To echo what my colleagues at FMC said in their original post accompanying the survey results, I recommend that you click through the answers below to our website and read the comments from the respondents. Do remember that the answers may not be drawn from a truly representative group of vendors and are a very small sample, but still, it is likely that each market has vendors that would agree with the majority of the statements.
Most of their comments have to do with the writing and enforcement of rules, the request for governance to be stable and for market managers having skills related to retail management, such as advertising know-how, location management expertise and product awareness. In all cases, these skills are possible for market staff to acquire, but won’t necessarily come from experience. In other words, it is time that professional development becomes a benefit/requirement of market management.
In order for markets to thrive in a competitive world full of external pressures and internal tensions, it is my contention that market managers (and boards!) who ask in other professionals to assist the market, who reach out to their peers regularly and who work constantly to balance between the vendors, the visitors/shoppers and the larger food/civic community’s needs are more likely to succeed. Professional development may mean attending a conference, taking a class on marketing, or researching product reach. However it is done, it should be built into the market managers year, even if it is only an hour or two a month.
I fully expect to get replies from managers telling me that they already work hours and hours without pay, have a list of to-dos longer than their product list or have a board that doesn’t care about their development. My reply is I know that all of these issues truly exist in real time for managers; I was one of those hard-working managers at one time and finding time to increase my skills was very difficult, but I did it. I did it partly by spending the time to find more volunteers, training them to do important work and at times, even writing my own job review in order to indicate where I needed help. I also built systems so that I didn’t have to explain how to do something each time or have to spend time recreating each time what needed to be done (designing a system for setting up the Welcome Booth that included lists of what and where items went out is an example of that as was a map of where to do outreach when flyers or postcards were ready to go). I wanted to stay in the field and so I looked for ways to become better at what I did and to become a professional market leader.
In turn, boards have to add benefits or a living wage so that they can retain trained market managers. As many experts have noted, what employees truly want is some autonomy, flexibility and appreciation.They want to feel that they are part of a purposeful place and that innovation is allowed, even encouraged and rewarded. Where better to build all of that in then a market?
I’ll also say that many advocates for markets (like FMC and AFT) also understand that the capacity of markets must be increased and that means that the job of market manager has to become a respected and long-term job. Check out this webinar about a wonderful survey of market vendors done by Colleen Donovan of Washington State University, Small Farms Program that gave excellent input on how to use the data to increase market expertise. It is also a big reason why FMC is investing in the Farmers Market Metrics project, so that good data about markets impacts can be shared and will encourage more investment.
What we know is that the number of volunteers and part-time staff must increase to assist managers and that the best way for a board to help management is to write and enforce clear and fair rules and to raise and manage money. We want markets to keep growing and to do that, management has to understand every nuance of their market and of the larger system to make their market resilient.
“To better understand the evolving needs of farmers markets and the farmers who sell at them, American Farmland Trust and the Farmers Market Coalition teamed up with C2It Marketing to complete a national survey of farmers who sell at farmers markets. Read the FMC posts here.
Over 550 farmers who sell at farmers markets nationwide responded to the survey, providing valuable feedback and ideas that should help farmers markets improve their operations. Despite the large number of responses, keep in mind these responses may not be representative of vendors from your local farmers market.
FMC recommends that markets review the issues farmers highlight in this survey, and then ask their own vendors about what would make the market more successful. Please also note that the views expressed by the survey responses do not necessarily reflect the views of FMC.
What Respondents Requested from Markets
When asked, “What could be done to help you and your farmers market be more successful?”, many farmers noted several areas where markets and supporting organizations could make improvements. The following answers provide a snapshot of the prevailing issues. Click on the links to view details on each suggestion:
- Improving and funding advertising and signage of the market and its vendors (highlighted in 21.3% of responses)
- Revisiting aspects of market management (e.g. market hours, vendor mix, fees, staff and board conflicts of interests) (9.9%)
- Creating and enforcing rules that prioritize or only allow local, farm-based products produced by the vendor. (6.1%)
- Changing market location and/or improving market facilities (i.e. parking, restrooms, water access) (2.6%)
- Consolidating farmers markets to reduce competition and increase customer traffic at each market. (1.6%)
- Increasing market acceptance of WIC and EBT benefits. (1.2%)
- Enforcing rules about the use of terms like “Certified Organic”, “organic” and “natural” in marketing, such as on signs. (.9%)