This is a reprint of a blog that I wrote for the Farmers Market Metrics page on Farmers Market Coalition’s site. There is a growing need for food and civic systems evaluation that is designed and implemented in partnership with the grassroots organization and uses contextual and disciplined metrics that are useful to that organization and to their partners. The new pilots and research happening at FMC and their partners, such as University of Wisconsin-Madison, are hoping to address that need.
Farmers Market Impact Metrics Released for First Season of Testing
Research project addresses the need for consistent measurement of farmers market impacts nationwide.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the national nonprofit, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) released metrics this week that will allow markets and their partners to gather data on vendor and customer activities. The data will assist market organizers in constructing targeted marketing and advocacy plans and will offer farmers and other producers specific information on building their business goals.
The project is funded by the USDA’s Agriculture, Food, and Research Initiative (AFRI) and will allow nine markets across the U.S. to test data collection and reporting techniques in 2015 and 2016. The project team gathered known metrics used over the last decade in farmers markets and food system research and prioritized those that could be easily gathered by the market community itself. The metrics were grouped into one or more of four types of benefit they provide:
economic (i.e. sales or job creation), ecological (land stewardship), social (new relationships) and human (skills gained or knowledge transferred).
The research project’s principal investigator Alfonso Morales, Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison said, “We believe that it is vital that grassroots markets have the tools and embedded skills to gather data on behavior for their own needs, not only on shopper activity but also on the small businesses that depend on these markets for their family’s income.”
From the list of 90 metrics identified, the team focused its initial efforts into refining 38 of those metrics for immediate use by the nine pilot markets chosen for the project. Participating markets selected those metrics that are most useful to their current work and will begin to gather data in late spring 2015. The data will be analyzed by the project team and final reports shared with the markets later in the year. The team will conduct another round of data collection at the same pilot
markets in 2016.
The first round of metrics sent to the markets focus on collecting vendor data through questions embedded into vendor applications or through direct surveys or observation at market of vendors. Later rounds of metrics will allow visitor data to be collected using the same methods, while future metrics are likely to focus on the “placemaking” skills of the market and the internal workings of the organization running the market.
Vendor metrics for this project include acres in production for markets, distance traveled from production to market, sales data, and the number of women-owned businesses. Jen Cheek, Executive Director of Farmers Market Coalition affirmed, “Many markets are not sure what to collect and when; others already collect some of this data but are unsure of how to use it once collected. These measurement projects that FMC is taking on with the University of Wisconsin will offer shared language and common-sense guidelines for reporting, while allowing markets and
their vendors the freedom to define what success means to their market and community.”
Find the vendor metrics here and a template letter for vendors here and a glossary of terms and vendor tree here.
The Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farmers markets for the benefit of farmers, consumers, and communities. For more information about the Farmers Market Coalition, including Farmers Market Metrics please visit their website at http://www.farmersmarketcoalition.org.
Below, find the announcement of the 3-year project to develop Farmers Market Metrics; get used to hearing us talk about all of this work, and feel free to email me or FMC Project Manager Sara Padilla with questions and comments.
The first part of this project was announced a few months ago:
Show some support to Farmers Market Coalition and this necessary project:
America’s 8,000 farmers markets are bringing huge health benefits to their communities, often with little cost, structure, or support. Collecting accurate data on these grassroots organizations is imperative if we’re to maximize their impacts.
“Now that is the wisdom of a man, in every instance of his labour, to hitch his wagon to a star, and see his chore done by the gods themselves. That is the way we are strong, by borrowing the might of the elements. The forces of steam, gravity, galvanism, light, magnets, wind, fire, serve us day by day and cost us nothing”
Emerson wrote those words in his American Civilization anti-slavery essay in 1856 for The Atlantic exhorting his fellow citizens to see how they could link their own beliefs to the forces around them, thereby maximizing their own impact and also reducing their own load. By often stressing the idea that one is not free until all are free (“where the position of the white woman is injuriously affected by the outlawry of the black woman”, “Let every man say then to himself—the cause of the Indian, it is mine; the cause of the slave, it is mine.”) he was illuminating how we can travel together through “the vehicle of ideas, “borrowing their “omnipotence.”
This has been on my mind a great deal lately. Partly because the exhaustion and stress in market managers’ voices are even more palpable this year than previous ones, and also because big issues are lighting up the sky all around our markets. On the first, know that I (and many others) worry about you and your vendors, and hope you find ways to de-stress after market day, and still find momentary joy in the work. My organization, Farmers Market Coalition is working daily to find ways to add support for operators and to amplify your work. Please do root around on the site and join us for our webinars and check out our new emerging Communities of Practice.
This post is attempting to respond to the second, meaning those big issues we are seeing around us. But keep that first in mind: people are pulling for you, do see you, do know the tension and self-doubt that come along with that market map and bell…
If you have read this blog, you know that I believe the best way to make the market operator position work over the long term is (a) by making the “invisible” work more visible to the market’s stakeholders and (b) by reducing as many of the operational silos that exist and that keep the one or two-person market operation in a constant state of crisis and burnout. I think the one thing we cannot do – assuming this pandemic has a complete endpoint – is to count on “fully normal” returning. It is what so many of us who managed markets through a disaster learned at some point: that some of the changes that seem temporary are in fact permanent, that more change is still coming and not all of it will be welcome.
“Work rather for those interests which the divinities honor and promote,—justice, love, freedom, knowledge, utility.” – Emerson
In terms of the activities happening in North America in the last few years on our public streets and squares, market operators can happily accomplish so much more by following Emerson’s advice. Because by adding those outcomes to the market’s long term goals, we can hitch up with other fellow organizers and even lean on their skills and energy and leadership.
