Odds and ends from the Washington State Farmers Market Association meeting

View from the conference dining room

View from the conference dining room

Just got back from a great farmers market association meeting in Olympia WA with what I hear was around 200 participants but seemed like double that with the ideas and networking flying around. Karen Kinney, WSFMA’s impressive Executive Director could be seen everywhere, adding content to their market bootcamp, introducing sessions, setting up table displays, and making time to chat with anyone who stopped her, like Farmers Market Coalition Executive Director Jen Cheek, or even a random consultant from New Orleans…
2015-02-08 19.27.40Jen and Karen

In many ways, Washington represents the apex of the U.S. market work right now because of the serious attention paid to building the capacity of market organizations themselves and their work on regional and national issues that benefit all markets and their communities. (California has to be exempted from any comparison as it is always is a decade or so ahead of the rest of us.)
I have found that meeting long time and full-time market professionals in Washington is not unusual, nor is finding stable and expansive market organizations across the state that offer their communities tons of resources and spend time to increase the connections between direct marketing producers and shoppers in their region. One of the indicators for the flagship market typology is the ability of the market to look “outward” and assist the larger food system or other market organizations. Flagship markets seem to abound in Washington.

There is no doubt that the WSFMA is considered one of the top (flagship?) associations in the country by most market advocates and partners with Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York thought to be in that same tier too.
In recent years, the level of sharing that Michigan and Washington especially have done on programs such as Washington’s benefit program pilots/card technology research, its data collection and policy work and Michigan’s respected manager certification program really stand out. Pennsylvania’s PASA, although not specifically a market association, should be mentioned for its excellent service for markets in their very large state. I can also tell you that in all of my work with markets in any state, I go back to these folks time and time again for input or to ask them to share their analysis and they always deliver.
Many younger or all-volunteer associations are coming right behind in the level of resources or strategy they are offering in their state to increase market professionalism – some of the ones I am asked about regularly are Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia. Sorry if I left any out, that was just off the top of my head…

The Vancouver Farmers Market gorgeous literature and materials on display

The Vancouver Farmers Market’s gorgeous literature and materials on display


The WSFMA market bootcamp run by WSFMA board member Ann Foster and WSFMA staff member Jennifer Brown,

The WSFMA market half-day bootcamp run by WSFMA board member Ann Foster and WSFMA staff member Jennifer Brown and assorted speakers.

great display of a project to help start-ups test food products. They have a program at OSU to conduct surveys for producers and help them figure out the best products to get the best niche.

great display of a project to help start ups test food products. They have a program at OSU to conduct surveys for producers and help them figure out the products to get the best niche.

I saw a bunch of great resources, a few workshops and had dozens of conversations about some fascinating market projects.

Here are some:

The 2014 CSA Farming Report

List of Washington’s Top 10 most frequently purchased minimally processed F&V

Details on the pilot project for procurement of unprocessed f&v

WA Cottage Food Operations Permit

Loads of information on both MarketLink‘s new and improved services and FMC’s new replacement technology program. Amy Crone of MarketLink and Jen Cheek of FMC presented together and were ably assisted by Suzanne Briggs.

I also learned about the Moscow Idaho market, Gorge Grown’s interesting mobile market, discussed data collection with a trio of rural Oregon markets, and heard a RIVETING presentation by Washington State University Small Farms Coordinator Colleen Donovan. Colleen used her time to lead a spirited discussion with the entire room of farmers and market leaders about her survey data collected in Washington State on farm and market farmer characteristics. Donovan is an advisor to the Farmers Market Metrics work and did a great 2013 workshop for FMC that can be heard and seen on FMC’s YouTube channel. Check out her work; even though it is for Washington, her methods and analysis are vital for any and all markets to see. I left thinking (and saying): every state needs a Colleen Donovan.

So, now I’m back home with some time to experience our holidays here (Mardi Gras is Tuesday February 17 this year, and no, it’s probably not what you imagine it is…) and then to read all of those reports and keep on working inspired by the new connections and knowledge gained in Olympia.

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