Since 2002 or so, my public market focus has really been two-fold: designing grassroots markets and creating replicable ways to measure and share their success. Both are necessary in order for markets to remain at the fulcrum of viable and equitable food systems. And THAT means that the desire for programs and funding to create long-term stability and build professional skills must be integral to the field (which includes markets partners), which is far from the case as of yet.
One way we will get there is by capturing data that explains shared success measures while still illustrating innovative and unique approaches in each place. I am honored to be the eyes and ears for Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) and its partners on their Farmers Market Metrics work which we hope will serve those ends. I am in the middle of a summer of travel to sites to observe actual data collection at markets using the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s data collection protocols in the Indicators for Impacts AFRI-funded project shared with FMC and whenever possible, to stop at other markets to view their data collection too.
One of the big bugaboos seems to be in doing direct data collection with visitors or vendors; on a side note, it occurs to me as I write this how rarely I see Dot Surveys (or as we redefined them, Bean Polls!) any longer. Seemed to me that markets did them constantly in years past, but they may have began to decline for the same reasons I made the Bean Poll; vagaries of weather, managing blow-y pieces of paper and light-as-air easels outside, keeping track of previous hours responses etc. Let me stop for a minute to be clear: Bean Polls can only be used in very specific instances as described in the link above. Don’t think I mean that they can be used to collect sensitive data or replace intercept surveys-they cannot. But they can introduce the community to regular data collection and offer a mood of the day response about possible trends. I wonder if the lack of Dot Survey I see is an indicator of something retreating in data collection at market level, or if I just show up at the wrong time…
And counting visitors- I don’t think I’ve ever suggested to a market that they should count their visitors regularly without them telling me it was near to or outright impossible. Okay, that maybe an overstatement, but I have heard that exact phrase quite often! I respect the low-capacity efficiency of markets, but I do think every market can do good Counting Days and I continue to dream up new ways that counting can be done without a slew of volunteers or paid staff. If anyone is up for trying them out, contact me at dar wolnik at gmail; but do know, it’ll require some planning…
In any case, what I see out there already are some very good systems for data collection that will probably work for small and large markets and everyone in between. As soon as those systems are tested and able to be replicated you’ll hear about it.
The Farmers Market Coalition website hosts the resources and updates for all the Farmers Market Metrics work, so do check in there for more information.
And if you missed it, here is an account to my first market visit: Hernando Mississippi.
Next: Ruston LA, Williamsburg VA and Takoma Park MD (Crossroads)
Please click on the first photo to view the gallery. My apologies to my Facebook followers who have seen most if not all of these pictures.