in New Orleans this year, which means it has been a particularly  long season! The season always begins on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th and ends the day before Ash Wednesday, known as “Fat Tuesday” or in French as Mardi Gras. This is because New Orleans essentially remains a Catholic city and takes Lent (more or less) seriously. Lent of course is the religious season to prepare for Easter.  The date of Easter changes because it is literally a “moveable feast ” (feast meaning religious observance, not food party!), linked to Passover which changes based on when the Passover (Paschal) full moon falls. (Wonderful to  see how many religious and secular traditions are based on the natural world’s rhythms..)

Today,  I am highlighting the local work of Dames de Perlage (Women of Beadwork) who used the theme of “Patron Saints of New Orleans” for their 2017 krewe. Each member spend their nights and “off-time” throughout the year designing and beading a new beaded corset and headdress and making the relevant costume based on the theme they choose after the previous Carnival. Each corset takes 150 or so more hours to make each.  This krewe marches with brass bands in a few parades and are a delight to see in person.

Great podcast with one of their krewe members describing the work they do and how parading works for those unfamiliar with them. Many of the riders and marching groups craft their throws and costume work in community get-togethers over the year. Pride in handmade items remains a vital part of the New Orleans culture as does the tradition of handing down skills.

These are some of the “saints” beadwork that I chose because of the connection to food and farming:


Dan Gill, our longtime Extension Agent for Orleans Parish (county) and now a writer and radio host. answering everyone’s horticulture questions.


This is amazing beadwork and costuming highlighting a Carnival/spring tradition: crawfish boils!


The great chef Leah Chase is honored for her many contributions to New Orleans food and 7th ward culture. That is an excellent likeness of this great woman.


This is my favorite one, and just coincidentally made by my pal Rachel. This is St. Satsuma which honors the citrus we see at markets starting in October and ending this week or next.




Chef Paul Prudhomme, patron saint of jambalaya!

Structural racism and farmers markets, Part 1

With the national conversation about racism and inclusion, I think it is important to talk about the inequities of our system as well. Those of us working for a just food system for all should be commended for the work we are doing, even as we are reminded of what remains unfair in them.

In my tenure in managing farmers markets in a city that has a majority of people of color, I had to acknowledge that the markets did not always reflect that reality. My organization, then called ECOnomics Institute, was founded on social justice principles and housed at a university center devoted to civil rights work so it was extremely important to us to advance its values. We certainly spent a great deal of time discussing how to reflect our community and to diversify our producers and were lucky enough to have activist farmers like Ben Burkett of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives as part of the founding group. Even so, in the early years we were like many of the older markets largely created and used by middle-class white community members or by educated back-to-land white farmers, both groups valiantly trying to expand good food and ecological stewardship for everyone but not completely succeeding.

Part of the issue in the early days were the choice of locations. Often market chose (or were given) underused spaces in parts of town without much recent foot traffic or street-level retail, yet soon enough near or at the center of a gentrification push. Was it intentional or coincidental that markets chose gentrifying areas? Hard to know at this late date, but probably the promise of added nearby amenities and retail potential were vital for market organizations with little capital and few partners back then.

In simplest terms, gentrification is renovation and redevelopment of a populated area with one result most often being the displacement of folks from other socioeconomic strata including working-class families and people of color who had been left behind to those neighborhoods when the white flight began in the 1950s. In the last 15 years, deindustrialization, decentralized economies and the urge of young people to distance themselves from the values of their suburban parents has led to more urbanites with enormous purchasing power returning to downtown zip codes. An engrossing read on the subject can be found in the book: From The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century by DW Gibson.

It is important to note that the  food system’s earliest “urban pioneers” of the 1970s do not reflect the term gentrifiers as they were interested in living among the existing population and did not have the economic power to submerge what was there previously. Those pioneers include many market leaders who  were able to do good community work around food. Yet, there maybe no better example of how that right impulse later evolved into an food as a gentrifier in and around San Francisco than this excerpt from Street Food by Adriana Camarena from March/April 2013:

The Free Farm Stand was started by Dennis “Tree” Rubenstein. Tree was one of the founders of the Kaliflower Commune and the Free Food Conspiracy of 1968, in Haight-Ashbury. After the Haight became recognized as cool, the area quickly got too rich for conspiracies, and Tree and his Kaliflower communists were pushed out to Shotwell and 23rd.

The Stand is now in the midst of the working poor of San Francisco’s Mission District, a testament to the idea that radical food politics will sprout where they are needed. Much of what we call food politics today—buying local, farming organic, eating vegetarian—originally came from collectives that wanted to raise awareness about industrially produced food. The People’s Food System of the mid-’70s was a network of community food stores and small-scale food collectives that organized to take back control of food from large agricultural and chemical companies; they built direct connections to farmers to establish the first farmers’ markets. Meanwhile, the Black Panthers were hosting free community breakfasts in their neighborhoods, and Alice Walters opened Chez Panisse partly as a space to talk about politics. Various collectives shared the urban farm known as the Crossroads Community (The Farm) on Potrero Avenue at the edge of the Mission.

