EBT and markets: One size does not fit all

A new post from Cathy Curmudgeonly about the Los Angeles opinion scolding markets that don’t offer EBT yet: THIS is the kind of editorial I have long worried about on EBT and markets. It is a piece that ignores many facts and offers a one-sized-fits-all “solution” that is neither. And tells that to a sector that innovated this acceptance of EBT almost on their own, found private partners to fund the existing pilots while all the while absorbing the added time to figure out the first round of this stuff with great enthusiasm. To now be told that we haven’t done enough is almost too much to hear and to remain polite while responding, but I’ll do my best…(And yes, I get that this is one of those backhanded compliments to those markets that are pioneers, applauding their leadership. Backhanded indeed..)
Let me say that I also look forward to the day that all markets can accept every type of currency and offer programs that encourage more healthy food consumption produced by one’s neighbors. I not only encourage it, I actively work towards that day, but the present is far from that moment. I know that because I have worked with hundreds of markets over the last 10 years on this stuff and have learned from seeing their pilots and hearing the feedback received.

The idea that the costs are negligible is mostly incorrect and not really the only issue: First, many markets operate on less than a shoestring for many reasons and have been able to do so because of the simple management structure they adopted to bring producers and eaters together and to use whatever money they raise through stall fees etc towards marketing and offering amenities.
Others have found a way to also keep it pretty simple but to offer some regular pay to a person who is usually working on less hours than they would get at their local Starbucks and maybe even less of an hourly wage, but still passionate about what they do and happily living with roommates and using a bike or public transportation so they can continue to work at a market.
Others (a very small number) have sustained funding and a professional full-time staff. It is the last group that introduced the wireless machines and tokens to the market world back in 2003/2004. That system works fairly well for that type of market, but almost all other market types are still struggling to cover the costs not covered by their state program (and there are costs not covered, no matter how generous it is), or struggling to create a professional reimbursement system that doesn’t endanger their vendors cash flow or add to their own liability as an organization. Really important to mention again that the costs go far beyond the machine and wireless fees. Far beyond those.

 

To address that point made that an EBT dollar is the same as a regular dollar, it may be best explained as it has been to me by many vendors who actually like the added system:
when the system means waiting weeks for a check and then time to away from the farm to go cash it, the EBT dollar is not the same as the cash dollar. When the eligible goods for each program differ and require that the vendor stop and explain the rules to that new shopper rather than handling 2-3 shoppers at once with bags and a quick answer, the EBT dollar is not the same as the cash dollar in their estimation. Let me repeat- most vendors at markets welcome the chance to get their goods to more people and willingly go along with markets to test these pilots. Still, these are individual businesses with their own reasons for existing and their own unique levels of competency (cultural and professional) for integrating these programs into their business model. The important thing to state here is these are pilots still and require added time and practice to make sure these systems work for everyone.

Now on to that costs are not the only issue to adding machines at the market: The need for agencies and health systems to understand the very sophisticated approach to encouraging fresh fruits and vegetables among at-risk populations that include benefit program users is a much bigger deal than has been addressed by any government policy as of yet. First, “food as medicine” is not as accepted as we’d all like to think. And even when there is an innovative policy written it doesn’t mean it is used correctly by agency staff or works for all. Time after time I have witnessed markets that added the machine, funded the incentives, hired temporary staff for outreach, readied their vendors and the numbers did not come. Some have done some investigation of what happened and concluded that the agencies responsible for assisting with the program either did not understand the market and so poorly translated the program to their client base, or the information about the program did not work its way to those on the front lines working with the clients. Or, their state leaders have a approach to food that borders on zealotry in supporting commodity products while dismissing “specialty crops projects,” therefore leaving many barriers to growth to remain. And yes, some (many) markets have logistical or other issues within that need to be addressed, but do not have the staff time nor the embedded skills to do so.

This doesn’t even raise some of the other external barriers that markets face like connectivity issues for internet, constant changes in the available technology, parking woes, lack of public transportation, effects of climate change on their seasonal products, production economies of scale, hours and location issues, byzantine rules at every level of government, industrial food co-opting our message without adopting our values, a very different pricing system that offers the best deals on those incredible items at the very height of season with value-added items often at the middle to higher end of the spectrum, which is the opposite of most other food retail… Those issues surely hamper shoppers of every socio-economic strata, but they severely impact the addition of those at the bottom rung of our capitalist system. Those at the bottom rung of the economic ladder are also hampered by those issues reserved mostly for them: working more and often the hours no one else wants, no access to private vehicles or child care, poor health, all of which lead to civic disconnect; in fact, almost every part of their lives discourages their participation in farmers markets and other healthy activities. Yet even with those barriers and perception issues, we have added millions of those shoppers in the last 10 + years and we soldier on, to happily lead the march to good food for all, focused on the day when all markets are connected to every system and can manage them successfully. So don’t lambast us for making sure we do it right and instead, spend that effort now used for tsk-tsking our sector on addressing the other systemic issues still in play. We’d appreciate the help.

 

An example of one such type

All you ever wanted to know about card processing courtesy of Reddit

cut and pasted from Reddit* post, 2015:

Qualification – I work in the credit card processing industry, for a company that helps other businesses secure the most competitive processing. The industry can be very opaque, and even some people who work for a specific processor aren’t given the full details, but rather enough to make a sale to a business.)

In credit and debit card transactions, there are multiple parties involved and getting paid:

  • Issuing banks (provide credit cards to customers; set interchange rates; collect interchange as their profit)
  • Card associations (MasterCard, Visa, etc; set assessments; collect assessments as their profit)
  • Processors (the company that handles the details of a transaction; sets pricing terms for markup; collects that as their profit)
  • Acquiring banks (settles the transaction; is paid by the processor)

In some cases, processors are also their own acquiring bank. And also in some cases, companies positioning themselves as ‘processors’ are really just resellers of another processors’ services. (See why this gets confusing??)

Interchange, Assessments, and Markup

There are three main components of card processing costs: interchange, assessments, and markup.

Interchange and assessments are the same for everyone and every pricing type, period. It’s just a matter of whether you see it or it’s hidden from you. These are the non-negotiable rates and fees that are charged for card processing.

Interchange is paid to issuing banks (the banks that give customers credit cards) and is generally the biggest cost of processing. Interchange is a series of ‘categories’ for different transaction types, and each category has a rate associated. That rate is the lowest amount you can pay for a transaction, if no one else made any money.

There are hundreds of interchange categories. Examples of categories are swiped credit card, swiped rewards credit card, keyed credit card, swiped PIN debit card, etc. etc. There are loose rules that can be assumed under ideal circumstances, like a swiped card will be less expensive to process than a keyed card, a rewards card is more expensive than non-rewards, etc.

Every transaction a business swipes (or keys in) falls into an interchange category, and the business pays the rate for that category for that transaction. (They pay through their processor.) Let’s say that the rate for a category called Retail Swiped Credit is 1.5%. That means that the amount of the transaction the business is paying (through the processor) to the issuing bank is 1.5% of that transaction. So if the business has a $100 retail swiped credit card transaction, the issuing bank gets $1.50.

Assessments are the fees that are paid to the card associations. (Visa, MasterCard, etc.) Again, these are fixed costs, and they’re added on to your processing. (Some shady processors may pad assessments, so it’s important to always get interchange and assessments passed at true cost if you’re looking to get the most competitive processing.)