Black Lives Matter. Climate Change. Immigration Reform are some of the issues that can be easily brought into market work. And even though those issues can inflame some of your community members who have yet to consider how they can be an agent of positive change on them, those issues also inspire countless others. When markets embrace these ideas as their goals, it tells your community that this market is interested in the overall quality of life for its entire community, and plans to be around for a while, striving to do more and do it better. There is no better way to increase your stakeholders than by sending that type of message.
That has been the promise around the mechanism of markets from 1970 on: to be an engine for system change for our producers, for our visitors, and for our neighbors. The histories of the earliest back-to-land markets make it clear it was never about adding back the old-style public markets. Those had often stopped being useful for their local farmers long before, and the limitation of the daily sales metrics as the only measure meant those outlets were easily replaced by newer forms of the same type of extractive capitalism that championed the middleman and centralized distribution even more successfully than public markets in order to “reduce inefficiencies”. (Don’t get me started on “efficiency” as a b.s. measurement for food. Its come up lately and so this link is one I use often to urge my peers to read about one idea on how to move away from it. )
In contrast, the lofty goals of the more recent farmers market movement indicate that big outcomes are our promise, presented via different structures and values. If we agree that is so, then justice and equity for all have surely always been part of it. It just needs a wider set of stakeholders and the right set of specific system goals to make it happen.
We have moved the dial for some short-term outcomes, such as altering the narrative around local, building the lexicon around sustainable farming, encouraging sophisticated placemaking strategies, and even slightly increasing food access through our work. We are allowed to be proud of what we have done so far, especially if we also acknowledge that we have not yet met our systemic goals. That’s okay- no one expected us to do it all in one generation, or two, or even three.
I am reminded of the story an organizer told me about a small Asian country that had committed to becoming completely free of violence – but wait for it – in 1000 years. That deadline frees the activist from their ego, and also reminds them that each step to that goal is worthy. Or you can use the oft-repeated Chinese proverb: the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best? today.
Same idea: we do not have to DO EVERYTHING today; we just need to start.
When we become better allies by naming and challenging the racism built into every part of the dominant industrial food system, it is easier to explain why we feel the need to offer an alternative that rests on new power structures and why it will take a lot of concerted strategies and iterations to create this new version. Organizers today can start with piloting equitable market and land access, introducing educational materials that work for a diverse set of leaders, (made by a diverse set of leaders, centering those BIPOC voices still unheard in most food system work) about the potential in expanding civic engagement via direct relationships, and maybe also find some time to measure success, ie. wealth in new ways. And by listening.
Recently a colleague suggested to me that reparations could begin with some market organizers using their application system to allow in new BIPOC – led farms without fees, (or through offering in-kind marketing support, or through free or reduced costs for training as many NGOs like NOFA-VT are offering BIPOC farmers.) I was stunned at the elegance of that one idea, of how contextual and agile it is. It shows how a small group can engage with a huge issue and still get positive impacts that matter today.
Another example is that markets can easily begin to shift the power dynamic that exists in the market rules around land ownership to more strongly encourage cooperative farming.
In both cases not only does the market become better allies to the BIPOC movement that has embraced innovative farming practices and alternative collaborative ownership models, but they add vendors who have new skills, experience and resiliency.
Climate change is pretty easy to see as an issue for markets, but yet few embrace it at the system level (Got give a shout out to aptly-named Post-Oil Solutions in Brattleboro VT which manages the winter market). We are right ON IT when the fires come and farmers are forced to move their livestock hundreds of miles overnight, or entire bee colonies are burned out, or markets need to set up closer to the need to get the new disaster SNAP dollars flowing, but where are we when our cities and regions are negotiating climate agreements? What about energy policy? And clearly, this is one arena where young activists have taken center stage, so it might be time to invite that local teenaged climate change activist into the advisory group.
And immigration reform is a shockingly absent topic in the food sector, even though newly arrived residents are overwhelmingly the people who hold the dominant system together. And let’s be clear: our alternative food system often utilizes that same farmworker structure, sometimes with very little transparency or equity in terms of profit-sharing or benefits. Markets are the outlet that every resident arriving from other places recognizes and yet few have found their way into them as vendors, much less as shoppers or as organizers. We have to challenge ourselves to understand why that is so and linking to the work being done on this issue is a good first step. And by listening.
In any case, I expect a bunch of you are shouting at me from your nook, “yeah those are great ideas, but HOW CAN I DO THAT AND ALSO GET THE DOZEN YARD SIGNS UP AND CALL ALL OF MY VENDORS AND COUNT TOKENS…”
Well the answer is you can’t.
Another story: a pal was telling me once about her partner who had no desire for children but, being from a large Italian family, seemed to miss the large group dynamic when they sat to make family decisions. My pal said to me humorously, “I feel like I need to get her a baseball team to come and sit in our household chats. She needs the give and take that I just cannot offer on my own!”
That is also what a market manager needs: a team. And I don’t want to hear how hard it is to manage that team either: if you want to manage a market well, get better at handing work off. It’s a non-negotiable of a successful market. Adding informal advisory groups so that your circle of leaders is wider and more inclusive is one way to do just that. As a market leader, I devised a handout postcard that invited people to join us at the next 2 monthly meetings for whatever project I was thinking that person in front of me could be helpful on. I had them in my market bag to scribble the name of the project and the time and date of the meeting on to hand over, and also had a few with stamps affixed to address and send out. Those informal advisory groups met as needed, offered unvarnished advice as they saw fit, and were not tied to any long term commitment. I was also under no formal mandate to take all of the advice I was given, but I got a lot of help that I did take. And for those of you in small places without a lot of people around, the modern world of connectivity being more available allows this to be done through online platforms.
In other words, not only will the work that you do be more fun and less taxing if you find the right star to hitch to, but it will reduce the sidelining of markets and alternative food systems as precious or as elitist. During COVID-19, the difficulty in getting markets deemed as essential or allowing all types of market vendors to vend in many states (even though other outlets were not held to the same constraints) shows how directly markets would be aided by having these system-level support systems.