All this activity resulted in a paradox: as radical food politics succeeded, healthy food became commodified as elite food, proving that successful social movements can be gentrified, just like neighborhoods. The best farmers’ market in San Francisco, at the Ferry Building, is also the least affordable, and Waters’ Chez Panisse, the standard-bearer of locally grown, seasonal food, has become one of the most expensive restaurants in Berkeley.

In recent years, urban farming has undergone a spirited revival in order to approach the issue of food security—the availability and accessibility of food—in its own way. There are five community gardens in the Mission, including one managed by the Free Food Stand, and seven more within walking distance. There are also edible gardens at schools, including Cesar Chavez Elementary School. Still most community garden plots in the Mission are tended by middle-class urbanites, perhaps well-read in food politics, but mostly involved in community food security; and more and more, urban gardening takes place on private plots. So even as radical urban farming resurfaces, a critical piece of the radial community garden or urban farm—people coming together to work in collectives and cooperatives—is lost…

(Alison Hope Alkon’s “Black, White, and Green; Farmers Markets, Race, and the Green Economy” also does an excellent job writing the history of 2 markets in the Northern California area:  one in Berkeley, founded on environmental values and the Oakland market addressing factors of economic apartheid under an authoritative police presence.) 

As evinced in the excerpt above, even though the organizers had not consciously intended to support the gentrification agenda, the majority of users of the farmers market system during the 1980s and 1990s were white urbanists with time on Saturday mornings and cash to spend. As gentrification grew, markets included more younger, more affluent childless couples who did not take active roles in pushing for a broad range of services. Those factors and more led to the conclusion for many that market communities were only for those with time and cash and who reflected back the mostly white middle-aged or older vendor base.

Like other movements before it, food has to consciously address the social determinants that encourage or discourage inclusion by those without influence (read money). What is hard about that  of course is that the markets are about money transactions-the producers cannot afford to give away their hard work and the distance traveled to market continues to grow as farmland is gobbled up in expanding layers of gentrification. The delicate balance of creating wealth for the vendors can often feel as if it is in conflict with the needs of the at-risk population. No easy answers to that issue but the incentive programs have begun to add regular shoppers among those who previously were unsure or felt left out. Still, the number of programs and different currencies are taxing both the market leaders and the vendors; let’s hope the technology gets to the point that it actually reduces the work needed to offer these programs…

Even with the incentive programs attracting more at-risk or lower income shoppers,  it is easy for organizers to grow impatient with those we serve who do not immediately appreciate the programs we offer and therefore to start to create expectations of failure. Instead, we need to devote more time in study of the demographics of our market cities and compare those to shopper zip codes to  continue to seek out the generations and neighbors who have not been made comfortable in these new markets without showing impatience or burning out our small businesses by constantly introducing new shoppers and not retaining enough of them as return shoppers.We also need our staff and vendors to reflect the community we serve. I often have market board members or leaders telling me when asked if their market serves the entire community that they aren’t sure, or they recount how they have “tried to reach out to some of those neighbors but they just don’t want to come.” I do not doubt the willingness of the market community to include everyone, but the strategies can be tinged with assumptions that need to be challenged up front. Or to put it another way, to expect that the only way we will gain shoppers of people of color is through benefit or voucher programs is another assumption that we must challenge in ourselves.

Those assumptions are at the heart of the recent activism around the US:  the challenge among people of color to white allies to consider and rid themselves of their privilege. Whether its not having to be taught added steps of how to talk to police when stopped, or not having buzzers and locked doors on our corner stores or even not being a world-class African-American tennis player who has people post about her body shape in ugly, racist terms the day after she achieves a historic win, we do not know about what we have not experienced until we ask and we listen. In order for us to understand the unearned advantage pale skin gives us, we need to examine our place in the world and our blanket statements or fears about those we do not resemble or live among. Challenging privilege does not mean that white organizers or farmers have to feel bad about themselves or their hard work, but that they need to look closely at how their community really operates for others who also work hard and cannot succeed.

I always encourage markets to spend time in strategizing how to attract newly arrived or socially disadvantaged producers as a start; sometimes it is simple as having the application available in more than one language or having paper copies on hand and time for a chat with someone asking. Or through expanding the bylaws of the market to include cooperatives, foraged foods or a wider selection of culturally appropriate items. Sometimes it requires markets find partners to help those new to farming gain advanced knowledge of how to create a crop plan or how to price competitively.

We can help our own cause by remembering that we can choose the values and the community that our markets serve by how we design it or how we choose an inclusive mission or bylaws. This short chronological history below is something I attempt to add to whenever I work with markets and so am glad to hear from any of you on it. What it shows me is the intention of the work that has been done over the last 40 years and that when we expand to new ideas, we  find the right message and partners to make it possible.  As always, this is somewhat off the top of my head so forgive any obvious omissions and feel free to email me directly with additions or corrections. (Exceptions to this timeline are to be found in every era; often those were led by a coalition of local voices who had their act together earlier than the rest of us.)