Markup is the only real place that businesses have bargaining power. Markup is what the processor makes off of a business’s transactions. There are multiple pricing models. Which pricing model the processor uses can have a huge effect on whether or not the business has competitive processing.

Again, the only place businesses have negotiating room for credit card processing is on what a processor charges OVER the cost of interchange + assessments. Which brings us to…

Pricing Models

There are a few different pricing models, with their own pros and cons. (Some mostly cons.) The most common are:

  • Tiered (or “bundled”)
  • Interchange-plus
  • Flat rate
  • Subscription

Tiered or bundled pricing is generally the most expensive and least transparent. While any pricing method can be questionable, tiered is probably the easiest way to get ripped off. With tiered pricing, the processor groups a business’s transactions into “tiers”. There are usually 3: Qualified, Mid-Qualified, and Non-Qualified. The processor assigns a rate to each tier, and determines which of the business’s transactions go where. The Qualified tier will have the lowest rate, while the Non-Qualified tier will have the highest.

The biggest problem is that processors can change which transactions are routed to which tier whenever they want. Tiered pricing is most often how processors claim to be able to save businesses tons of money on processing, but usually don’t. What happens is that a processor will quote a nice, low rate for Qualified transactions.. but then not actually route any of a business’s transactions through that tier. Instead, they’ll send transactions through their more expensive Mid-Qualified or Non-Qualified tiers.

Let’s say that the processor has decided that retail swiped credit cards are mid-qualified, and that the Mid-Qualified tier has a rate of 3.25%.

Remember, you’re paying the interchange rate no matter what. From our earlier hypothetical, the retail swiped credit interchange rate is 1.5%. With tiered pricing, the business owe 1.5% to the issuing bank no matter what, but if the processor decides the transaction is “Mid-Qualified” now they’re paying 3.25% for that transaction. (Plus assessments, and any other fees charged by the processor.) This type of overpaying is very common with tiered pricing.

The rate they associate is intended to cover everything.. interchange, assessments, and their own markup/profit. The reason this is so opaque is that the business don’t know how much they’re paying in non-negotiable costs (interchange + assessments) and how much they’re paying the processor for processor’s profit.

Interchange-plus pricing is usually more transparent and less expensive, but it’s still not a silver bullet. With interchange plus, businesses will want to make sure that they’re truly getting pass-through pricing. This means that they’re paying interchange and assessments at the true cost, and then paying the processor a separate markup or fee. When it’s not bundled all together, businesses can see exactly what they’re paying and to whom, and make sure that they’re paying a competitive low markup rate. Usually, they’ll pay a small percentage of the transaction and a per-transaction fee.

With interchange-plus/true-pass through pricing, for the same example of a retail swiped credit transaction, they’ll pay 1.5% on the transaction (for interchange) and the assessments due to the credit card association (Visa/MC, etc.) and those will be listed as their own line items. Then they’ll also pay the processor their markup, as a separate piece of the puzzle. Most of the time, this will be a percentage and a per-transaction fee, such as 0.5% + $0.20.

With this type of pricing, the business may be able to negotiate better terms for their type of processing. For example, if they process fewer high-ticket transactions, they’d want a lower percentage of the total even if it meant a slightly higher per-transaction fee. If they run a lot of lower-cost transactions, they could do better by having a lower per-transaction fee in exchange for a slightly higher percentage of the total.

Flat rate pricing offers simplicity, but at a higher cost. Flat-rate is the model offered by Square, PayPal, etc. – usually around 2.7% and maybe a per-transaction fee. From that, they pay out the interchange + assessments, and keep the rest. On some transactions, that means they keep a higher percentage than other transaction types. It’s not the most competitive form of pricing, but it’s fine for a lot of businesses.

Again, the reason the amount they make varies is because they pay the interchange, but they aren’t charging the business the actual interchange, they’re charging more. So if the business has one transaction that falls into swiped retail credit interchange category at 1.5% and one that falls into the swiped PIN debit at, for example, 0.7%, the flat rate processor will make more money on the PIN debit transaction. Even though it’s cheaper for them to process, the business won’t see a savings. They’re still paying the processor the flat rate of 2.75% + per-transaction fee.

Subscription pricing is somewhat new, and still gaining traction. With subscription pricing, the business pays the actual cost for interchange + assessments, and a flat monthly fee and per-transaction fee. There is no percentage markup paid to the processor.

Some processors try to make this seem like there is no markup. That’s technically true in the sense that there isn’t a percentage markup, and that they don’t make money as a percent of the business’s volume. But of course they do still make money.

Another questionable marketing tactic is that subscription pricing processors don’t always explain to businesses that their pricing is ON TOP OF the costs of interchange and assessments. So if a business sees a subscription pricing offer of $29.95 month and $0.30 per transaction, that doesn’t mean they can just multiply the number of transactions in a month by .30 and add the monthly fee and know what the processing costs will be for that month. It still means that the business pays interchange and assessments, and THEN the per-transaction fee and monthly fee.

Other notes I thought of because of the ELI5 thread – debit transactions do NOT get funds to a business any faster than credit transactions.

Surcharging debit cards is NOT allowed in the United States. (Arco lost a lawsuit regarding this.) Visa and MasterCard both have clear statements on it.

Surcharging credit cards IS allowed in 40 states as of 2013, when Visa and MasterCard lost a lawsuit.

American Express is almost always more expensive for a business to process than any other card. However, they’re aware of that and trying to change it, having rolled out a new pricing structure fairly recently.

Debit cards are (usually) more expensive for businesses to process on small total transactions because of a change called the Durbin Amendment. It has nothing to do with the size of the business though. Additionally, and ironically, businesses are not allowed to require a minimum purchase amount for debit cards. (Minimum purchase amounts ARE permitted for credit cards.)

There’s a LOT involved in processing, and I could go on for pages and pages, but hopefully this was a good primer and a look at why there’s so much conflicting and confusing info out there. Processors offer different pricing models, rates, and terms, even to similar businesses, which is why it’s very hard to assume that what one business has or does is the same for all business that take cards.

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What about a Cooking Room?

Just visited the website dedicated to The Cooking Room program to teach food literacy in classroom. Not trying to be picky, but it took me a while to figure out where this program was (In NYC it seems) and I’d still like to know how it evaluates success. I know how hard the Edible Schoolyard in New Orleans has worked over the last 5 years to make this stuff meaningful, so with a serious tip of the hat to all who try, I wish good luck to this program.
The Cooking Room
esynola.org

Drive-thru farmers market report for 4/05/2020, New Orleans LA

 

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.

CCFMED at entranceDrive Thru

Executive Director Kate Parker at entrance of today’s market

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:

  1. A couple of market vendors began working with local chefs to sell a box directly from only one farm at their restaurant:PocheFMboxesApril
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)

CCFM website DriveThru

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.)

Location

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.

IMG_2642.jpg

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.

CCFMDT_Police directing at entranceexit

Orange was entrance, green was exit.

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.

CCFMexitStaff takepaperoff windshield.JPG

CCFM tent at entrance/exit which (maybe) could still process SNAP?

a few issues:

Long market

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.

CCFM line in first hourDrive Thru

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.

ParkwayGift

local chips, roast beef po-boy, branded memo pad, paper hat,  and a water bottle.

 

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.”