I’ll leave you with Emerson’s conclusion that speaks directly to the excellent work each of your communities is engaged in:
“…when I see how much each virtuous and gifted person, whom all men consider, lives affectionately with scores of excellent people who are not known far from home, and perhaps with great reason reckons these people his superiors in virtue and in the symmetry and force of their qualities,—I see what cubic values America has, and in these a better certificate of civilization than great cities or enormous wealth.”
This Food X Design podcast from @IDEO explains why the food system is inequitable by design, why language matters, and how agency is key to creating new food systems that work for BIPOC. #FoodByDesign was created by @scodraro and @sandiddy.
Today my local farmers markets reopened as strictly drive-thru. No question that it was a great success in terms of the order levels (reported by vendors as I motored through) and the appreciation from shoppers. In addition, the staff looked MUCH more relaxed than they did with their once-only, timed entry, open-air market pilot that happened in mid March.
Our Baton Rouge-based Red Stick Farmers Markets are doing drive-thru markets as well, but slightly differently, as it is not entirely pre-order. Keep an eye on the BREADA website to see what Copper Alvarez and her team come up with next.
For some background:
The Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans LA is normally held in parking lots around the city 6-7 times per week year round (one or two locations have been seasonal, and one recently closed for good, but they are almost always running 6 markets or more per week.) This entity’s parent organization, Market Umbrella, has long been known for their innovative work to increase access and provide support to regional farmers and small businesses.
The CCFM vendors are almost all only direct-to-consumer businesses with a smidgen of side-door restaurant sales, although most of the chefs around town simply come to the market and buy what they need. From my experience as Deputy Director 2001-2011 this is because most of the vendors are not able to do delivery or even invoice sales because they are so small, so understaffed, or so far away. After all, this is a commodity-driven region that has mostly resisted building support for DTC farmers. And yes, the Deep South does seem to be even worse than most areas across the US. So even in good times, its pretty rough for these farmers and businesses to find resources or support to pivot or to do multiple types of channels.
The market organization decided that walk up markets would not work for them for the duration of this emergency, for many reasons I am sure. I believe that each organization gets to decide exactly how they will handle this moment. Of course, this aligns with my long-held market TA response about which rules a new market should adopt: I answer (probably maddeningly) “use those rules that are understandable to your team, to your vendors, and to your shoppers and stakeholders. After all, you need to defend them and explain why you have them.” So the same thing goes for this moment too. And all of that market context around rules has to co-exist within the rules (if they exist) set by your local municipality, county, and/or state. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, for markets our usual go-to agency is agriculture, which in this case has been mostly unable to do much to help us, as this is not a food-borne virus. Instead, it’s been public health or disease control making the decisions, agencies which often have less awareness or fewer partnerships with open-air farmers markets and so less understanding of our protocols.
So that’s number one. Do what is best for your organization and your vendors. Just be transparent with your shoppers and stakeholders exactly WHAT that decision is and HOW it was made.
Next, how to order: First, it’s important to share that this very sophisticated, well-advised, well-staffed organization attempted an preorder app a few years back and it was not a success, so they shelved it. After they closed their walk-in market a few weeks back, they instead began by partnering on a box program with a 3rd party entity where the local items are pre-selected and can be paid for with SNAP or other cards. It costs 40.00 and is also available for delivery. I have only seen a few pics and it looked a little light to me, but that just may be how the pictures have been taken. I think many regular and new market shoppers are perfectly fine with this box, but it seems that many others were not and that many of their vendors were unwilling or unable to sell this way. I am one of those unwilling to do a preorder box and instead I reached out to those vendors I usually purchase from and made arrangements with them whenever possible. I also took advantage of some of these other non-market choices below:
- A couple of market vendors began working with local chefs to sell a box directly from only one farm at their restaurant:
- Another version has been coffeehouses et al adding local produce to their long list of items they will pack up as a preorder. My local heroes here are Good Karma Cafe because they offer coffee, tea, their tinctures, their prepared items, and are selling the produce without asking any fees from those farmers. They need the local goods themselves for their prepared items, and they feel they benefit by adding customers who want a little local produce. And they truly believe in the quality of locally grown items. There are others around town doing something similar from what I am hearing.
- The local news featured a farm which usually sells only to restaurants selling boxes to walk ups outside one of those shuttered places. Not sure yet how that is working but it seems to be doing well.
- We had a few (and I mean a few, maybe 1 or 2) farm aggregators selling to consumers already running successfully with farmers Kate and Grant Estrade from Laughing Buddha Nursery as the model that everyone else should learn from. (LBN is their longstanding retail nursery shop and their farm is called Local Cooling Farms.) They tell me that demand is way up, and even though a few of their usual farmers are using one of the other above methods and don’t need to sell through LBN as of now, that allowed them to pick up new farmers. And instead of doing their usual 6-7 drop offs at their hub partner sites around town each week, they are selling only at their nursery which has refrigeration and allows them to set up contactless pick up. (This couple should be doing monthly webinars for DTC farmers and maybe, sooner or later, they will have enough time to do just that. I’m a big fan as you can tell.)
Okay, so how well did the drive-thru market work?
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned the level of vendor sales channel diversity because it matters. I understand via a quick convo with market staff through face masks that getting this small group of vendors ready for this was a HUGE undertaking, which is no surprise to me. The vendors that agreed to participate were listed on the organization’s website with the items they would have, the cost for each, and the way to order from each individually (phone or text or email) and the manner to pay (Paypal, Venmo, manual card entry over phone, etc.)