1970s-1980s: Back-to-land farmers and ecological advocates begin markets. Their organizing principle is “Grow it to sell it” which was a provocative statement at the time, asking for a commitment up front from both the growers and the buyers. These markets opened in places such as Madison WI, Carrboro NC, Athens OH, Berkeley CA, Montpelier VT-a lot of university towns actually.

1990s: Community leaders, aware of the first markets, begin to open markets in cities adding educational programming to the grow it to sell it mandate. Cities like San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Portland, Cleveland, D.C. were the recipient of this work. Interestingly, many became the founders of larger networks, including Farmers Market Coalition. Social cohesion was an important value beginning in these years, because of these leaders.

1990s-2000s: Main Street markets in smaller towns and in rural communities began to add markets to their revival initiatives in towns like Ocean Springs MS, Natchitoches LA, Durham NC. These markets added value-added items and encouraged new non-farm vendors, focusing on incubating new businesses and supporting nearby Main Street initiatives.

2000s:  As technology advanced to allow at-risk populations to access markets with their EBT card, public health strategies became useful and the field of practioners and agencies in that field began to partner with and sponsor new markets to expand good food by getting markets in new places and adding public health incentives. This certainly includes Kaiser-Permanente’s work to add markets to their own hospital campuses and markets such as Crossroads Farmers Market in Takoma Park MD.

2000s: Deeply embedded organizers add food initiatives to their portfolio of activities, utilizing on the community assets of residents. Markets in and around central Brooklyn NY like Brooklyn Rescue Mission, East New York Farm and Sankofa Market in New Orleans LA  create multi-faceted centers of organizing with embedded markets to offer residents the opportunity to be both the buyers and vendors.

So my (flawed and incomplete) history shows a deep attention to entrepreneurial activity, food sovereignty and to farmland reclamation, and that we are beginning to address how food organizing needs to happen at community/market level and across systems at the very same time.

Today, we are all more conscious about the implication of creating programs that offer the real opportunity for diversity in front of and behind the tables. I have great hope for this work  to be part of the solution and to continue to assist in tearing down the structural elements that divide us.

Structural racism and farmers markets, Part 2

Recently, I wrote the first post of where markets began and some of the barriers we have encountered along the way to healthy food for all. I hope that those who read it understood the distinction I was making between individual, institutional and structural racism.

In it, I gave my version of the chronological history of markets in order to show the intentional and thoughtful work done by leaders so far. One of those milestones was the work with public health advocates, starting in the early 2000s and one of the examples I use of that is Kaiser Permanente’s creation of farmers markets. This began around 2003, when ob/gyn Dr. Preston Manning had an idea to put a farmers market on the Oakland  KP campus and begat a movement of “market champions”around the U.S. during their shift to wellness rather than crisis care. This report on their markets came out a few years ago and has some very interesting analysis of market interventions.  The evolution of the “campus” market in the emerging market typology spectrum linked below is illustrated in there as is some data on the marked increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables among surveyed marketgoers, and (what I remember as the surprising outcome to them ) of the increase in social capital for their staff. (Here is the draft version of the market typology.)

The KP markets marked one of the first long-term partnerships with a health care provider interested in them as interventions for their target audience. In other words, it seems to be the beginning of the era of partners realizing markets were more nimble than they had previously seemed and so could be added into new communities for multiple reasons, including those with complex public health goals. The KP/market relationship seemed strained at times (full disclosure: back then, my organization  was in discussion to help KP with their market strategy, but the New Orleans levee breaks of 2005 took precedence for our time. We did continue to discuss markets with them and even included their staff in some of Market Umbrella’s trans•act research into market evaluation), but  KP remained thoughtful about how they supported markets and constantly offered some good critical thinking about the capacity of markets and what success measures that they thought were appropriate.

I became fond of saying that the relationship was a match made in heaven as (back then) markets were all energy with little discipline and public health was all discipline with little energy. These health partnerships have led to many things, like the incentive strategy and the expansion of the voucher programs. There is no doubt that market have adopted a wider view of good food  and done an amazing job at encouraging those with benefit program dollars to come to their markets. Most importantly, markets gained a better understanding of the social determinants of health paradigm.

World Health Organization (WHO) offers a two tier view of these factors: the daily physical environment of a person and the distribution of resources and the political power to change the factors. It is important to address the safety, transportation needs, housing etc of a person who is at-risk in order to offer solutions to repair their health, but without also addressing how that environment ended as less safe or without decent places to live, that individual will remain at risk. What is also important to note about these indicators is that they rely on community wealth being available. Before we tied our market balloon to these pillars of health, our initiatives were often seen as elitist and obsessed with a construct of local that had no relevance to the larger world. Now of course, it is clear that addressing inequities cannot be completed by outside funders swooping in, and that entrepreneurial activity is a necessary aspect for empowerment; efforts across the globe in micro-investing or Slow Money here in the U.S. have shown the trend is appealing even to big time money folks. So economic power at the local level is key to this shift and in food systems, no one does that better than farmers markets.

