A whirlwind of a week in Atlanta with Wholesome Wave and its “surfers”: markets, market advocates and food system organizers. Held at the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta GA, just down the road a block or two from the CDC offices. WW did a great job with the week: well-organized, great food and drink (thumbs up for the smoothies available each day) and plenty of space for networking and meetings. Atlanta was lovely and the rare off-site food and drink I had was excellent, but I gotta say that the traffic is as unholy of a mess as I have experienced in any US city. Talk about needing a quality of life intervention!
Highlights for the Summit for me included:
The WW Georgia market shopper who turned to good food to beat her cancer; she was charming in telling a very personal story on a panel and brave to share her still-emotional reaction to using SNAP, even while sharing her appreciation for the program.
Organizing for State Nutrition Incentive Policies : all of the presenters had unique input on their state’s strategy: Ecology Center (CA), Experimental Station (IL), Maryland Farmers Market Association and New Mexico Farming Market Association. This group: Martin, Connie, Amy and Denise have a lot to contribute to any discussion of how to move the dial at the state level. Check out their varied work on their respective websites and if you have a chance to buttonhole any of them at a conference, tell them I told you to do it. And the short answer is to have a creative and flexible strategy that includes how to pay for it and a constant champion in your statehouse.
Clinic-Community Initiatives-Pathways to Sustainability: what I got out of this session was one of those unintended consequences: the analysis that MANNA has done of their program as a handout was one that responded to a question that our new FMC Research and Education Director Alex Canepa had just been asking earlier that day: can we get data that actually indicates positive health changes from medical nutrition therapy strategies that offset traditional medical costs? See the Examining Health Care Costs Among MANNA Clients and a Comparison Group report…
The Role of Technology in Supporting Nutrition Incentives: For those of us gamely working on technology solutions for markets that support the range of no-tech, low-tech to high-tech markets out there, this was an in-depth and honest conversation. I sincerely appreciated Darcy Freedman from Case Western Reserve University talking about how the tool is half of the puzzle; the TA is the other half.
Measuring the Impact of Vouchers at Farmers Markets: I think the title threw some people off this one as well as the description. This covered the evaluation being done by University of Delaware/CRESP and led by Allison Karpyn on the incentives and vouchers funded by WW. Her powerpoint is available to those who request it (check with them or with WW) and I’d recommend that you get a copy. Allison shared some of the early data and was game to listen to input from the attendees about what they thought about it so far.
Measuring Markets Economic, Ecological, Human and Social Capital: Of course I chose this one. FMC Project Director Sara Padilla led the show, but Jen Cheek also popped up to add some updates on how FMC is embedding this into FMSSG reporting and she managed the lively Q&A as I roamed the room and made some notes for later conversations based on those questions. We had hoped to role play some of the training materials/exercises that will be embedded within FMM in this hour, but the room, the late hour and the lack of actual market leaders attending meant a quick change to describing it only and instead spent time sharing our thoughts on the components of grassroots evaluation, which seemed to be a good choice. As I shared later with the rest of the FMC team, I think grassroots evaluation work is evolving slowly but surely and our work in this area seems to be helpful to markets and to their partners.
The FMC team also spent some time with the WW evaluation team (shout out to Katie and Elizabeth for finding the time between their many conference duties), continuing to find ways to streamline and support both portals without duplication. I can tell you we are all committed to that goal….
Lastly, I left feeling that I just saw and heard and met a whole bunch of people who are doing some excellent network level work in their states. It felt like it has only at a few moments in the last 10 years: that there is some sensible support for contextual strategies for increasing access at markets, and some help to use that support to change policies for markets and their direct marketing producers. But, also an awareness that there is danger in markets or networks in diving in the too-deep water before they are ready, before they have a plan for what this extra work is meant to do for their markets and how it will absorb it. Because what we know is to attempt that before examining the culture of the market or the willingness of the market leadership to invest years in this type of intervention is foolhardy*. I’d also point out how that the lack of production-side advocates in attendance to talk about how these strategies were changing regional food production (for the good and for the bad) jarred me slightly and I’ll hope for better participation at future summits.
(*…. for all of those uncertainties here is the process to change them: market communities becoming true partners in the design of their projects, taking the time to work with their community in this process long before the funding starts, leading or sharing in the data collection process as well as in the analysis of that project and beyond that, being brave about seeking and sharing evidence of all of the market’s impacts. And if that is where your community is at, I can tell you that there are some people ready and willing to do just that, many of whom I just saw in Atlanta.)