I say small group because the number of vendors at this market were far fewer than their usual open-air market. I understand that some told the market “I can’t sell enough to do pre-orders, so no thanks.” (And again, every vendor ALSO has the right to decide what works for their business without scorn, but I do believe when they hear how well this went for those this week, more will want to try it. I can tell you that this reticence may be partly based on their experience with a half-dozen 3rd party aggregator projects around town over the last decade which all started up to great acclaim and then all shuttered, often still owing them money.)
Other vendors told the market casually that they would take try it and take orders over the phone not knowing how many people would call in the first few hours! I think part of this rush to order was that news of this drive-thru came to most through the local media- and only a few days before the actual market. So that type of publicity made it much bigger than it might have been without. (I might suggest that small less-staffed or experienced markets try week one through just reaching out to their email list at first if possible. Maybe ask local writers to hold the story until after week 1 is in the books-that is if the market is confident enough in their list.)
As a result of the great publicity, and the deep attachment to this market with its 25 years of service, vendor voicemail mailboxes were immediately full. And when vendors called folks back, I’m not sure that each figured out they needed to do it in order of earliest calls to the latest, so it may be that some of those who called earliest lost out. (I think that happened to me with one vendor. And no biggie. I’l get them next week).
Some vendors did texting which seemed to work pretty well but to work it needed to be confirmed and sent to payment immediately. I tried two that were listed as text orders and only one called back. The one who did, did it exactly right- texted me the total, told me their Venmo account and I paid immediately.
Clearly, this requires that there is one person handling orders for each vendor for the open window period. And that is easier said than done. (I’ll do another post on vendors soon with some feedback I received. Let me just say that the few I had time to answer me were very positive on this as a short-term solution during this pandemic but clearly exhausted from the added work. One vendor told me on camera he came close to his usual Saturday market in terms of the number of sales. He had 92 preorders, and he estimated that he usually gets 120 or so transactions over 4 hours at the Saturday market but thinks he didn’t meet or exceed his usual Saturday only because “his system wasn’t ready for this.” And he promised he will get better at it. I’d also suggest that the anecdotal data from markets across the US seems to indicate that the average sale is higher than the normal market in present circumstances. Likely because people buy more, and we are also hearing that meat vendors are doing tremendously well.)
In terms of where to hold this market and when, the organization had some (I assume informal) help from City Hall. Most of their current locations were not going to work as a drive through; sadly, one of their best locations has had too many cases of Covid-19 at the assisted living place that is situated on the same property to hold this there. City Hall employee and engineer Jennifer Ruley, who has been working on safe street programs for almost 20 years stepped up; she personifies what I wrote last month about finding partners for this moment. She and the Market Umbrella E.D. Kate Parker were well acquainted from neighborhood work that both have been doing for decades. The team chose the parking lot of the most popular and community-minded po-boy* shop in town, which has been closed for the duration and is right next to the new multi-use greenway that MU wanted to use but was not available because of other uses. Jen met with market staff and Parkway owners on Saturday to think through traffic design. See their map below.
Lafitte Street is under construction as part of the Greenway, and has houses on only one side. It has 6-7 side streets that dead end into this street and two major avenues on either end.
All in all, I’d say that it worked beautifully – up to a point. The early problem that I saw was that a few folks came down the side streets and poked in the line which, honestly, most of those already in line let go and didn’t get all screamy on them; after all, why? their order was already made. And really, most shoppers politely went to the end of the line without urging.
The other traffic issue that can be easily corrected next time was that the police should have closed the street off to all other traffic. Folks were turning on to the street unaware of the market, meaning to simply drive somewhere and often got caught up in the crawl. Additionally, the street should have been made only one way towards the market for these hours, and all shoppers directed to the far end avenue (Broad) to turn on to Lafitte. Again, all easily fixed for next time.
Yet this location seems like it is going to top out around 16-18 vendors and so the question becomes does CCFM add another location while keeping this one for the duration for that number of vendors, or just go find one big spot for all of their drive thru markets and vendors? Seems like some of the vendors feel like 2 locations a week may max their ability to take orders and to take those, but they may feel differently as time goes on. If they add a second location what would the criteria be? My guess is easy access from main streets and from many parts of town, large parking lot with a fence or barricade around it to maintain safety and keep pedestrians out, in or near zip codes where there is density of drivers/shoppers, a well known location, vendor restroom access, and a partner/host to help.
Once in line, one CCFM staffer came down, said a cheerful hello and explained how it would work, and asked shoppers to get their trunks open before entering. Another staffer wrote the shoppers name on a piece of paper that was then stuck on the outside of the window so vendors could see the names and get their orders up.
The shopper drove in, made the circle with vendors checking your name and putting your orders in the truck. The last would close it.
I understand they figured out how to do some SNAP sales, but as I didn’t bother them any longer than I had to so I’ll have to get more info later. One way this may work is for those shoppers to have their pre-orders total written out, separated by vendor and swipe their card for the total as they arrive and attach the paid receipt on the window for each vendor to see it was paid. Or have them place the orders as everyone else does, and the vendors to pack those and hand them to the market org before the bell rings to process on the machine in another line.
a few issues:
Took longer than the 4 hours it was scheduled. There were timespans with long lines and then timespans with very short ones, so staggering the arrival next time may help.
There were too many vendors without PPE at all, no gloves or masks. All CCFM staff were equipped and had their market t-shirt on to make clear who they were, led by their E.D. who again, was out there at the entrance checking on everything. I am SURE that CCFM strongly suggested that vendors equip themselves but clearly too many had not paid much attention or could not find any. One idea that I will float via my own social media is for fervent CCFM shoppers to purchase cloth masks made by locals for their favorite vendors, and maybe get them a pair or cleaning gloves to wear if nothing else. Since no money is changing hands, there is little need for dexterity. I am sure that many of your shoppers would be happy to help get masks made and could possibly get gloves and sanitizer for your vendors too. (Update: within 15 minutes of me posting it, local people are getting masks made for these vendors! Update #2: NOLa folks made almost 200 masks for farmers which I have given to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Covington farmers markets.)