Kellogg Foundation’s shift about the same time to a continuum of health for families  – encapsulated beautifully at one of their conferences as”first food, early food, school food, community food”  – allowed them  to lead the discussion on this overarching strategy. The foundation focuses on “three key factors of success and their intersections: education and learning; food, health and well-being; and family economic security. Lots of good language to seek out as well viewing some of the work from Kellogg and its partners. Check out their resources.

The CDC definition:

“the conditions in the environments in which people live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Conditions (e.g., social, economic, and physical) in these various environments and settings (e.g., school, church, workplace, and neighborhood) have been referred to as “place.” In addition to the more material attributes of “place,” the patterns of social engagement and sense of security and well-being are also affected by where people live.

So place and the civic engagement could be the two buckets to consider. How can markets address either of these? Place is pretty simple isn’t it? Let’s say that your market is working to add at-risk shoppers using an incentive and EBT program and finds that one chief barrier is the lack of public transportation options around your location. It may help to advocate for a bus to alter its route for the market day. Or to add more bike parking to encourage non-drivers or to set aside a few parking spaces close to the entrance for drop-offs, shuttles, jitneys or uber. One great way to look at the place around you is to use PPS’ Placemaking audits and tools and see how inviting your area is.

Clearly, civic engagement is another area that markets could do more with. The Power of Produce (POP) program offered by FMC is a lovely way to offer this. Another might be for the market to work with newly arrived citizens through expanding language choices or the market’s products. Shady seating, community information are also good. But how about market leaders showing up to a housing meeting in their city? Or working on a microinvestment strategy with shoppers and local banks to encourage new producers or other community solutions?

I had the good fortune to attend the BALLE’s “The Future of Health is Local” webinar which dove into the structural work around health and wealth, although more at the institutional purchasing power level. What was really great about it was the detailed insight of health care providers like KP. BALLE is an invaluable resource to anyone working on community wealth strategies. I attended a few of their conferences in the past and had some great meet ups with initiatives and researchers who are embedding the farmers market movement and lessons into their work. It is a great and valuable time for those  thinking of attending an added conference. Definitely check out their resources.

So, the work to include all of the social determinants into our food work is not fully realized. That issue is at the heart of these 2 posts and why (I think) the divide between whites and people of color seems wider and deeper than ever. It is commendable for us to rid our language and actions from individual racist attitudes, and to add institutional partners and programs that add access, but we must go beyond that. If we use our power and privilege to explore and address inequities within the larger physical and political environment, we will start to see better outcomes, and the social determinants framework is as good of a way as any to do that in organizing terms.

Star assessment of community health


Related statement from National Young Farmers Coalition.






Crescent City Farmers Market programs give free food to mothers 

My home market organization continues to pilot new ways to include at-risk populations into their community. The staff shared with me that they studied the Sustainable Food Center’s work in Austin TX with CVB to design their pilot. This mock program will lead the state into seeing how WIC families benefit from markets in terms of social and intellectual capital as well as increasing their regular access to healthy food.

(The article seems to state that CCFM has been doing SNAP redemptions since 2008; actually it has been accepting EBT cards to redeem SNAP benefits since 2005 and doing market matches on different programs since before then, including a seafood bucks program and a FMNP reward program for seniors to spend once they spent their FMNP coupons. The incentive added to SNAP has been a program in existence at the market since around 2008.)

Market Umbrella deserves credit for its continued innovation and the staff and board’s willingness to constantly explore ways to increase their markets’ reach.

Crescent City Farmers Market programs give free food to mothers |

Planning For the Future


Many market people have heard my elevator pitch about the eras of farmers markets, circa 1970-2010. This timeline was derived from founders recounting their experiences, and my realization that each era had a specific set of leaders and a guiding organizing principle. Here is a quick version:


(1970-85) Back-to-land farmers. Organizing Principle: Gotta grow it to sell it; direct sales lead to real, transformative relationships between producers and eaters


(1990-2000) Neighborhood organizers. Organizing Principle: Educational events deepen and lengthen the interaction; the “new” town square is here.


(1995-2005) Main street leaders. Organizing Principle: Small businesses incubation; regional impact is a necessity.


(2005-) Public health collaboratives. Organizing Principle: Good food for all, attention to the social determinants of health, incentivizing participation.


One of the questions that I end this with is what’s next? Who do we think will be the next set of leaders to add a new round of markets, and what issue will be foremost for them? One of my own guesses for the next era of leadership has been the planning community. For a long time, they mostly eschewed the informal and often temporary spaces that our markets occupy. That began to change over the last few years with more cities and regions “focusing on the spaces between the buildings” as writer Rebecca Solnit suggested to planners at a conference in and about New Orleans after the 2005 levee breaks.

So you could be sure I was pleased to see this thoughtful and detailed post from the Congress for a New Urbanism (CNU), which indicates that the work we do aligns with their evolving efforts. Even more important is that the post focuses on the application of planning on the effects of loneliness.