AngelinaCCFM

Director of Markets Angelina Harrison watching it all.

 

 

**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.

 

 

The Farmer

From Dr. John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri, Columbia on the passing of his brother, a farmer. So beautiful.

The Farmer

My brother Don, the farmer, died last Sunday morning—in his home on the family farm. He was born on the farm, lived his whole life on the farm, and died on the farm—the same farm. I have just returned from attending his memorial services. This meant a trip to some of the places where I grew up in southwest Missouri. His burial was in the cemetery at Eureka Church, a small country church that my family attended while I was growing up. I completed grade school in the two-room schoolhouse that once stood near the cemetery. There were five kids in our family, three boys and two girls. Our older sister died in her early 30s. Don was in his early 20s when he took over the home farm after the death of my Dad. The rest of us all had other things we wanted to do with our lives. Don never wanted to do anything other than be a family farmer. He succeeded, both as a dedicated family man and as a farmer.

I was always proud of Don. He was actually able to do the things I wrote and talked about as the challenges and opportunities for small family farmers. I knew it was possible to have a good life on a small farm because he was doing it. I knew him and I knew the farm—personally. The farm was about 200 acres in total. Only about half of that was cropland, which he eventually transitioned into pasture for rotational grazing. The rest was timbered hill sides. It had been a dairy farm since the 1950s. He had once tried to feed and milk something close to 100 cows, but eventually concluded he could do better milking less than 50 on grass. Don knew that cows were simply a means of turning sunshine and grass into a marketable commodity. He also knew that family farming is more than a way to make a living; it’s a way to make a life. He lived and died on the farm that he loved with the people he loved. Who could ask for more from life?

I won’t attempt to tell any more of Don’s story. His wife, Sue, wrote a poem about him that does much better that I could hope to do.

The Farmer

He has been a farmer all of his life,
Long before he took a wife,
He knew he was meant to work the soil.
His days on this earth would be spent in toil,
Planting the crops and clearing the land.
This was all part of the Master’s Plan.
As in his father’s and grandfather’s days,
For generations this had been the ways.
In which they would work the land and the sod,
Drawing nearer to nature and communing with God.
To each of his neighbors he lent a hand
They worked together to farm the land,
In autumn when the harvest came,
Each one in turn did the same.
All through the week they labored each day,
But on the Sabbath they gathered to pray.
To thank Him for His blessings and love,
What they gathered on earth had come from above..
When his children were born he watched them grow.
He taught them the lessons so they would know,
And learn the ways of country and farm,
Of love, truth, respect and to do no harm
To creature on land or those in the air,
And to be good stewards of the land in their care,
He watched them ride horses and float down the stream,
But he knew that their future could not be his dream.
This farmer he realizes that he has wealth beyond measure,
Because here on this farm he has found all his treasure,
With his family around him, for wealth there’s no need.
With all of His blessings he’s a rich man indeed.
His breed is a rare one, it’s becoming extinct,
With this world’s busy lifestyle, there’s no time to think.
Life’s becoming too hectic and people miss out,
On all of the beauty that lies roundabout,
This farmer can see it as he goes through his days,
From bird’s nests to sunsets, each free for the gaze.
The path that he’s taken is different than most.
He’s content in his heart and has no need to boast.
His drumbeat is different but he follows its sounds,
With his dog by his side he walks over this ground,
Of the land that he loves, he will do it no harm,
The place of his birth, the old family farm.

Sue Ikerd

Thank you Enid Wonnacott

The news this last weekend of the passing of legendary Vermonter and NOFA-VT Executive Director Enid Wonnacott begins a tremendously sad time for her friends and family, for farmers and farm advocates (most of whom were also her friends and family) across Vermont and indeed, for many of us across the U.S.

I was lucky enough to know Enid and to expect her smiling face and warm embrace on my trips to Vermont, usually done in conjunction with the annual Direct Marketing Conference held by NOFA-VT. The first time I met Enid was at the 2012 conference, briefly saying hello to her early that morning, before letting her and the rest of the team continue with their set up. When she went up later to introduce me, I was surprised to see her as the representative as we had only a minute together at that point. In her introduction, I was to learn what everyone else in the room already knew: Enid had a genius for seeing people quickly and clearly. She spoke about me, noting what she had learned from then NOFA-VT’s Direct Marketing Coordinator Jean Hamilton already and what she had observed all morning from my activities while there. It was specific, it was wise, and it set the stage perfectly for my keynote.

In my return trips to Vermont, Enid made time in her schedule to sit with me and ask questions about work across the country and to share with me what she was focused on in Vermont. Our conversations were almost always about two things in varying degrees: farmers and NOFA. Both groups were under her care, which meant they got her motherly mien and practical planning on their behalf.

Once in her world, one stayed in her circle. I saw constant examples of that when former staff returned to NOFA-Vt’s bustling and homey office in Richmond and she gave them her full attention while delighting in their stories, or watching her sit in deep conversation with farmers at this or that meeting, or even when I was at home in New Orleans and people would seek me out telling me, “Enid told me to come find you at the market.”

In most cases, those who choose the role of executive director of a statewide non-profit do so because they can manage all of the multiple reins needed: funding, staffing, program development, governance, partnerships, mission, strategy.  It always seemed to me that Enid had a light but sure hand at NOFA; in other words, one that left no doubt that she was leading. And one that left no doubt that the guidance of her team and their support of farmers were the most important things among all of those. That never-ending interest for people and her eagerness to make it all joyous means that NOFA-VT and her larger Vermont group is one of the most collaborative, intuitive and savvy set of individuals that I have the privilege of working with directly. It will be so very hard for them to go on without her, but I know she prepared them as well  as she could and they will have their thousands of interactions and bits of wisdom to draw from when needed. My pal Erin has stepped up to lead this team for now and I know Enid left this world knowing we would all be there helping her in this difficult time. And I know that Erin will meet the challenge.

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The last time I saw Enid, she came out to a dinner while I was in town (as she almost always did when able), talking to me at length about her family, about her own plans, about our shared friends and colleagues, and the hope embedded in our work. She believed in the future as anyone would who cared as much about land and people as she did, and I always left her presence with more determination and appreciation for both, and for Vermont.

Thank you, Enid. Thank you for all that I have gained because of you. I won’t forget your example.

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A few pieces by this brilliant woman:

https://vermontindependent.net/the-food-less-traveled/

https://localbanquet.com/item/consumers-as-coproducers

https://nofavt.org/blog/honoring-jack-lazor

and this is something I wrote about the affirmation at the top of this post that hangs on my wall.

https://darlenewolnik.com/2017/04/13/communicating-community/

 

 

 

Slow Food People

I wrote a post on FMC’s website about my duties while attending Slow Food Nations in July, so I thought for my own blog I’d write something about a few of the people who I hung out with or heard speak, in the hope that it might offer some different context.

As for the event itself, it was definitely more focused than the previous year, with fewer locations and maybe even fewer listed events which was pleasant logistically. However in doing so, lost its pairing with the Union Station Farmers Market, which was too bad, as having the opportunity to see the actual transactions of a larger food system is rewarding for any good conference. Related to that, I’d like to see SFNations figure out a way (and they would like to as well, I am sure) to include more market leaders and small family farmers into the agenda, although the time of year is not the best for those folks to leave home. And I hope for the day when funders and partners offer support to market managers and interested farmers to attend more events like this one. It ain’t all about market day skills after all.