Big purchasers versus small. Some cars were stopping at every vendor and some only were picking up one or two items. (It may work to stagger those by the number of vendor pickups one has, so that those with fewer transactions come later. Still to do that would require a LOT more work for the organization and it simply may not matter when vendors get better at this.)
How to check orders. Vendors were madly looking through page after page of orders, which didn’t seem to be in alphabetical order. (It might be helpful for the market organization to offer a simple spreadsheet that they can use for their orders and/or then print them out for everyone in order.It might also help for the organization to also have shoppers – when they arrive – list the market location number of each vendors who they had an order with, so if vendor #4 isn’t marked, vendor #4 doesn’t need to look through their list.)
Impact on the neighborhood. This needs to part of the measurement for any market: the positive and the negative impact on that area. Too often, markets only measure economic impact- which should always be measured – but also should also view the effect of noise, cars, trash, and other impacts on that area. These neighbors, without warning, had a line of cars belching exhaust into their houses for a few hours at a time when the weather is so beautiful that every window is probably open. It may help to stagger shoppers by time, to add another market day in another area, or to simply ask folks to turn their car off and let the police move clusters of cars at a time. I’ll find out more about how many cars came through but it sounded like the line was down to only a block long after an hour or so.
Costs. The design did require more staff than a regular market day and clearly a lot more planning was required. It did require police which I would assume will have to be reimbursed. And the fees per vendor are assessed at a flat rate in this organization; as the numbers of vendors were lower than they would normally be during this extremely busy market season**, they will have less income there. I will say that the partnership with Parkway Bakery’s free lot was inspired because they also came and helped, AND gave each car a free bag with a roast beef po-boy, local chips and water. And they have a very well-tended lot.
All in all, I hope these vendors and this staff sleep well tonight, knowing they have pulled off an extremely delicate and complicated market day. And that we deeply thank them.
I’ll let a shopper give the last word with what he told me after he picked up his items:
“It is a blessing, no matter how long it takes.”
**We’re in the middle of berry, lettuce, and just beginning tomato season and the weather is great in March and April here, usually low humidity and little rain which is holding true this year.
With the end of year passage of the Farm Bill (coming as a welcome surprise after watching the summer-long legislative shenanigans in the House), the organizing for direct marketing for 2019 is now slightly altered -as soon as the government opens up again that is! The inclusion of LAMP in the farm bill offers markets some stability for grant funding over the next 5 years and also means a better-to-great chance of FMLFPP funding being included in future farm bills. Two other changes may be significant for farmers markets: the requirement of a 25% match for FMPP proposals (it had only been required for LFPP proposals previously), and the language to “support partnerships to plan or develop regional food systems” which is funded at 5 million per year. The FMPP match requirement seems to indicate that the grants will be prioritized for those who build deep partnerships into their proposals, and seems to be born out by the added 5 million for partnership work. Getting this funding could put market organizations in leadership roles in regional policy work, especially in terms of vendor needs (more in a minute on this), disaster response planning, and climate change initiatives with municipalities- that is if the grant language (when written by AMS) directs this funding to individual markets. If it turns out that the funding is really directed more to your state and network associations, I would expect them to use it to build capacity for their markets, especially in the area of increased data collection capabilities and dynamic data-driven analysis. That would align with my 2017 mantras for markets:
Don’t Hide the Hard Work
Function like a Network Whenever Possible
Two other areas that I expect to be active among markets in the coming year and beyond is in verification of local claims and in product development initiatives. The first has been climbing the ladder of priorities since the explosion of meal kit box programs, grocery store fragmentation, and the use of “local” in marketing language by every kind of player in intermediate channels (i.e. specialty stores, restaurants.) Farmers Market Coalition has even begun to discuss this regularly in house and included this topic in the farmers market track of 2018’s inaugural Direct Marketing Ag Summit. It was ably covered in a presentation by Washington State Farmers Market Association’s Colleen Donovan whose work on market integrity is well known, and by Boulder County Farmers Market CEO Brian Coppom who is fast becoming a great national spokesperson for farmers markets on the subject. FMC also added to the conversation around brand integrity in 2018 by taking over the management of the Buy Fresh Buy Local brand.
There is much to do on local verification and protection of the brand, but my sense is the best way for markets and other local food authorities like BFBL leaders to own it is (1) going through a process to find out the community definition of local/regional that works best there, and (2) transparent verification systems that explain/illustrate geographic proximity and proper stewardship of land and water. Once those are accomplished, state legislative language protecting it may be helpful.
The product development work is a little less visible, but is happening among some innovators. I’ve had recent conversations about this work with Grow NYC and a few others and expect to hear more, especially with the increased use of Metrics by markets to collect data. That data collection has been a game changer for market organizations as the necessity of collecting data from their vendors has sometimes turned out to be a point of contention. That tension is usually because those markets have never systematically collected market day data or used longitudinal data as the basis for market day decisions, relying entirely on management levels or outside funding priorities to decide when to add vendors or market days or even when doing event planning!
In the past few years of pilots with markets, the Metrics team (which includes me of course!) has advocated that the best way to make the need for collection understandable to ones vendors is to openly and simply share market level data which can then be compared privately with their own business and product- level data, allowing for more complete business intelligence for those entrepreneurs. Building this type of partnership with vendors also levels the field, as data becomes the lingua franca of market day decision-making rather than those decisions being (or seeming to be) made willy-nilly or behind closed doors without vendors input. The more market leaders think about, research, and support development and marketing of biodiverse items at their markets, the more they will understand their vendors businesses and consumer preferences and will be able to build partnerships and find funding to add products that data shows will do well at that market. All of that will quell much of the pushback on data collection-over time.