Here is the key excerpt that spells out the health issue:

Aside from the question of whether having confidants or not affects happiness, living alone affects physical health. According to recently published research at Brigham Young University (2015), living alone increases mortality by 32 percent even for those who self-report that they are not lonely. This is on par with being obese.[15]

The suggestion in the post is that the response requires both structured and informal design solutions, which sounds to me like the market field’s sweet spot. Of course, even before reports like these were out, markets were working with at least one group likely to suffer from this – senior citizens. That strategy was based on the obvious isolation that the modern world forced upon them, which one could easily see led to rapid physical decline. And for low-capacity market leaders, encouraging shoppers who already had a deep knowledge base for the traditional foods our markets do so well made them an ideal demographic as “early adopters.” However, even though it was an obvious choice it wasn’t always easy to keep them coming: open-air market weather issues, physical accessibility, frustration with market’s insistence of seasonality (any market out there NOT have a senior ever ask why they don’t carry bananas?) lack of transportation and more made the work to keep seniors coming challenging but ultimately rewarding. This early work with seniors gave markets a lot of experience with working with at-risk populations, especially when leveraging available benefit programs like FMNP. In many cases, those FMNP programs led to successful SNAP strategies, as well as the Veggie Rx programs that are offering more ways for markets to add new shoppers, especially for F&V farmers.

So who’s next?

Well, as this post and the linked reports make clear, the effect of isolation are only growing more alarming and shared by rural and urban people across a widening age group. More of us work from home or conversely, spend a great deal of time alone in a car than previous generations. Even with my own happy job that I do sitting at my little desk, I have to guard against its effects. The FMC team actually “meets” each week using Google Hangout to have us chat and update via live video and our Executive Director does her best to get as many staff to the outreach we do as often as possible but still, I am grateful for the four or five markets per week in my town that get me among others regularly.


From the CNU post:

Humans don’t generally congregate in the middle of empty fields. We are drawn to social spaces defined by walls, trees, or facades of buildings—spaces limited in size. We like those places because—whether we choose to or not—getting to know people there looks doable. Neighborhood main streets are usually just one to three blocks long. Historically, these social centers usually constituted 5 to 10 percent of the area of a neighborhood. For as long as humans have settled, the marketplace was where social life was most robust. Commerce is more than just the exchange of goods and services for money—commercial centers can also be places of cultural, social, intellectual, and emotional exchange. For communities with strong physical identities, the commercial streets are still the beloved public face. With the automation, digitization, and auto-orientation of commerce in recent decades, much of the social content of our commercial centers has been stripped out. People may be attracted to convenience and inexpensive goods, but the social satisfactions are weak. Nevertheless, creative urban design can revive a forgotten main street, or convert a dead shopping center into a walkable town center. Every community, whether new or historic, needs to proactively take charge of its own social destiny by developing plans for new walkable social spaces and safeguarding its historic centers.


So, I hope this post does a few things: First, that my simple history of what our founders put in place for us is helpful to you. Second, you gain some practical ideas and language for engaging in design opportunities with City Hall or regional planners, using your experience in working with isolated shoppers (and vendors!) and creating social spaces for everyone.

Lastly, that you and your market community feel a sense of camaraderie with the activity around health and happiness bubbling up around the world.


Now go see some people.



The full post from Steve Price

Farm apprentices: a good idea?

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and the U.S. Department of Commerce found that registered apprenticeship programs lead to greater productivity due to a decrease in employee errors, reduced employee turnover, and improved employee engagement. Apprenticeships may also reduce employers’ hiring costs and increase employee loyalty. International studies suggest that for every dollar spent on an apprenticeship, employers may get an average of $1.47 back in increased productivity, reduced waste, and front-line innovation.

In Europe, apprenticeships are so widespread, they’re not seen as a lesser choice. In fact, the average age of someone entering an apprenticeship in Europe is 17, says Seleznow, compared with 28 in the United States….

…Harper College is one of the many community colleges partnering with DOL through its Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program. TAACCCT has awarded $1.9 billion to 256 grantees to create registered apprentice programs in conjunction with local employers and driven by their staffing needs….

…A Jobs for the Future initiative called the Pathways to Prosperity Network is looking at ways to re-envision high school education to prepare students for youth apprenticeship programs. Nancy Hoffman, a senior advisor at the organization, encourages parents to keep an open mind about apprenticeship. “If you’re not sure your child will get a job with a four-year degree and your child is going into debt for that degree, you might want to look for options with more security,” she says….

Why Apprenticeships Are Back – CityLab

Indicators (sick of them yet?)

2017-I wrote this last year but thought it might still be helpful for those writing FMPP/LFPP grants this year. I’m just poring through this year’s RFP to see if there are any major differences in the indicators. Will add here if so.


2016-Congratulations to everyone who got their FMPP/LFPP grants in by the deadline yesterday. I talked or emailed with a few of you throughout that process and was impressed by the well-crafted strategies that I read and heard about.

