Legal help for markets

Way back in 2013, I did a workshop for NOFA-VT at their Direct Marketing Conference which is held in South Royalton at the beautiful Vermont Law School campus; that time I spoke about the governance of markets and the need for the right incorporation and the right management structure based on that incorporation.

Directly after it ended, I saw Laurie Ristino, the brand-new director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (who had welcomed the group that morning) making a beeline for me.  “Hey!” she said enthusiastically, “maybe we should talk about doing a project here at the Center for markets on incorporation issues?”

From that beginning, she and I and VT’s direct marketing leader Erin Buckwalter came up with a research project funded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to create a legal toolkit for markets. We decided to focus on the 3 areas where we saw the most questions: Governance, SNAP/Currency, and general market day risks.

Over the next 4 years, different students under the leadership of Jamie Renner took the questions and issues that Erin and I collected to research what markets did in that situation and what the legal ramifications would be for each issue. Dozens of market leaders offered input and a few even let us go through their files or be interviewed to find case studies or to offer expert advice.

Laurie led us with her indefatigable good humor, constant layers of gentle questions and a firm belief in her team: Claire and the aforementioned Jamie,  Gabe Halberg at Dadra Design, Mike Custode and Sarah Danley with the gorgeous design of the site and then Emily Spiegel and Lihlani Nelson who very ably took the reins over the last year to do tons of final edits (with the help of the brilliant and speedy Rachel Armstrong of Farm Commons), design the dissemination of the tool and lead the project to its conclusion.

Jen Cheek, FMC’s Executive Director popped in when she was able to offer advice on content, to review the design using her extensive graphics skills and to link the CAFS team to resources, especially within the SNAP section whenever needed.

Erin Buckwalter at NOFA-VT was our constant project and content leader, always ready with calm wisdom and wry jokes, yet firm in her direction about what she and I agreed was vital to include in the toolkit.

Now in 2018, we have a resource that we are all rightly proud to share with markets and vendors. The site is well laid out and offers enough detail to steer folks in the right direction and to assist their legal team in understanding what is available already and what are possible issues.

I hope that we can continue to build this toolkit in future iterations and expand on other questions raised since we began this project in 2014. Please let us all know how the toolkit is useful to you and how we might best increase its use if new funding comes our way.






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.

Using EBT


by Janelle Harris

The first time I used food stamps, I cried. It was a predawn Saturday morning and I had purposely gone to the grocery store early to avoid pulling out the EBT card in the sight lines of people I worried would judge me. I felt like an imposter among self-paying customers.


Tension and discouragement hang dense in the air as soon as you walk into the human resources office. You’re at the mercy of a system powered by a comedy of inefficiencies. Lines form early. Waits are long. Paperwork disappears. Your life is ultimately laid bare in document form, fanned out in front of the person whose job it is to decide whether you’re optimally managing the finances of your household and whether you and your people deserve help from the government. It’s a reductive and demeaning process. The negative energy there makes even tiny babies cry.


…Poverty is crazy-making. It changes you, snatches your good common sense, and consumes your thoughts. You wake up thinking about being poor, spend your days plotting how not to be poor, and go to bed worrying about the consequences of being poor. You’re high-strung, easily provoked, always looking for answers. You snap on your children. You snap on your boos and baes. You snap on God. There are moments — long, inward-facing moments — when no scripture, no motivational meme, no inspirational quote can quell the urgency of not having enough.



story link

People mapping via Google et al.

This link is to a piece by Richard Campanella, an extremely popular New Orleans geographer who has written many books on the New Orleans region. He has become the regional go-to guy describing how this place shapes its people and how its people shape the place.

When I saw this piece on how he uses Google Street View to analyze a place better, I could see how it could reach beyond the world of academics and into the DIY world of farmers markets and public space.

How we measure markets is important yet we don’t have the luxury of choosing between all of the data collection methods that researchers in a controlled environment have available to them. Market organizers don’t always have access to teams of eager data collectors and analysts such as those a university professor can quickly assemble among their students. Because of those limitations, the more adventurous we are in seeking the most appropriate methods*, the better chance we will find the right suite of tools for our needs. The use of Google Street View could clearly assist a market searching for a new location, or help to decide how to lay out the market better or unveil the current uses of the area around a market in order to find program partners. Imagine using it for showing impact: taking a screenshot of an empty litter-strewn lot and then a year later showing photographs of that same area with a vibrant market now popping up. That set of pictures is almost enough for a market’s first-year annual report!

Campanella’s method is simple and could be easily used on a smaller cross-section than he did for New Orleans. Basically, he chose points across the area from 2016 to drop “Pegman” to see a 360-degree view of the area. Noting the density and activity of street life, graffiti, and bicycles, he then compared it to the earliest available imagery from 2007.