Those that were there were able to commune with those doing similar work around the world and to see and taste some regional products from across the U.S. in the SF Marketplace. I try to get through the Marketplace a few times during SFN because the businesses that SFUSA brings together are always impressive and great at explaining their approach and products. I’d like to have more direct marketing farmers in the US be able to see how well these businesses work as well when educating as when selling.

Now on to the peops:
==============================================================

Sofia Unanue from La Marana. During the Disaster Strikes panel, Sofia offered a powerful, real-time reality check on recovery, beginning with her sobering and yet uplifting video:

I imagined I felt her stress level and exhaustion even as she stood there calmly and pleasantly in Denver in front of a group of people who care deeply but cannot truly know what she and her community are going through over what is being lost with every passing day in the absence of a well-organized and empathetic public and philanthropic aid process. Not even those of us who have been through our own version truly know her reality, but what I do know is that recovery depends on people exactly like her being there and coming to these events to share that reality. And that her video made Richard McCarthy and I standing in the back of this room both weep and as we did, we knew we were remembering New Orleans 2005.
-Most importantly, don’t forget Puerto Rico.

Brian Coppom, Boulder County Farmers Market CEO. I first met Brian at last year’s Slow Food Nations event as I was tasked to help SFUSA with events that were scheduled at BCFM’s Union Station Farmers Market. As helpful as he was, the best thing he did was to give me access to his lead staffer, Elyse Wood, who can make good decisions lightning fast about the market space and in doing so, smoothed the events out so that featured speakers like author Deborah Madison and legendary MS farmer Ben Burkett were primed to lead lively and informative talks. If I would say that to Elyse, she’d likely shrug and smile, because in her list of things to do, it had been a simple task. I know because that’s how I would have reacted while doing very similar work in New Orleans for a guy very much like Brian (see last profile). But it isn’t so easy and the knowledge accrued by market organizers managing multiple sites, staff, programming, a network of colleagues and so on is impressive and yet few funders support this part of food work with professional development opportunities and other rewards. And I know that market directors like Brian (and Michael below) feel the same way.
Brian has quickly become a good pal and a strong voice in my list of go-to people when I search for input. He is a board member of FMC so even though he is constantly working on food and farming in Colorado, his goals are at a national level in intention and in impact. Look for those people in your travels and keep them on your speed dial.

-Most importantly, he is hilarious and comfortable at a mic talking markets and in wearing hats:
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Raj Patel. Well I do not share a long or rich history with Raj, but I appreciated his thoughts during this SFN so much I wanted to include him. Of course, his writing has always been illuminating as he takes on the dominant thinking around “value” which, of course, actually devalues everything worth saving. He’s included in this list for the moment he took a general question about local and elevated it to the question of justice:

“Almost all of the food that is grown and eaten in the United States today, that is bought and paid for, involves the hands of people of color…What’s important about local is you also need a robust sense of history…

-Most importantly:
You don’t fix the past with a certain type of tokenism; you fix it with a reckoning. And that reckoning is something the food movement has yet to have.”

Richard McCarthy, Slow Food USA Executive Director. It’s probably no surprise that I include Richard, as he is my former boss as well as my friend. Going through building and rebuilding farmers markets, disaster recovery, staff hires and fires, funding gaps and much more as his Deputy Director for almost a decade gave me as solid of a start in my national work as I could have wished for. Even so, I added him to this list on the strength of his enthusiasm for front line organizers and his skill in exploring how the people who are around him at an event can be connected. He throws a helluva event because he is obsessed with maximizing the results for the attendees by packing in as many informative and appealing touches as possible. It was the same back when he was the market director.
-Most importantly, I think Richard weaves a story around food and farming that is practical and aspirational to even those yet unfamiliar with what we do. Here is a podcast that I happened across that I think is a great example of that.

Poppy Tooker, Writer, host of public radio show Louisiana Eats. Like Richard, my relationship to Poppy is long and so full of amazing and sweet stories. Suffice it to say, Poppy has taught me how to share the stories of food producers with the larger world. During this SFN, I walked out to the festival area and heard my old pal’s mic’d voice doing a cooking demonstration and since her educational, wickedly funny, and precise demos are the stuff of legend in New Orleans, I immediately made a beeline in that direction. I got there just as she was wrapping up but did snag the last bean calas that she was offering. I shared it with the California couple next to me, explaining what this was and its importance to New Orleanians because that is exactly what she’d expect me to do.
Her panel introduction for the disaster panel was extraordinary. I say that as someone who stood in the back of the room and watched every chair’s occupant lean forward and the quiet descend on the room as she spoke with humor and pathos about the trivial and tragic memories Gulf Coasters carry from 2005.

-Most importantly, really truly because of Poppy (and Slow Food) we rebuilt our farmers market in two months in 2005 and saved a lot of farms and family businesses. And learned that we have others to call in across the globe in these times.

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Poppy and Miss Linda (the Yaka Mein queen of New Orleans) talking at SFN about love and loss. New Orleanians can always veer from the chatty to the profound in a blink of an eye. This story Poppy was telling (as Miss Linda and I sat rapt) involved a vengeful, murderous jaguar and poor alpacas at our local zoo and then segued into a lovely story about husbands and high school sweethearts. A typical wide-ranging Poppy story with a message.

 

Michael Hurwitz, Greenmarket Director. As Michael tells people whenever we both show up somewhere, he and I met when he is was just two months into his job, 11 years ago. That time was at Kellogg’s Food and Society meeting and we both spent much of the down time discussing (debating) the functions and potential of markets. Even then, he had a solid grasp of the potential for greater impact and the possible pitfalls of operating what are the most well-known markets in the most competitive retail area in the U.S. That conversation has continued since. Through talking with him, I am reminded what a flagship organization can do, especially if the director trusts in his excellent staff and his vendors. What may not be evident is that the success of Greenmarket’s sites don’t happen automatically – like every other market organization, it requires constant calibration and some luck and Michael is so very honest about those facts when asked to share his lessons learned.

-Most importantly, he asks great questions of everyone, constantly learning more about the field he is in.

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Michael and Richard meeting up at SFN

 

 

And with that, I’ll close the curtain on SFN 2018.

Indicators (sick of them yet?)

With the announcement of the 2018 FMPP/LFPP RFA this week – tucked into the Specialty Crop Block Grant announcement- I wanted to alert you to this 2017 post below about the indicators that are included in the proposal.

There is also a shorter version on FMC’s website.  Here is the link to it. )

Congratulations to everyone who got their FMPP/LFPP grants in by the deadline yesterday. I talked or emailed with a few of you throughout that process and was impressed by the well-crafted strategies that I read and heard about.

As you can imagine, a lot of the calls I was on focused on the new prescribed indicators (performance/outcome measures) that were included with the RFP for the first time. Those were the same for FMPP as for LFPP projects and were:


 OUTCOME 1: TO INCREASE CONSUMPTION OF AND ACCESS TO LOCALLY AND REGIONALLY PRODUCED AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.