As you can imagine, a lot of the calls I was on focused on the new prescribed indicators (performance measures) that were included with the RFP for the first time. Those were the same for FMPP as for LFPP projects and were:



Indicators 1. Of the [insert total number of] consumers, farm and ranch operations, or wholesale buyers reached, a. The number that gained knowledge on how to buy or sell local/regional food OR aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute local/regional food b. The number that reported an intention to buy or sell local/regional food OR aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute local/regional food c. The number that reported buying, selling, consuming more or supporting the consumption of local/regional food that they aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute

2. Of the [insert total number of] individuals (culinary professionals, institutional kitchens, entrepreneurs such as kitchen incubators/shared-use kitchens, etc.) reached, a. The number that gained knowledge on how to access, produce, prepare, and/or preserve locally and regionally produced agricultural products b. The number that reported an intention to access, produce, prepare, and/or preserve locally and regionally produced agricultural products c. The number that reported supplementing their diets with locally and regionally produced agricultural products that they produced, prepared, preserved, and/or obtained


Indicator 1. Sales increased from $________ to $_________ and by ______ percent ( n final – n initial/n initial (100) =% change), as result of marketing and/or promotion activities during the project performance period. 14 | Page 2. Customer counts increased from [insert total number of] to [insert total number of] customers and by _____percent ( n final – n initial/n initial (100) =% change) during the project performance period.


Indicators 1. Number of new and/or existing delivery systems/access points of those reached that expanded and/or improved offerings of: a. ______farmers markets. b. ______roadside stands. c. ______community supported agriculture programs. d. ______agritourism activities. e. ______other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities. f. ______local and regional Food Business Enterprises that process, aggregate, distribute, or store locally and regionally produced agricultural products. 2. Number of local and regional farmers and ranchers, processors, aggregators, and/or distributors that reported: a. an increase in revenue expressed in dollars: _____ b. a gained knowledge about new market opportunities through technical assistance and education programs: ______

3. Number of: a. new rural/urban careers created (Difference between “jobs” and “careers”: jobs are net gain of paid employment; new businesses created or adopted can indicate new careers): _______ b. jobs maintained/created:_______ c. new beginning farmers who went into local/regional food production: _____ d. socially disadvantaged famers who went into local/regional food production: ______ e. business plans developed:____


Indicator(s) – Only applicable to projects focused on food safety. 1. Number of individuals who learned about prevention, detection, control, and intervention through food safety practices:_____ 2. Number of those individuals who reported increasing their food safety skills and knowledge:______ 3. Number of growers or producers who obtained on-farm food safety certifications (such as Good Agricultural Practices or Good Handling Practices): _____

The applicant is also required to develop at least one project-specific outcome(s) and indicator(s) in the Project Narrative and must explain how data will be collected to report on each applicable outcome and indicator.


These confounded many,  while others  knew exactly how to use these to define their grant’s outcomes. I hope that  USDA calls in some of those who do a bang up job in setting and achieving their numbers to talk with the newbies in future years.

Because of the previous work on the trans•act tools (which include the SEED tool) while at Market Umbrella, and the more recent and engrossing Farmers Market Metrics (FMM) work I have been doing with FMC and their partners these last few years, I have become very familiar with this language and these indicators, most of which are included in the metrics chosen by FMC to be collected starting in 2016 with FMM through their own projects and through offering support to networks that area ready to embed evaluation systems in their projects.

Since I spent some time working with various project leaders on this, I thought I’d give my two cents here as to how I’d approach these if I was the lead.In this post, I’m going to talk about my general theory of data at the grassroots level and the first two outcomes; I’ll tackle #3 and #4 and unique indicators in upcoming posts.

Some may disagree with my assessment of how to handle these indicators which to me is actually a good thing since by tackling this in varying ways,  we are likely to hit on the best  methods of establishing these baseline numbers and for collecting the data. However, let me be clear: I speak as an individual consultant in this blog and not with the voice of FMC so do attribute all opinions about evaluation in this post to me only unless otherwise assigned. Of course, I hope that FMC agrees with most of my ideas and solution, even if they cannot or choose not to embed them all in the FMM system.

The first thing that confounded some proposal writers is how every indicator could be met by the varied projects: of course, they cannot and are not expected to. Since some projects are focused only on increasing sales at a market and not on training or on increasing the number of outlets, some indicators are more relevant than others and should be used in more detail. Remember, these indicators are for both FMPP and LFPP projects which covers a wide spectrum and so are meant to support the general outcomes for all. It is my opinion that the  unique indicators asked for at the end  are likely to be the most useful for reviewers to read closely in order to match to the narrative or budget. I’d  expect though that those proposals that could not reasonably answer a majority of the indicators with numbers will suffer in that reviewing process, as did USDA it seems, as they recommended that everyone explain those that they couldn’t answer. Or if possible, add a piece to their project to address that indicator. And I think you can assume that USDA was being firm in saying that this pot of money should result in changes of these kinds, so if your project cannot reasonably do any of them, maybe look elsewhere for support.

I think the best way to really make these outcomes accurate  is for the project lead to write them with the vision of using them as a banner to fly throughout the term of the project for the team to hit, surpass or to discuss why they cannot be met and what that means. And that the numbers should be slightly lofty-it is better to extend the reach at the outset and urge the team to do their best work to reach or even surpass it. However, don’t just throw some outrageous numbers in there or you will be telling the reviewers and your team that you have no intention of achieving them. So even though I used the word lofty, there is something in being efficient with your project through establishing very precise numbers too.