While Google Street View images are not regularly used in scholarly research, they can be a cost-effective alternative to traditional social-surveying methods, under the right conditions. Public health experts have used Street View as a neighborhood auditing tool, and have found it to be a reliable indicator of broader trends and patterns, if not fine targeted phenomena. And researchers at the MIT Media Lab used pairs of geo-tagged street images to “map the inequality of urban perception” by soliciting online input about which scene looked “safer,” “more upper class,” and “more unique.” Urban planners Reid Ewing and Otto Clemente assessed the viability of Google Street View and its competitors Bing Streetside and Everyscape for counting pedestrians, compared with live street surveys. They found that human raters were reliable in online counting and that Google Street View had the strongest correlation with live counts (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.864 on a scale of zero to one). Other researchers have proposed methods to remove people from images automatically, which would enable more systematic studies. Until such tools are widely available, researchers will have to devise sampling strategies, set up protocols, and manually deploy that invaluable remote assistant, Pegman..

I hope to see this method utilized by some markets in 2018.

*If you are searching for current methods already in use to measure your market, do check out the tool we have been working on for the last few years at FMC called Farmers Market Metrics. The collection methods are free and available to anyone who wants to use them and do not need an active account. The good news is that the Metrics Program will be available to markets in early 2018 which will be explained via webinar announced soon.
Also, check out the FMC Resource Library for the piece on visitor count methods that I did recently, and keep an eye for the visitor survey article I am doing now, which will also be posted to the Resource Library.

Review: Together

Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation

If you read this blog regularly, you know that one of my two suggestions for markets in 2017 was to “Operate more like networks,” which is how I think our low-capacity, mission-focused work will be able to do all of the wonderful things it needs to do AND withstand the type of pressures from those who would like to co-opt the authenticity of our work.
So to help, I continue to read how best to network existing markets and food projects in ways that will actually lead to cooperation. This book offers one set of ideas.

The author, well known for his books on labor and cities, dives deep into mutual benefits including the new world of “impatient” capital, new forms of labor and increasing structural inequality to show how those trends mean we must rethink how cooperation can be strengthened.
To understand one difficulty in expanding cooperation in this ever more dangerous world of anonymous online trolls and daily road rage incidents, he brilliantly defines the “uncooperative self,” a new type of citizen emerging in the world who has lost contact with others in any meaningful way due to the lack of informal and formal ties to any group. Obsessed with their own feelings and place in the world, they refuse to honor the larger blockchain of courtesies carefully built over generations and instead resolve their own anxiety through retreat and alignment only with those they perceive as exactly like them. Powerful stuff.

Additionally, his criticism of coalition work grown too large to maintain contact or ability to gather meaningful input from their base is well argued and something many of us have noted even as we understand that coalition-building is vital.  His analysis of coalitions is helped by the description included of the five type of exchanges, often collectively known as game theory. The very definition of cooperation means that benefits are exchanged, yet HOW each actor benefits is not always the same.

In terms of keeping coalitions viable, there must be a process for ensuring that the “face-saving rituals” used by their leaders don’t become more important than making gains for their supporters. Anyone who has viewed elected officials’ pointless press conference to show political cooperation that then goes nowhere in passing meaningful legislation or when cities require developers to include benefits for the at-risk in their original agreement even as all players know full well that the loopholes allow them to do away with those benefits, knows this type of ritual. Or, sadly, even some of the coalitions in our own food and farming work that lose track of the needs of their grassroots communities they once worked tirelessly for. Happily, I know that thinking about those farmers, advocates and market leaders needs and how to build THEIR skill and power is a constant effort of my colleagues in my work at FMC  and certainly has once again become the strength of Slow Food USA under its current leader.

Sennett’s obvious allegiance to community organizing is something I share and so I found it helpful to have settlement house history and characteristics described and outlined, including those examples at the end of the book of faith-based, simplicity-based or socially-based community cooperation.
The only slight criticism I have is the last chapter; his restoration, remediation, and reconfiguration methods of community-building need a little more work to make that framework useful. Still, this book is a milestone in understanding why and how working together has changed and how it can be reborn in this new age.

View all my reviews

None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use


From Grist:

….check out a recent report [PDF] done by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program. TEEB [Editor’s note: TEEB is now known as the Natural Capital Coalitionasked Trucost to tally up the total “unpriced natural capital” consumed by the world’s top industrial sectors. (“Natural capital” refers to ecological materials and services like, say, clean water or a stable atmosphere; “unpriced” means that businesses don’t pay to consume them.) Now, here are the top five industrial sectors ranked by total ecological damages imposed:

UNEP: top five industrial sectors by impact



Natural Capital story