Throughout this post, the one word I have used again and again is the one that I hope sticks with markets: partnerships. These need to be more foundational (meaning include those partners in how the market itself is managed not just about the shared program), more dynamic (check in regularly to see if they are working and why), and be more diverse (hopefully self-explanatory). These partnerships, if designed well, will absolutely reduce the wear and tear on market staff and minimize turnover and burnout.
If every market reading this post set a goal to add two more (*non-traditional) partners to their program development planning, and started to consider their vendors as partners, I think 2019 would be a banner year in farmers market development.
*non-traditional: meaning partnerships beyond those who have shared outcomes in terms of direct marketing agriculture or increasing use of federal benefit programs for healthy food (although the latter were non-traditional partners not so long ago). This could include immigration services agencies who could help with vendor and shopper development, agencies working on public transportation amenities who could help with adding walking, biking, bus-riding people to markets, social justice organizations working on civic engagement, real-estate professionals who are in contact with new residents and could direct them to their local market, and so on.
For the past year and a half, I have been attempting to wrangle the last seven years of FMC’s technical assistance around market evaluation (and the last 18 for me) into some sort of timeline and “lessons learned” to present to researchers and partners interested in farmers markets and data.
The process of writing a peer-reviewed paper was new to me and my fellow authors and the entire FMC team soldiered on with me as best they could, cheering me on and adding much needed perspective and edits at different points of the process. After a year and a half of drafting and reviewing, we released the article linked below through the skill of the JAFSCD team, but also because of the support of the USDA/AMS team. I think it should be said as often as possible that the AMS team is firmly dedicated to assisting farmers markets with whatever trends that arise, and in developing programs at USDA that reflect the current conditions of markets in order to increase their ability to support family farmers and harvesters. The evaluation work is just one example of how they have watched developments and offered support where they thought applicable.
The reason for FMC to put effort into this type of academic article is to make sure that researchers see the opportunity to have market operators be part of the process around what data is collected via markets and market vendors, and how it is used. It certainly doesn’t mean that we think that all of the work to collect and clean the data should be shouldered by the markets only or that using the data is their work alone. I hope that is clear in this paper. But we DO think that market work is increasingly focused around managers and vendors making data-driven decisions, and so the way the market team spends its time and how well it analyzes and shares data also has to evolve. That isn’t our choice; that is the result of the world taking a larger interest in regional food and farming, as well as the constant pressure from the retail food sector. Many in that latter group want to cash in on the trust and authenticity we value without holding the same accountability to producers that we have. We have to fight that, and doing it with data is the best way.
Finally, we think there is still much to know about the barriers to embedding data systems for grassroots markets; this paper only covers what we have learned since 2011 and up to the beginning of 2018. Much more is constantly being learned and will be reflected in the TA we offer markets and their partners.
Please email me with comments and questions about the paper and its findings.
FMC press release: December 18, 2018 – Collecting data at farmers markets is not a new endeavor. But until recently, the data was largely collected and used by researchers, often to understand the role farmers markets play in the broader food system. Over the last seven years, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) – a national nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farmers markets – has partnered with research institutions and market organizations to better understand how market organizations have begun to collect and use data.
While until recently it was rare for market organizations to participate in the collection of their own market-level data, more and more markets have reached out to FMC over the last decade for data collection technical assistance. In 2011, the organization began to identify common characteristics and impacts of market programs, and realized more research into evaluation resources and tools that could be used easily by understaffed market operators was needed.
In a new article published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (JAFSCD), FMC outlines the industry need behind creating the Farmers Market Metrics (Metrics) program, and a timeline of the steps and partnerships that led to the creation of the tool, as well as best practices uncovered during its development.
Key recommendations include:
Create assigned roles for the market’s data collection team, and choose training materials that set expectations for seasonal staff, volunteers, and interns to maximize time and efficiency.
Prioritize staff support to allow market leaders more time to oversee data collection.
Gain vendors’ trust in the program for sharing and storing sensitive data.
Patience and support from funders and network leaders for each market’s level of capacity and comfort with data collection.
More assistance from funders and network leaders in helping markets select metrics to collect, as well as advancing data collection training for market staff.
The use of tools such as the USDA’s Local Foods Economic Toolkit, coupled with consistent support from academic partners, will encourage market leaders to delve more deeply into economic data and to feel more confident sharing results.
“FMC’s efforts to craft a suitable set of resources and a data management system for high-functioning but low-capacity market organizations has helped many stakeholders understand and share the many positive impacts their partner markets are making,” said FMC Senior Advisor and article author Darlene Wolnik. “But our analysis concludes that there is still foundational work to be done by those stakeholders to aid these organizations in collecting and using data.”
Wolnik continued, “The good news is that market-level data collection yields important information that markets can use to improve operations, share with researchers, communicate impacts to stakeholders, advocate for and promote vendors, and more.”
Pics from my visit today to the North Union Farmers Market held at the main campus of Cleveland Clinic. The market staff person told me it is wrapping up its 11th year; how time flies from my first visit the year it opened.
This market is a classic example of the “campus” type so named in the typology of markets that I have written about previously, and once we start to see some data from Metrics and state level data collection efforts, can begin to flesh out these types.
Some time ago, I wrote up a case study on those markets that had used FMSSG funding for focus group research to better understand the perceptions of at-risk and low-income shoppers; while researching that, I saw that this market had used their FMSSG funding to do a Frittata Project with Clinic lap band/bariatric surgery patients to adapt that simple recipe using different market veggies. I thought it was a great educational activity approach for a hospital campus market to incentivize behavior change. Very situational and intentional which is what I like about the North Union family of markets; each has its own focus and personality.