Indicators 1. Of the [insert total number of] consumers, farm and ranch operations, or wholesale buyers reached, a. The number that gained knowledge on how to buy or sell local/regional food OR aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute local/regional food b. The number that reported an intention to buy or sell local/regional food OR aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute local/regional food c. The number that reported buying, selling, consuming more or supporting the consumption of local/regional food that they aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute

2. Of the [insert total number of] individuals (culinary professionals, institutional kitchens, entrepreneurs such as kitchen incubators/shared-use kitchens, etc.) reached, a. The number that gained knowledge on how to access, produce, prepare, and/or preserve locally and regionally produced agricultural products b. The number that reported an intention to access, produce, prepare, and/or preserve locally and regionally produced agricultural products c. The number that reported supplementing their diets with locally and regionally produced agricultural products that they produced, prepared, preserved, and/or obtained

OUTCOME 2: INCREASE SALES AND CUSTOMERS OF LOCAL AND REGIONAL AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.

Indicator 1. Sales increased from $________ to $_________ and by ______ percent ( n final – n initial/n initial (100) =% change), as result of marketing and/or promotion activities during the project performance period. 14 | Page 2. Customer counts increased from [insert total number of] to [insert total number of] customers and by _____percent ( n final – n initial/n initial (100) =% change) during the project performance period.

OUTCOME 3: DEVELOP NEW MARKET OPPORTUNITIES FOR FARM AND RANCH OPERATIONS SERVING LOCAL MARKETS.

Indicators 1. Number of new and/or existing delivery systems/access points of those reached that expanded and/or improved offerings of: a. ______farmers markets. b. ______roadside stands. c. ______community supported agriculture programs. d. ______agritourism activities. e. ______other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities. f. ______local and regional Food Business Enterprises that process, aggregate, distribute, or store locally and regionally produced agricultural products. 2. Number of local and regional farmers and ranchers, processors, aggregators, and/or distributors that reported: a. an increase in revenue expressed in dollars: _____ b. a gained knowledge about new market opportunities through technical assistance and education programs: ______

3. Number of: a. new rural/urban careers created (Difference between “jobs” and “careers”: jobs are net gain of paid employment; new businesses created or adopted can indicate new careers): _______ b. jobs maintained/created:_______ c. new beginning farmers who went into local/regional food production: _____ d. socially disadvantaged famers who went into local/regional food production: ______ e. business plans developed:____

OUTCOME 4: IMPROVE THE FOOD SAFETY OF LOCALLY AND REGIONALLY PRODUCED AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.

Indicator(s) – Only applicable to projects focused on food safety. 1. Number of individuals who learned about prevention, detection, control, and intervention through food safety practices:_____ 2. Number of those individuals who reported increasing their food safety skills and knowledge:______ 3. Number of growers or producers who obtained on-farm food safety certifications (such as Good Agricultural Practices or Good Handling Practices): _____

The applicant is also required to develop at least one project-specific outcome(s) and indicator(s) in the Project Narrative and must explain how data will be collected to report on each applicable outcome and indicator.



These confounded many,  while others knew exactly how to use these to define their grant’s outcomes. I hope that  USDA calls in some of those who do a bang up job in setting and achieving their numbers to talk with the newbies in future years.

Because of the previous work on the trans•act tools (which include the SEED tool) while at Market Umbrella, and the more recent and engrossing Farmers Market Metrics (FMM) work I have been doing with FMC and their partners these last few years, I have become very familiar with this language and these indicators.  Most are included in the metrics chosen by FMC to be collected starting in 2016 with FMM through their own projects and through offering support to networks that area ready to embed evaluation systems in their projects.

Since I spent some time working with various project leaders on this, I thought I’d give my two cents here as to how I’d approach these if I was the lead.In this post, I’m going to talk about my general theory of data at the grassroots level and the first two outcomes; I’ll tackle #3 and #4 and unique indicators in upcoming posts.

Some may disagree with my assessment of how to handle these indicators which to me is actually a good thing since by tackling this in varying ways,  we are likely to hit on the best  methods of establishing these baseline numbers and for collecting the data.

The first thing that confounded some proposal writers is how every indicator could be met by the varied projects: of course, they cannot and are not expected to. Since some projects are focused only on increasing sales at a market and not on increasing the number of outlets, some indicators are more relevant than others and should be used in more detail. Remember, these indicators are for both FMPP and LFPP projects which covers a wide spectrum and so are meant to support the general outcomes for all. It is my opinion that the unique indicators asked for at the end are likely to be the most useful for reviewers to read closely in order to match to the narrative or budget. I’d expect though that those proposals that could not reasonably answer a majority of the indicators with numbers will suffer in that reviewing process, as did USDA it seems, as they recommended in their webinar that everyone explain those that they couldn’t answer. Or if possible, add a piece to their project to address that indicator. And I think you can assume that USDA was being firm in saying that this pot of money should result in changes of these kinds, so if your project cannot reasonably do any of them, maybe look elsewhere for support.

I think the best way to really make these outcomes accurate is for the project lead to write them with the vision of using them as a banner to fly throughout the term of the project for the team to hit, surpass or to discuss why they cannot be met and what that means. And that the numbers should be slightly lofty-it is better to extend the reach at the outset and urge the team to do their best work to reach or even surpass it. However, don’t just throw some outrageous numbers in there or you will be telling the reviewers and your team that you have no intention of achieving them. So even though I used the word lofty, there is something in being efficient with your project through establishing very precise numbers too.

Efficiency is a good plan for our tiny organizations in order to conserve ours and our vendors’ energy for the long haul and to be there for another day. And that how well we plan and how we address our assumptions about those we hope to reach has a lot to do with setting numbers and meeting or achieving them.

Okay let’s look at the first two outcomes now:

Outcome 1: Increase consumption and access.

The indicators that are clustered with this outcome are related, meaning that once you have established the  (a) the number of buyers and or producers that gained knowledge, you can then estimate the number (b) of those that then report an intention and then finally, the number (c) that reported actually buying, selling, aggregating etc. The second part of this outcome is related to those professionals like chefs or incubator-users who, if the project is expecting to reach that audience, then they are also going to be measured for knowledge, intention and actual activity.

I think this one was written out particularly well done as it takes a project step by step through the process of establishing their reach. This should have been relatively easy for most projects, as knowing how many people you plan on reaching is sort of 101 for FMPP or any USDA grant!

USDA’s suggestion was to write them out in a mathematical formula writing a beginning number, then the number you want to hit and then calculating the percentage of increase. It may be helpful to do that in 2 columns and consider both the direct and indirect ways that your project will reach people. Certainly, if you are doing training or workshops you can estimate your attendance, but how about those who just read about your training or workshop and track down the info that way? How about through the media that your project uses to gain attendees? Is it reasonable to think that others will hear about the market or outlet and begin to attend because of it? And never forget the vendors and including them into any project outcome, even if it is a straight up new shopper project; the vendors also can learn about the marketing and use it in their own sales reach if it is shared properly.  And of course, how about the project partners and their reach?

Once you set the number who will gain knowledge (and I think that your project should plan that just about everyone that gets your materials or attends your workshop will gain knowledge) you then think about who will change their behavior because of it. I wonder if I had a group of market managers and a group of vendors in one room and asked them to gauge that if 1,000 people are reached through materials or training, how many they think will actually intend to use it, and then how many will actually use that knowledge to buy, sell aggregate etc what differences we’d see. Because that estimate can vary, based on the perspective and experience of those setting the number.