Here is some real world experience on setting numbers: in one of my past careers, I was a staff director for a field canvass operation in Ohio and sent out a team of organizers Monday through Friday to seek support for the advocacy work we did on pocketbook and environmental issues that directly affected Ohioans (things like utility rates and knowing what toxics were stored in your neighborhood). My staff was made up of entry-level organizers trained over a few weeks to knock on doors to share our plan in addressing these issues and to gather signatures, funds and letters from those who agreed with our strategy. One of the first things my field managers were taught to do at the end of each evening was to check the data that the canvasser marked on the back of their clipboard to see how many actual doors were knocked on, how many people they actually talked to, how many signatures they got, how many of those that signed offered funds or a letter (sometimes a letter is harder to collect!) and so on. As a field manager and as a director, I used to pore over those (which indicates that the seeds of my data collection obsession were in place those many years ago) to try to note patterns and efficiency. Well, surprise surprise; success did not always mean more doors were reached. As a matter of fact, the most successful canvassers were extremely efficient and usually talked to many fewer people (50% fewer as a rule) and those they did talk to gave their signature, funds and other assistance at a higher rate. So I realized that higher efficiency in organizing was related to great communication techniques, planning and attitude and so focused my training on those rather than the number of contacts approached.

The other main point to share is that every staff person had to meet a quota (hated that word then and still do) and some nights some or all of them did not meet it. When the canvassers did not meet it, my field managers were trained to ask one question (in varying ways): “At what point did you realize you wouldn’t make it?” We asked that because we knew that it was the point when the canvasser mentally gave up and usually began to talk at people, rather than connecting directly. Or that they had  bias or assumptions against a certain group or type of person and that affected their night.

This little story is to say that with market projects, the same thing is probably true: Efficiency is a good plan for our tiny organizations in order to conserve ours and our vendors energy for the long haul and to be there for another day. And that how well we plan and how we address our assumptions about those we hope to reach has a lot to do with setting numbers and meeting or achieving them.

Okay let’s look at the first two outcomes now:

Outcome 1: Increase consumption and access.

The indicators that are clustered with this outcome are related, meaning that once you have established the  (a) the number of buyers and or producers that gained knowledge, you can then estimate the number (b) of those that then report an intention and then finally, the number (c) that reported actually buying, selling, aggregating etc. The second part  of this outcome is related to those professionals like chefs or incubator-users who, if the project is expecting to reach that audience, then they are also going to be measured for knowledge, intention and actual activity.

I think this one was written out particularly well done as it takes a project step by step through the process of establishing their reach. This should have been relatively easy for most projects, as knowing how many people you plan on reaching is sort of 101 for FMPP or any USDA grant!

USDA’s suggestion was to write them out in a mathematical formula writing a beginning number, then the number you want to hit and then calculating the percentage of increase. It may be helpful to do that in 2 columns and consider both the direct and indirect ways that your project will reach people. Certainly if you are doing trainings or workshops you can estimate your attendance, but how about those who just read about your training or workshop and track down the info that way? How about through the media that your project uses to gain attendees? Is it reasonable to think that others will hear about the market or outlet and begin to attend because of it? And never forget the vendors and including them into any project outcome, even if it is a straight up new shopper project; the vendors also can learn about the marketing and use it in their own sales reach if it is shared properly.  And of course, how about the project partners and their reach?

Once you set the number who will gain knowledge (and I think that your project should plan that just about everyone that gets your materials or attends your workshop will gain knowledge) you then think about who will change their behavior because of it. I wonder if I had a group of market managers and a group of vendors in one room and asked them to gauge that if 1,000 people are reached through materials or training, how many they think will actually intend to use it, and then how many will actually use that knowledge to buy, sell aggregate etc what differences we’d see. Because that estimate can vary, based on the perspective and experience of those setting the number.

My feeling would be that the vendors would assume that more people will intend to come but would think that less will actually buy. I say that because they deal with everyone directly and know painfully well how many pass by their table without eye contact or a deep perusal of what is for sale. So they know firsthand how getting people to actually do something is hard. I’d say that managers would be more likely to think more people will be reached but that less would report an intention to come to a market, but that once they are there, that a higher percentage will purchase. My assumption may be entirely wrong and maybe some day I can test it and readjust it. The most important thing is to test your project assumptions by asking everyone for numbers and adjusting them accordingly to their bias and experience and according to your plan.

I also think percentages without numbers can be difficult to be realistic about, so I often suggest that people start on the wrong end: if the project is for increasing shoppers to a single market, how many more shoppers could that market actually handle per week? 100? 200? 1000? Think about the vendors and your space and your Welcome Booth and visualize adding that number every week. Would it overwhelm the market? Do you have enough parking or access to transportation to make it happen? How many added shoppers per hour would that mean to your anchor vendors? Is that worth it?