Many years ago, a researcher named William (Holly) Whyte started studying the flow of people in public spaces, leading to classic books on the subject, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980) and City: Rediscovering the Center (1988) one of my perennial favorites. His Street Life Project attracted research assistants including Fred Kent who went on to found Projects for Public Spaces (PPS), which does great work all over the world on public space community design and has an experienced staff working with great success with shed market or market district markets.
Another early follower of Whyte’s work was Paco Underhill. In 1974 he attended what he calls a transformative lecture on Whyte at Columbia University. Inspired, Underhill conducted a street-mall study that he later showed to Fred Kent and Robert Cook, who were in the process of forming PPS. Underhill became one of their first staff members and then in 1979, founded his own consulting company, Envirosell which works with retail clients.
Why should markets learn about retail anthropology?
Shopper purchasing is changing, especially for place-based and especially for food purchases. Knowing your shoppers and what they want and how they search for it is at the core of market’s primary mission of building economic power for its vendors and community.
More markets are searching for permanent or semi-permanent locations for their flagship markets and need to know how to choose the best from a retail standpoint and how to design it too.
The pressures from chain stores eagerly co-opting the “local” and short-chain language of our movement means markets need to know how to analyze what is happening around them and how to respond.
Lastly, as market vendors diversify into more outlets to sell their items, they will need market leaders who can assist them in selecting those outlets and even in negotiating or “curating” those other transactions as they do with the family table shopper at our markets now.
Studying the work of these two companies is the easiest way into the retail anthropology sector as it is so closely aligned with Whyte’s “human-centered” framework.
From an interview with Underhill:
How do you conduct your research?
We generally use a combination of three tools. The first is observation. We have a group of approximately 60 people who spend their weekends in stores, watching how people shop. They function like anthropological researchers. We use the same techniques that sociologists might use at the marketplace in Papua, New Guinea, only we’re using it at the local Pick ‘n Pay. Our job is to look at, for example, the number of people who walk past a store in a shopping mall—the number of people who look, how long they look, whether they stop, and whether they enter. We then take a customer as they’re walking in the door and, very discreetly, observe them go through their shopping process.
Do you videotape them?
Yes. The second tool is that we will often install a series of small video cameras. We shoot anywhere from 50 to 70 hours of some of the most profoundly boring tape you’ve ever seen. But what we look at is the following: If someone pulls an item off the shelf, how do they physically handle it? What pieces of the package are being read? Do they put it back in the right place? The third tool we use is some form of interview. We ask a bit of demographic information—“How often do you shop?”—but we’re not collecting phone numbers. Our focus is on tribal issues. I’m not interested in what Mrs. Smith does. I’m focused on what Mrs. Smith does in contrast to what Mrs. Gomez does.
Observation and interview. Sounds a lot like how research is conducted at markets doesn’t it?
Here is a great example of how markets can use the second tool, video. The Athens Farmers Market in Athens Ohio affixed an iPhone to a pole overlooking the market on one fine Saturday morning:
Notice all of the data one can get from this one short video. Set up issues, weather, shopper density, egress issues (entering and exiting), the illustration of the 100% effect*, shopper activity at anchor vendor tables, the length of time in the market, and market break down among others.
This is also helpful for those markets searching for a new location. If you can find a pole to tape an old iPod or iPhone far up and video the hours that the market would be set up there, think of what you might learn about the best way to design the space or even which direction to orient the market.
This is the kind of sensible and appropriate data collection that we include and we keep adding to in Farmers Market Metrics, now available to all farmers markets members of Farmer Market Coalition for a small subscription fee to use all of its many features.
So don’t think that every data collection process has to include a team of collectors and a bunch of paper. By using the technology you have in your hand, detailed and visual data is available for your leadership to make better decisions about the market right now. And methods designed by the experts in studying human movement in retail and public spaces available to you.
* Holly Whyte term took this real-estate term used for the busiest street corner to describe how people move to the busiest area of the walkway when having an impromptu meet up chat or when deciding where to walk: “We were testing hypotheses on-camera, most of which blew up in my face. One of my hypotheses was when people meet on the street and say, “Hi, how are you doing?” “Long time no see,” and that sort of thing, they would move into that foot of space along a building front. Quite the opposite. With very good exceptions they move into the center of traffic, what I call the 100% location. It’s crowded, but it’s also the place of maximum choice. They don’t get off in a corner somewhere; they don’t let themselves get trapped.”
“Up to seven people per foot of walkway a minute is a nice bustle” (Holly Whyte)
Next post: Common layout choices for markets.
Myth 1: Markets (and by relationship all of community food) is only concerned with cozying up to the converted.
Myth 2: Markets encourage high prices for their items.
Myth 3: Markets are all the same.
But the largest myth about the farmers market movement spread by its detractors is that it is just about selling trendy food. Yet if selling food when trending had been the only aim, availability would artificially be kept limited, possibly even sold only by special invitation only or through bidding.
Instead, the farmers market movement has remained devoted to multi-faceted goals of building community involvement through remaining casually inviting, locally relevant, expanding the offerings and those accessing them each and every decade. The history of our movement makes that clear. And debunks all of those myths.
(•The history of the eras I am referring to has been written up by me many times before, and so not to annoy my long-time readers, I have put it to the bottom of this post.)
In the most recent era unfolding now, networks and cities interest in their markets has grown and deepened. Leaders are more comfortable with engaging with their farmers markets in terms of collecting and using data around wealth creation and creative output. Cities such as Pittsburgh PA, Austin TX, Minneapolis MN and Hernando MS, among others, are leading the way in partnering with their markets as both a platform for establishing grassroots metrics and for expanding awareness of the ecological perils of relying only on imports.
