This is one of the programs offered at Crescent City Farmers Market that I am proud to have helped create. When I came to work for CCFM in 2001, the founder and executive director asked me about how to operationalize an incentive to families. I remembered the birthday club we had when I managed a Pittsburgh toy store. This was a family-owned set of two stores that worked hard to build longtime shoppers and through their program offered parents the chance to receive a coupon for that child through registering their children with (only) their birthday month.
So every month, we sent out hundreds of handwritten postcards to those birthday month children wishing them a happy birthday and letting them know that with their postcard, they would receive 5.00 off a purchase over the next year. Seeing those yellow postcards in their hands as they ran in the store was exciting, and it was interesting to note how long they would spend in making their decision on what to buy negotiating with their parents. Some parents saved the coupons and bought a family toy for all of the siblings to share and impressively, I even remember some philanthropic kids using their coupons to purchase Toys for Tots items.
When I shared this with CCFM, Richard saw the potential for the market and so we created a similar system with a paper sign up sheet filled out by parents while at market, which was then used to send out postcards (with a printed label) to the kids during their birthday month. As usual, the design team of Richard and Brian McCormick of Popefish ended with a beautiful design (see above). The postcard had instructions to bring it to the Welcome Booth and receive a 5.00 token to spend on any item at the market. One of the first decisions the recipient had to make was whether to take it in five 1.00 tokens or one 5.00 token; it was fascinating to watch the internal decision making on that. Then, to watch the many trips around the market to see what to spend it on. Finally, when they understood that they didn’t have to spend it all that day, if they did or not. Overall, it is a lovely way to interact with families at the market and a moment of financial literacy for the kids involved. And of course parents told us what parents at the toy store had said: that just getting mail addressed to them was a special moment for the kids.
What makes this a particularly interesting idea is that it is an example of a incentive campaign, but one that is not tied to only benefit program shoppers, but instead offered to all kids. The Power of Produce (POP) program, introduced by Oregon City Farmers Market and replicated by Farmers Market Coalition, builds and expands on the same idea, in many versions by incentivizing the human capital (knowledge gained, skills transferred) among the participants by awarding card punches for their activities, attendance or support. In that way, it becomes much more than a purchasing incentive, but rather, a civic engagement strategy. I remember well seeing some of the POP kids at Oregon City FM interacting with farmers as peers, bringing in items they had grown and confidently leading their siblings and parents about the market.
This birthday club program is still in operation at CCFM. The photos of the card are of a recent Saturday when a family came with their card to spend and i noticed the card at the booth. It remains one of my favorite programs and one that I am excited to see other versions wherever I go. I hope many markets will use the excellent templates offered to FMC members through FMC’s POP program.
(Update: FMC members happened to receive this email today: “In January, we moved our website to a new host and some of our resources were temporarily unavailable, including the Power of Produce (POP) Club Toolkit. If you were looking for the toolkit, it is back on a password protected page. To access it, you just need to complete your membership by filling out a quick survey. Once the form is submitted, you are automatically sent an email with the password. We are still improving upon the POP materials, so your ideas and feedback are always welcome.”)