Checking out different ways that markets collect and use data is one of my chief duties in developing evaluation tools over the past 20 years. And since part-time at FMC, I have also contracted directly with some markets and networks, mostly on data collection strategies, which also informs my FMC duties.
One of those delightful synergies can be illustrated through my long time relationship with Northeast Organic Farming Association- Vermont (NOFA-VT). For the last few years, I have worked on an FMPP-funded project under the supervision of NOFA-VT’s Direct Marketing Coordinator, Erin Buckwalter. This project will aid in building a culture of data collection at Vermont’s farmers markets and has included resource development, evaluation strategies for all market types, and direct technical assistance and training. Because of this, I added a second annual trip besides my usual winter conference attendance. And luckily for me, it was scheduled for the mid-summer rather than the usual winter trip, which, although very lovely, is somewhat limiting for this Southerner and has meant few market visits.
Erin suggested that we create a team of market managers, agency leaders, and market volunteers to gather data for markets in August. The goals were multiple:
1. model good data collection habits
2. network markets interested in data collection
3. test out some methods for different types of markets
4. look for opportunities for needed resource development on evaluation
5. see more markets and make a direct connection with market leaders
6. collect some data!
She sent out an email to a few markets to nominate themselves. Obviously we needed to be able to do them in a short span of days, the successful applicants needed to have a use for the data, and they would have to have some capacity to assist the team.
They were wonderful choices because they were so very different, and because they have enthusiastic leadership that are very interested in the data and learning more about collecting it.
Champlain Islands Farmers Market – South Hero
is one of those organizations that operate markets 2 days a week in 2 different locations. As such, it means the two are actually quite different in terms of vendors, products, programs, and visitors.
The Wednesday market is held behind a church and its location was partly chosen to take advantage of the visitors who are on that part of the island before they turn to the ferry. It has around 16 vendors, offering a wide variety of what is needed by seasonal visitors who will be cooking in their vacation kitchens and what permanent residents need for their table. Because the site is offered by a third party, sharing data on the positive impacts of this location is always helpful, as is analyzing the functionality of the site. Cindy Walcott, Market Chair/Treasurer and Julia Small (market manager) were gracious hosts, giving a lot of assistance to our team.
Dave Kaczynski , Montpelier FM board member, VTFMA board member
Sherry Maher, Brattleboro Winter mkt leader, and NOFA-VT’s lead for in-state data collection strategies on this project
Janice Baldwin also from the Brattleboro Winter Market
Alissa Matthews, VT Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM)
Anisa Balagam, the new market manager of the Winooski Farmers Market.
This market organization has collected data previously and has devised an almost fool-proof way to count their visitors. Since the parking is routed from the main road via a narrow drive to a graveled area, they can position someone at the beginning of the drive, counting every car and the number of adults inside. Additionally, it also allows the market to collect the license plate state which is extremely important as Cindy says that the attendance for this weekday market usually about 50% Vermonters.
Using their counting sheet, two of us went to the vantage point to gather the count. Cindy has also downloaded a counting app on her smart phone, having set it up previously to capture the same detailed data, but we decided to go paper.
The rest of us would gather surveys from the visitors, and since we had a good crew size, could team folks up and also allow them to take breaks to shop and eat.
They had a tent and tables for our use, and we decided to put it in the location where we could best capture folks on their way out. Deciding if the team will survey folks coming in or out is one of the decisions the collection supervisor needs to make before or on the day of – with input from the team.
Whether you do it on the way in or out has a lot to do with the shopping behavior
-are people frantic about missing items that quickly sell out? they will be less interested in doing the survey on the way in.
-are people loaded down with bags and have a long way to go to their parking? they may be less interested in offering data on the way out, although having tables and a tent to put their items down does help!
-and if you are asking intent on learning about their purchases that day, it may be better to wait until the end of the shopping trip. – However, if you have a small market with a lot of regular weekly shoppers, it may be okay to do it as they come in as the amount spent may not vary as much week to week for those shoppers.
We began the day with a group logistical meeting: introductions, and discussing who would be where and how to get breaks when needed. Depending on the group, a quick round of role plays with the survey sheet may also helpful. Cindy gave us the likely attendance number (which decides how many surveys to collect), and the type of shoppers this market usually experiences. My responsibility as the Data Collection Coordinator was simple for this market (and was a very different job for our Saturday market visit at Capital City – more on that in Part 2) but even when it is simple, the Coordinator should be constantly rotating, collecting completed sheets to make sure things look right, re-assigning folks when necessary, and generally seeing what else can be done (and if possible, doing data collection too.)
The crew was eager and because it was a group of market leaders was great at problem-solving, very willing to engage with shoppers, and able to gracefully steer “I don’t know” answers to a specific amount or answer.
The market had originally had us next to the Land Trust info booth, but after a short discussion, the team decided that moving our tent to a spot closer to where we estimated the path to leaving the market would be was better for us. Dave also suggested that we move the picnic table into our tent for folks to sit or to place their bags, and since the day began rainy, Julia thought it fine to do just that.
The survey collection went great as everyone was very willing to stop and answer questions. I find that the majority of people (90-95%) are always very open to this, especially if the opening line is something like “Can you spare a minute to help the market?” It has almost always been true on the farmers market data collection teams that I have worked that surveyors constantly exceed the collection goals set for them because they find it easier and more fun than they originally expected. Sometimes it is harder to get them to slow down, which can be necessary to make sure that a comparable number of surveys are collected in each hour.Making it fun for the surveyor and not taxing to the respondent are other reasons that the survey should be well designed and as short as possible!
I must say for this experience of having every person we asked say yes AND people making a beeline for us to take the survey before we approached them was delightful, and is a credit to the excellent pre-market communication that the market had with this community and also makes it clear that the community understands that this is a data-driven market.
Well done Champlain Island Farmers Markets!
More later on the data that was collected, once it has been cleaned and organized by the market organization and NOFA-VT. We did exceed our goal for the number of surveys that the team and the market agreed it wanted to collect. For most markets, collecting 10-15% of the usual attendees will be a good number, but there are ways to calculate that further.