The last 45+ years show the intentionality and versatility of the market field and skewers the myths of any single origin. It also shows the effort to reach beyond food to include other assets and assorted civic leaders interested in building a new town square. And that market leaders are firm in the choice that design of the market should remain nimble by keeping most open-air or with easily-managed and low-cost infrastructure. That last point often frustrates city leaders or funders. That begets another myth, one where the market is not a serious mechanism for economic activity because of many markets’ use of secondary space, temporary structures and a refusal to go into storefront mode. The truth we need to share is that for grassroots initiatives expending time and money on infrastructure can solve some problems, but can also create others. So it is up to markets to find ways to show their serious intention to stick around without always resorting to brick and mortar. And when they do, to plan carefully and to allow for changes and other users of the same space.
Of course, there are other myths that need to be addressed in food system work. Scaling up, uniformity, efficiency are some others.
I’ll leave it to our dean of place, Wendell Berry, to take on some of those through a passage from his recent essay, “The Thoughts of Limits in a Prodigal Age” where he talks about capacity, scale, and form in agrarianism. He says: “It is a formidable paradox that in order to achieve the sort of limitless we have begun to call ‘sustainability’… strict limits must be observed. Enduring structures of household and family life, or the life of a community or the life of a country, cannot be formed except within limits. We must not outdistance local knowledge and affection, or the capacities of local persons to pay attention to the details only by which we can do good to one another. Within limits, we can think of rightness of scale. When the scale is right, we can imagine completeness of form.”
That triptych of capacity, scale and form has appeared on this blog before and will again because it so perfectly describes both the problem and the solution. It also encapsulates why the dominant paradigm cannot “see” us or work in tandem with us. It also beautifully describes the localness of organizing that markets know well. Those limits are exactly how our market founders staked a necessary place in their community and now can manage the outcomes of their projects or mission with respect to that place. So remember: Don’t hide the hard work your organization has done that is embedded in the decisions of location, products, procedures, and the goals of your market. It’ll help bust some of those myths.
(history of market eras)
- 1970s-1980s: Back-to-land farmers and ecological advocates begin markets. Their organizing principle is “Grow it to sell it” -a provocative statement at the time by the way- asking for a steady commitment up front from both the growers and the buyers to act honorably and collectively. These markets opened in places (interestingly, in a lot of university towns ) such as Madison WI, Carrboro NC, Athens OH, Berkeley CA, Montpelier VT.
- 1990s: Community leaders, aware of those first growers-only markets, begin to open markets as holders of civic space adding a “learn together”/social cohesion motif to the grow it to sell it mandate. Places including San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Portland, Cleveland, District of Columbia were the recipient of this round of founders. Interestingly, many of these leaders also became the founders of larger networks, including Farmers Market Coalition.
1990s-2000s: Main Street markets in smaller towns and in rural communities add markets to their revival initiatives in towns like Ocean Springs MS, Natchitoches LA, and Durham NC. These markets encouraged value-added items and new non-farm vendors, focusing on incubating new businesses and supporting nearby Main Street initiatives.
2000s: As technology advanced to allow at-risk populations to access markets with their EBT card, public health strategies became useful and the field of practioners and agencies in that field began to partner with and sponsor new markets to expand good food by getting markets in new places and adding public health incentives. One network that must be commended is Kaiser-Permanente’s markets on their own hospital campuses and markets such as Crossroads Farmers Market in Takoma Park MD.
2000s: Deeply embedded, longtime organizers add food initiatives to their portfolio of activities, utilizing the community assets of residents and responding to their requests for markets. Markets in and around central Brooklyn NY like Brooklyn Rescue Mission, East New York Farm and the ReFresh and Sankofa Markets in New Orleans learn from earlier markets using the market mechanism to offer residents the opportunity to be both the buyers and the vendors.
Data is crucial for any well functioning market. Producers, investors and consumers need to understand market trends and dynamics in order to make sound business decisions. This is as true for farmers and ranchers as it is for Wall Street executives. However, despite being an over $12 billion a year industry, the local and regional food sector has been hampered by a lack of useful data and metrics.
The near total absence of data on local and regional food economies has likely limited, or at least slowed the sectors’ potential growth. In fact, farmers and entrepreneurs routinely encounter challenges when applying for loans and accessing credit or risk management tools because they are unable to provide the necessary data about their sector’s markets and prices and the growth of their types of businesses.
Fortunately, things are finally poised to change. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is launching a first-of-its-kind Local Food Marketing Practices Survey that will collect benchmark data on the production, marketing and sales of local food and farm products. In order to provide farmers with the data they need to launch and grow successful businesses, however, NASS first needs farmer input.
NASS has mailed the survey to a random sample of 44,300 producers across the country who are engaged in local production and marketing. The survey will ask producers questions on the value of local food sales conducted through specific marketing channels, such as farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA), institutions (schools, hospitals or restaurants) and food hubs. Additional questions on the value of crop and livestock sales, farm expenses, and federal farm program participation will provide key benchmark figures to inform federal funding for local food programs. Data collected from the sample will be used to generate benchmark figures for the entire population of farmers engaged in local and regional food systems.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) strongly encourages all farmers who receive the survey to fill it out. Survey recipients have until May 2, 2016 to return the completed form by mail, or to complete the survey online.
After May 2, NASS may follow up directly with survey recipients in order to ensure thorough data collection. All responses to the survey will be kept confidential.
Results from the survey will be released in December 2016.
We also encourage sustainable food and farming organizations to share this story and opportunity with their farmer members and help get the word out. NSAC has long supported the creation of tools that would provide much-needed economic data to local farmers and producers, and we know that data is best when it is informed by as many farmer voices as possible.
The Local Food Survey, created as part of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, will provide valuable information and insight into the impact that USDA programs have had in bolstering the burgeoning local and regional food sector. The survey will also provide much-needed data to state and local agencies that promote local food markets, as well as non-governmental farmer/agricultural organizations that are working to build marketing strategies around the growing interest in local food production.