My feeling would be that the vendors would assume that more people will intend to come but would think that less will actually buy. I say that because they deal with everyone directly and know painfully well how many pass by their table without eye contact or a deep perusal of what is for sale. So they know firsthand how getting people to actually do something is hard. I’d say that managers would be more likely to think more people will be reached but that less would report an intention to come to a market, but that once they are there, that a higher percentage will purchase. My assumption may be entirely wrong and maybe someday I can test it and readjust it. The most important thing is to test your project assumptions by asking everyone for numbers and adjusting them accordingly to their bias and experience and according to your plan.

I also think percentages without numbers can be difficult to be realistic about, so I often suggest that people start on the wrong end: if the project is for increasing shoppers to a single market, how many more shoppers could that market actually handle per week? 100? 200? 1000? Think about the vendors and your space and your Welcome Booth and visualize adding that number every week. Would it overwhelm the market? Do you have enough parking or access to transportation to make it happen? How many added shoppers per hour would that mean to your anchor vendors? Is that worth it?

Remember that the average shopper in most markets spends between 10-30 dollars so using those numbers above, the market would add another $1000 -$30,000 week in sales. Pretty cool huh? Or if you hope to add another market day: Maybe your Saturday market has 45 vendors on average, you might estimate that since your new market is smaller and has less parking, that you hope 25 or so can use this new outlet. In both cases, your initial outreach has to be wider than the final number, as some will not get to your market or have the ability to add market days even when told of the opportunity.

Outcome 2: To increase sales

Couldn’t be simpler as, in most cases,  FMPP projects are still chiefly attempting to increase sales. It may be true that at some later date, sales increases are not the primary indicator of the success of our work, but with the small reach that alternative food outlets currently have with food shoppers, I agree that this should still be the main goal. Even so, this indicator stymied more people (and I would imagine contributed to some not writing a grant at all) and since it is a common metric for FMM, I’m going to attempt to reason why it is necessary and how we can capture this.

Measuring an increase of sales for a project that is going to do marketing or outreach for a single sales outlet is pretty standard.  The issue is that you need a baseline number (starting point) and that is the thing many markets do not have yet. So how do you find the baseline?

Everyone knows that the majority of markets ask for standard stall fees which are not based on vendors’ sales percentages and because of that, many markets have never asked for sales data from their vendors*. What USDA, FMM, Wholesome Wave and others are now saying is that we need to know the impact of our work whether you collect this data for the market’s fee rates or not. So, for those who do already collect it, you are ahead of the curve and probably have a lot to teach the rest of us about how to do it well.

So how do the rest of us do it? Well, the simplest way is to ask vendors directly, either every market day, every month or every season. As you can imagine, the longer you wait to ask this, the more difficult it becomes for the vendor to separate the numbers from your market from the other outlets he/she sells at. However, it also is difficult for multi-tasking vendors to stop at the end of the day to count their money and get that number to you. So what works best? My answer is one that some people hate hearing: whatever works best for your community and your management level is what works best- as long as it gives you accurate data in increments acceptable to those using it.

I’ll talk your ear off about accurate data whenever discussing market evaluation because it is my experience that markets rely too much on anecdotal information and estimates that probably are better described as guesstimates as they have almost no basis in real numbers. I can hear many of you yelling at me through your computer that you are not evaluators and cannot be expected to gather data. My answer to that is as soon as you create projects that use the resources of partners and promise your community some change in behavior because of these efforts, you are both. Meaning as soon as you decided to run a market. (You like how I run the entire argument on my own and that I get the last word?)

However, I am in agreement with many market leaders and vendors that too much data is often asked of markets or vendors that is never used or not shared back with those who offered it. And of course, that collecting the data and the costs associated are almost never added to the cost of any project, and usually, partners just assume that overworked market communities will just throw that added work in their long list and get it to them toot sweet.

Yeah, don’t get me started on data collection challenges here.

Additionally, sales data is at the top of the sensitive information asked presently and I often ask managers or market partners to tell me how much is in their bank account right now as an example of how asking for information without context or reason is alarming to say the least. That is, if you even know a precise number! So I say first be the change you want to see by sharing market data with vendors regularly: token sales for debit are going up but SNAP is steady? What do you think that means? And then ask them what they think it means.

Asking for it in anonymous sales slips is the  way FMM suggests it is collected, but I assume that there are other good methods to test. And that it helps all of those methods when the raw data is shared with the vendors and it is used to advocate for their needs. It must be said that to be able to use it in aggregate means it has to be collected in the same way for the same time period and a lot more data is needed to get to any collective contribution, so we do need to hit upon some common methods sooner rather than later. Here are two more possibilities:

And as many of you know, the SEED tool  asks shoppers to estimate their purchases and then calculates overall sales from those numbers.  Many feel this method of getting sales is better, but it does require more surveying of shoppers more often which means added staff and volunteers.

Another way may come as some markets grow their token systems. Depending on your market, it might be possible to estimate how many of your shoppers use that system and whether it is representative of the type of overall shopper you have and use the data to estimate sales.

The main point is we have to agree that we need some data and it should be as precise as possible without violating privacy or exposing weaknesses in one business over another- after all, this is a competitive place. The data you can use for internal analysis as to the market’s impact on its vendors and shoppers can be a lot less and a lot less specific than the data your research partners will need when they start to calculate economic numbers. And that until you have actual data, how you calculated your starting point for these indicators says a lot about your circle of advisors, your experience and your knowledge of the target population.

Whew; enough for now. I’d love to hear how some of you did calculate both of these outcomes and especially sales, both in systems you had baselines and ones that did not. I expect that some of you will disagree with much of my unscientific approach to measurement but hope you know that I welcome your opinions.

Day carts bring new faces to Reading Terminal Market

“We found ourselves in this incredibly competitive environment where you want to test new concepts and give customers something new,” Gupta said. “We needed a way to bring in some of these hyper-local entrepreneurs, these small-batch products that you can find at farmers’ markets. And the way to do that was to lower the barriers to entry.”

The wheeled carts, left over from the market’s days as a train station, already were being leased to a few businesses that needed no refrigeration — like Lansdale’s Boardroom Spirits and newcomer Birdie’s Biscuits — for use as pop-up stands in the center of the building. The feedback from customers and owners was good, Gupta said, so last fall he and members of his team started working with the Health Department on turning the former Wan’s Seafood into a flexible space for multiple kiosks. The space has no built-in cooking station, but other than sinks, refrigeration, and the proper permits and licenses, it turned out little was needed for businesses to start selling ready-made food.

http://www.philly.com/philly/food/reading-terminal-market-day-carts-20180124.html

Land & Power, Cultivating Food Justice

Panel at MSAN Ag Revival meeting

Ben Burkett Indian Springs Farmer, Federation of Southern Cooperatives leader

“Without owning land, we cannot have much justice. Yet, so many barriers to using that land remain.”

I was in a room recently with the Cargill boss and others like him. They think they make the wheels turn, but we make the wheels turn.”

Rukia Lumumba  Lawyer, back in state after being in NYC working with incarcerated youth. Daughter of late mayor of Jackson MS.  Leader of Cooperation Jackson. 

“The food justice movement cannot be separated from mass incarceration movement.We need good food to retain information, to think critically.”

If you eat healthier, you act healthier.”

“Question the fear we have for people of color, for poor people.”

Nia Umoja  Registered nurse by training. Leader of Cooperative Community of Near West Jackson

“If we are what we eat, what are you?”

