For those of you who look for the TL;DR: A well-organized peach festival was held with no mention in their materials about the weekly farmers market held in same town. Is this indicative of the relationship between annual events and weekly farmers markets?
As a past Louisiana market manager, Ruston is a farming community I was already familiar with even before I began to work with them on two current projects. (Let me say that I haven’t spoken to the market folks at all about this post or asked for their opinion on the festival; this is my observation alone.)
I know that Ruston-area peaches are synonymous with the highest quality Louisiana peaches. Imagine my surprise that while there last season, I saw few peaches on the vendors’ tables. I asked market board members about the lack and their response was that is quite difficult to find direct marketing farmers with local fruit willing to sell at market, as most of it goes to larger distribution centers. So when I saw news this week of the Louisiana Peach Festival being held on a market day in the very same town, I expected the festival organizers would highlight the local farmers market, and do their level best to encourage residents attending the festival to visit.
That would seem to be incorrect.
Here is the list of events for the Peach Festival:
Contestants vie for Miss Dixie Gem Peach and Princess Peach
Beta Sigma Phi Arts & Crafts Show
Peach Art Exhibit
Baby Photo Contest
Quilt & Fiber Art Show and Sale
$1000 Prize Cobbler Gobbler Eating Contest
“A Peach of My Heart” Parade
BMX & Skateboard Show
Lincoln Parish Park Kids’ Fishing Tournament
Games & Rides
Kids’ Activity Tent
Now some of those events may indirectly include market vendors or even the market area but no direct connection is listed. On the festival’s Facebook page, there is no mention of the market, even of the added peach events listed on the market’s FB page (along with a link to the festival site):
We are having FREE giveaways every hour this Saturday!! Peaches from Thompson’s Farm, more peaches and homemade peach pie from @annayakspies, peach BBQ sauce from @murphysb.b.q , and of course delicious peach goodies from @rosemarys.kitchen // 8-12 Ruston Farmers Market
This is not that surprising to me, based on experience. My markets were affected by events that we often learned about at the last minute. At times, these events completely surrounded the market, severely limiting the sales for the day. I have also seen this happen at the “country” market that I also frequent which is surrounded by a highly regarded art festival a few times per year and yet is not promoted in the materials.
You might surmise that I am anti-special event and pro-market in all cases, but it is important to note that I also managed events through the market organization, including off-site seafood events (White Boot Brigades) and a holiday market that had some festival qualities held cheek-to-jowl to the Saturday farmers market called “Festivus, the Holiday Market for the Rest of Us.” Festivus began as a way to bolster sagging sales at the farmers market during December and its development was encouraged by the market vendors. However, the market vendors realized after the first year that the Festivus attendees were not also shopping at the market ( how often do you shop for holiday gifts and dairy at the same place and same time?) and by the second year, it was evident to the organization that Festivus could not be held in the adjoining street without severely hampering the market. The third year was 3 months after the 2005 Katrina/levee disaster and since the Saturday market was not yet running, we held Festivus to great success in the market lot.
The final two years of its run, we moved it to Sunday which was a disappointment for the Festivus vendors even though we had great attendance, partly because it was held on “Saints Sundays” in the football-frenzy years directly before the Saints Super Bowl win, and because the vendors were not directly part of the farmers market community which for many was one reason they wanted to vend at Festivus.
I remember one Festivus vendor angrily asking me why we had decided to move Festivus to Sundays. I shared how the farmers market community had been the ones who built this empty parking lot into a vibrant town square year round and their input had to matter (along with the data we collected about sales and shopper type) and all of the input suggested that Festivus did not help the farmers market. The vendor heard me out and replied, “So what? It helps us.” I had no rejoinder to that.
So maybe my story is an example of how festivals and markets cannot work together, but I like to think that if the levee disaster had not happened, I would have continued to figure out Festivus’ sweet spot and turned it into a long term event. (Instead, we stopped it after 5 wildly fun and successful years to focus on post-disaster food production issues.)
What we learned from that was that it was vital that the different characteristics of festivals, fairs and markets (which all are valid and valiant types of activities) are understood by leaders and their attendees. That all of them serve important purposes but not always at the same time or in the same way. That leads to the questions that I continue to raise with markets and other leaders:
Can festivals and markets be held on the same day, in the same area to the success of both?
What is the best way to share the different goals of each with attendees?
How can organizers be sure that their vendors get the results that they need?
Can annual and of weekly events planners measure impact together?
I’d sure like to know.