Remember that the average shopper in most markets spends between 10-30 dollars so using those numbers above, the market would add another $1000 -$30,000 week in sales. Pretty cool huh? Or if you hope to add another market day: Maybe your Saturday market has 45 vendors on average, you might estimate that since your new market is smaller and has less parking, that you hope 25 or so can use this new outlet. In both cases, your initial outreach has to be wider than the final number, as some will not get to your market or have the ability to add market days even when told of the opportunity.

Outcome 2: To increase sales

Couldn’t be simpler as, in most cases,  FMPP projects are still chiefly attempting to increase sales. It may be true that at some later date, sales increases are not the primary indicator of the success of our work, but with the small reach that alternative food outlets currently have with food shoppers, I agree that this should still be a main goal. Even so, this indicator stymied more people (and I would imagine contributed to some not writing a grant at all) and  since it is a common metric for FMM, I’m going to attempt to reason why it is necessary and how we can capture this.

Measuring an increase of sales for a project that is going to do marketing or outreach for a single sales outlet is pretty standard.  The issue is that you need a baseline number (starting point) and that is the thing many markets do not have yet. So how do you find the baseline?

Everyone knows that the majority of markets ask for standard stall fees which are not based on vendors’ sales percentages and because of that, many  markets have never asked for sales data from their vendors*. What USDA, FMM, Wholesome Wave and others are now saying is that we need to know the impact of our work whether you collect this data for the market’s fee rates or not. So, for those who do already collect it, you are ahead of the curve and probably have a lot to teach the rest of us about how to do it well.

So how do the rest of us do it? Well, the simplest way is to ask vendors directly, either every market day, every month or every season. As you can imagine, the longer you wait to ask this, the more difficult it becomes for the vendor to separate the numbers from your market from the other outlets he/she sells at. However, it also is difficult for multi-tasking vendors to stop at the end of the day to count their money and get that number to you. So what works best? My answer is one that some people hate hearing: whatever works best for your community and your management level is what works best- as long as it gives you accurate data  in increments acceptable to those using it.

I’ll talk your ear off about accurate data whenever discussing market evaluation because it is my experience that markets rely too much on anecdotal information and estimates that probably are better described as guesstimates as they have almost no basis in real numbers. I can hear many of you yelling at me through your computer that you are not evaluators but organizers and cannot be expected to gather data. My answer to that is as soon as you create projects that use the resources of partners and promise your community some change in behavior because of these efforts, you are both. Meaning as soon as you decided to run a market.

However, I am in agreement with many market leaders and vendors that too much data is often asked of markets or vendors that is never used or not shared back with those who offered it. And of course, that collecting the data and the costs associated are almost never added to the cost of any project, and usually partners just assume that overworked market communities will just throw that added work in their long list and get it to them toot sweet.

Yeah, don’t get me started on data collection challenges here.

Additionally, sales data is at the top of the sensitive information asked presently and I often ask managers or market partners to tell me how much is in their bank account right now as an example of how asking for information without context or reason is alarming to say the least. That is, if you even know a precise number! So I say first be the change you want to see by sharing market data with vendors regularly: token sales for debit are going up but SNAP is steady? What do you think that means? And then ask them what they think it means.

Asking for it in anonymous sales slips is the  way FMM suggests it is collected, but I assume that there are other good methods to test. And that it helps all of those methods when the raw data is shared with the vendors and it is used to advocate for their needs. It must be said  that to be able to use it in aggregate means it has to be collected in the same way for the same time period, so we do need to hit upon some common methods sooner rather than later. Here are two more possibilities:

And as many of you know, I worked at Market Umbrella during the development of the SEED tool which asks shoppers to estimate their purchases and then calculates overall sales from those numbers. That tool is available on their site still, but must be used precisely and could use a little updating/ expansion in its calculations. Still, most people who just shopped probably know exactly what they spent and how often they come.

Of course, as some markets grow their token systems, it might be possible to estimate how many of your shoppers use that system and whether it is representative of the type of overall shopper you have and use the data to estimate sales.

The main point is we have to agree that we need some data and it should be as precise as possible without violating privacy or exposing weaknesses in one business over another- after all, this is a competitive place. And that until you have actual data, how you calculated your starting point for these indicators says a lot about your circle of advisors, your experience and your knowledge of the target population.

Whew; enough for now. I’d love to hear how some of you did calculate both of these outcomes and especially sales, both in systems you had baselines and ones that did not. I expect that some of you will disagree with much of my unscientific approach to measurement but hope you know that I welcome your opinions.


Coming soon: Outcomes 3 and 4





  • By the way, back when there were fewer markets, it seemed to me that how markets collected fees had  a lot to do with what sector their founders hailed from and/or if there were any flagship markets already in existence near to them with a standard collection method.  Meaning if the founders were chiefly farmers, they rarely had percentage fees and often had membership fees as well. If they were neighborhood organizers in large urban areas, they seemed more likely to use a percentage system. Small town markets either did not charge any rent or often had only a seasonal fee. I wonder if any of it is true or if it was if it still is.