We all have a equal right to a healthy diet. (We need a) backyard garden at every home.

I just want gardens everywhere.”

Patricia Cipolitti and Lupe Gonzalo, Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Most here are talking about small farming, but the part of the food business we work in is the huge agri-businesses part. We don’t even have access to land to grow food for ourselves.  We live with modern day slavery in the fields of Florida.We began to organize in the 1990s to force growers to take responsibility for the abuses we faced as farmworkers. To show growers that we had power. Yet, growers were saying that they had no power to change the conditions; therefore the organizing changed in 2000 to call on huge retailers who purchased those goods to make these changes. Taco Bell was the first retailer called on; many ridiculed our efforts, but the organizing grew and helped consumers understand their role in building power and making real changes in the lives of farmworkers. We now know we have the power of people, especially when collaborating with others like consumers.

We had 3 demands:

pay a penny more a pound for tomatoes to get more money back to farmworkers;

respect a human rights  code of conduct for farmworkers;

that the voice of workers would be respected in the field and retaliation against those who spoke out would not be allowed.

Fair Food agreement: 14 corporations are now on board; 90% of the Florida tomatoes picked are now part of that agreement.

Ricardo Salvador, Union of Concerned Scientists

500,000 members who advocate for the issues you have heard this morning. My team is 15 people and works in coalition to have impact on the research we do. (We call that the the Inside DC game.)

The outside DC game is  embodied in out HEAL Food Alliance, a social justice initiative.

We operate on the idea that there is a “Not a lack of food; there is a lack of democracy” (Lappe)

Lappe also points out that one can get lost in argument of which is more effective: To give a man to fish or teach a man to fish when the real issue is who owns the damn pond.

“US History is based on the destruction of the people who were here. The founders were hoping to establish a nice economic niche based on the extraction of resources. That is what we are facing today that use of someone else’s land and someone else’s labor to create wealth for only a few, rather than something for all of us.”

Facilitator: When we fight power, power changes and adapts. If we’re not vigilant, we will miss that adaptation. Be aware.

Thanks, 700 Magazine Street

New Orleans-In 2016, Crescent City Farmers Market announced that the flagship Saturday morning farmers market – held at the corner of Magazine and Girod since 1995 – would need to find a new home by fall. As the new market era at Julia and Carondelet begins, one-time market staff and long-time shopper Dar Wolnik looks back on the muraled parking lot.

 

The circa 1991 mural of a coffee wagon heading to a small town store and Reily Foods’  prized chinaberry tree set this parking lot apart from others in the CBD.

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The original mural. This part has since been destroyed by the developers.

Why a market?

In 1995, two of the Crescent City Farmers Market (CCFM) founders – the late, sorely missed Sharon Litwin, and the geographically departed, sorely missed, but still kicking Richard McCarthy – realized its potential as the home for their upcoming market, and arranged to meet with the Reily Foods patriarch. Richard often shared the story of how when he completed his pitch, Boatner asked how much money he was requesting. Richard replied, “I don’t want your money, I want your parking lot Saturday mornings.” Reily was reportedly charmed by the request and gratified that his new mural and the carefully tended tree would serve as the host for this idea. Their handshake agreement between CCFM and Reily lasted for 21 years until Boatner’s passing.

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The garage mural and the garage as seen from Girod Street. The Magazine Street entrance to the parking lot is to the middle right of the photo. There is also a mural on the wall to the left of this photo, some of which was preserved by the developers.

The warehouse district used to be full of buildings just like it, but just like this one’s fate in the very near future, they were torn down for shiny, much taller buildings. The garage behind the mural served as the parking for weekday Reily employees and became where the rainy day markets were held, with storage rooms around its edges and an off-limits parking area at the back.

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Inside the garage

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The flower ladies stop for a quick discussion on an “inside” market day.

The inside garage was affectionately nicknamed “Little Calcutta” for the humidity and humanity it contains when used by the market.  One of the larger garage doors hadn’t opened since early 2005; after a while, the track became rusted and trash-filled and the market vendors learned to avoid market staff when we went to get help to open or to close it.  Certain spots in the roof would drip during heavy rains and vendors learned to set up just to the right or left. We actually marked the floor to make it easier to avoid water falling on one’s products or head, until finally, the roof was repaired. We used to dream of spiffing up the garage by whitewashing the walls and adding murals or posters, but as we say here, then Katrina happened. No other explanation should be needed.I think actual lights were added recently, which made it seem like Santa Claus had finally stopped by to reward our good behavior. Or maybe it was that the market just got around to asking the owners for those things. Sometimes it’s hard to know what and when to ask for when a place is offered free of charge and comes with donated cans of coffee too.

 

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This was the newer storage space.

The storage room used by the market was a loose description of a room at all, and had a lock on the door that probably could have been broken by an excited dog jumping at it. It also came with an air shaft/skylight in the middle of the room that supplied the only light in there. Sometimes it was better to work in the dark so that whatever critters who lived in the gloom could not be seen. I still shudder thinking about it. The current staff doesn’t believe me when I tell them that this storage space was a step up from the previous one that we finally had to evacuate. Let’s just say the less said about it, the better. And that once out of the old space, I don’t believe anyone has ever entered it again.

The outdoor lot was the true home of the CCFM though. The Girod side was open to the sidewalk with only some yellow parking barriers between. When the market was at its largest size (summer 2004-2005) vendors had to set up facing the sidewalk on that side. We found that asking farmers to squeeze into spaces with their tables touching or almost touching their fellow vendors tables was a tricky and delicate undertaking. I am sure that is no surprise to any market manager.

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Market Umbrella Executive Director Kate Parker talks about the late, legendary Diana Pinckley and her impact. That is founder Sharon Litwin in the peach shirt, who was always great about showing up for important occasions. Still miss seeing her around town.   Both are now memorialized on the wooden tokens used by the market.                                                                    R.I.P. Diana and Sharon.

 

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Isabel and Miguel Mendez and kids, 15 years

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In pictures, the mural offered an unrealistic sense of the size of the market and I often saw visitors who came to pay homage a little disappointed at the size of the actual market. I’d approach them and introduce myself and almost invariably get the “It’s…smaller than I thought it would be.” The mural could also be a point of tension as the market organization was tasked with its protection during market hours, leading to constant reminders to vendors who liked to lean things against it. The wall made the spaces right below shady for some hours, which was welcome in the summer but not in the winter. Funny to watch people congregate in different places in the market depending on the season, just like cats searching for that spot with the perfect amount of warm sun or cool shade.

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The small size of the lot meant that vendors had to “offload” their products, using the ancient, creaky Reily hand trucks or by carrying items from the vehicle one armful at a time to their tables outside. In the early days, everyone used umbrellas and one of the green, handmade tables supplied by the market making the overall site colorful and human-scaled. Once 10’ x 10” pop-up tents became available, vendors began to use those instead and a sea of white became the dominant sight. That is until the number of vendors increased and led to fights about tent poles intruding on the neighboring space and as a result, vendor tents had to be done away with although the market itself still used them for their activities. Umbrellas returned, the mural was front and center again and vendors spent many successive mornings constantly readjusting them to maximize the shade and to secure them from gusts or from wildly gesturing shoppers. I know that Richard was secretly pleased by the loss of tents, as he was always obsessed with the visuals of what we were presenting. He found umbrellas so inviting that he even renamed the organization Market Umbrella when we left Loyola University and our ECOnomics Institute name behind in 2008.

At its maximum in those years, the market welcomed a few thousand shoppers during its four hours of sales that offer a stage for successive casts of characters. Like most long-standing markets, the opening hour of 8 a.m. was for those seasoned shoppers who knew where to park, what they wanted to buy and how to get the heck outta there before the perusers came at 9 a.m. Those second-hour folks liked to chat, stick around a while and usually bought what was most appealing on that day or recommended to them right then by their friends or their favorite farmers. They grumbled about parking a great deal. After that group headed to the next cultural outing of the day, the service workers and other late-nighters slowly showed up. The number of bikes locked on all available posts and groups of bleary-eyed socializers squeezing into any available seating were good indicators of the 10 o’clock hour starting. In the last hour 11-12, one saw some tourists, those new to markets as well as a few hard-core regulars who like many New Orleanians simply do not get out of the house until around the lunch hour.

Many more subgroups, special guests, and even some “bad pennies,” all of whom made that space sparkle and hum every Saturday morning for 21 years, could be studied there as the sum of the social capital created by the market. We market staff often took the time to do just that, either from the vantage point of the low Reily building roof across Girod or while standing across the street on Magazine.

We valued that space so much that, as we began to design our fair trade/handmade market in 2002 that we called “Festivus, the Holiday Market For the Rest of Us,” we never questioned setting it up there, in the middle of Girod Street in years 1 and 2 and then on December Sundays in the same parking lot for years 3, 4 and 5 of Festivus’ run. Festivus was meant to drive sales to our farmers market during slow December and to allow our organization to move the dial a little more on the artisanal/entrepreneurial movement around us. Using the same lot for a new seasonal market meant we had freedom to design it differently and to include more wacky ideas than we could squeeze into our regular market. Many people still stop me to reminisce about the Office of Homeland Serenity, the Grievance Pole, and the Flattery Booth or some of the other moments of the 2003-2007 era of Festivus.

I consider it my great honor to have played a part in Market Umbrella’s history at that location, to have worked with the Reily Company staff and to now to be one of the local keepers of the stories about Sharon and Richard and John and the vendors and shoppers of those first days and of that space. The space itself is owed many thanks and so don’t be alarmed if at the first light on a Saturday, you notice a small group there with a bottle and glasses toasting the good fortune of having 700 Magazine as our flagship home for all of those years.

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New location at Julia and Carondelet, on the streetcar line as of 2016.

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 I was the Deputy Director of Market Umbrella and then its Marketshare Director during 2001-2011. Since then, I continue to work as a national consultant for public markets and also as the senior researcher at Farmers Market Coalition, the national farmers market advocacy organization.

Bob Dylan and Contract Theory

As excited as many are about an American folk/rock singer composer winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, the economic prize is also worthy of mention here. First though, my favorite song lyrics of Mr. Dylan:

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says
She’s the brains behind Pa
She’s sixty eight, but she says she’s fifty four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more

Many of Dylan’s interpreters suggest this is a criticism of capitalism or of the military industrial complex. That actually leads us to a chat about the economic prize this year, given to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström for their contributions to contract theory. (Disclaimer: not only am I not an economist or a lawyer, my understanding of these theories is very casual and centered on my community organizing work. I may over or understate many of these theories and will always edit when better information comes my way. Feel free to add to my knowledge via email as needed.)

Contract theory focuses on the relationship between the parties in a contract, especially those which are asymmetrical in terms of how much information each side has access. The world contains scads of examples of information asymmetry: citizens and media, citizens and police or the military, employees-employers, consumers and technology providers etc. When one party has access to more information than the other, the fairness of the contract should be questioned. The other contract issue relevant to markets and farmers is what are called incomplete contracts. This covers the likelihood that a contract in present time cannot always cover every possible outcome and so often must be renegotiated at some time; in th, t case it is possible that renegotiation can go off the rails because of lack of trust.

In many ways, these scenarios describe much of what drove farmers and their advocates to the creation of the alternative food and farming movement.  The desire for fairness and trust for both producers and for eaters led to transparency being one our chief indicators of success and in keeping the heart of our movement in direct marketing channels which offer simple ways to create fairness. But even within those models, there can be an information asymmetry. For example, some farmers markets have created systems where information only flows from vendor to market and not the other way around. In others, vendors cling to systems that ask little of them as far as information sharing with the market. One way to gauge whether this is an unequal contract is at the time that the agreement is being changed.

Still, the very nature of the mutual dependency and face to face nature of farmers markets and their vendors can usually correct these small imbalances. Same goes for other type of direct marketing contracts, especially CSAs which began as simple contractual relationships between producers and eaters for a single season and a single farm. More recently, some CSA relationships have become imbalanced: like when a farmer offers a member a credit for a bad season, even though the contract in a CSA explicitly states that the shopper loses their investment if the crop fails. Or, when a CSA farmer begins to morph into an aggregator of goods from nearby farms and cottage industry producers without creating a updated contract with their shoppers that outlines the new rules of bringing those goods to the shopper.

However, the concern over unfair contracts really “scales up”  when systems move into intermediate (back door or bin sales) and wholesale (middle-man or pallet sales) contracts. Here, I’ll focus on intermediate sales, as wholesale sales are a whole other kettle of fish and in most cases, are beyond the capacity or interest of small family farms. (The reason for that is that few of those systems have really changed anything about their purchasing policies or their regulations for small farms, and so the costs and risk are all on the side of the farmer still.)

The hope is still that restaurant owners and wholesale buyers will build contracts with producers with the same transparency and information sharing as those in the direct marketing sector, but often that has not been the case. The key to mutually beneficial agreements on all levels of our food work relies on building contextual contracts and incentivizing them for all  involved. What are the main benefits for a producer to sell at a  lower cost to a chef? Well, two might be consecutive, consistent sales and the ease in delivery (meaning the farmer can deliver when most convenient to him or her and get quick payment), and yet rarely are these benefits described in agreements for most of our producers when they sell at these levels. What is the main benefit for the buyer? Often it is the quality of the product or the name recognition of the producer attached to the goods and yet rarely are those benefits understood and outlined in these agreements.

One way to incentivize the fairness of the contract in these situation may be to create a shared asset owned by all of the parties, such as a mutually owned cold truck or even branding. Another way to make them contextual might be to have an external party monitoring the agreement. Maybe this is where farmers market leaders can grow their influence?

And of course, markets managing transactions through card technology has led  to lopsided contracts with processors. Markets scramble to understand these complex agreements which exist over different eras of management and open markets  to many new layers of liability.  Another issue is that the energy that markets must reserve for reaching and encouraging benefit program shoppers is often wasted by the lack of good information about the client lists from local or federal government authorities. Too many markets I talk to have no idea how and where to reach these shoppers in their area and when you take in the short time that the majority of these shoppers remain on these programs at any one time (also not shared by most government entities), successful outreach becomes even more unlikely. The market vendor in this situation is also underrepresented in a fair contract, as most markets – or the processors working directly with farmers – use boilerplate agreements about card processing with their vendors.

So, one can see from just these few examples that center around direct marketing and intermediate farmers how many contract issues arise. So maybe before the alternative food system becomes another one of Maggie’s farms, let’s spend some time on increasing transparency and incentives for everyone’s benefit.