I have a lot to tell you about my trip to Denver for the Slow Food Nations event, and to share ideas and research about vendor development at markets, and talk about the upcoming Direct Marketing Ag Summit in mid September, but instead of that, this post will focus on the immediate crisis in front of us: the recent news about the shutdown of the Novo Dia Group, which effectively will cease card processing for 1700 farmers markets and farmers during (most of the) country’s busiest market season. Since the news broke, my FMC colleagues have worked day and night listening to market leaders, asking questions of all of the players involved, explaining the problem to media and to our elected officials and strategizing with markets, farmers and partners about solutions. Now there is a single place to find all of the information and FMC will continue to update that page with the latest information.
My great pal Stacy Miller is always in constant learning mode, especially interested in learning through the experience and ingenuity of farmers and other entrepreneurs in her local community. This podcast is fascinating for the detail that she offers about product development, marketing concerns, trends in snack foods, and the props to farmers markets and FMC of course (and an honestly humbling plug for the Dar Bar but let’s leave that aside for now although I remain grateful that my name rhymes with bar.)
This is a great example of how a value-added business can offer authenticity to market messaging, how these innovative vendors can illustrate the market farmers story through storytelling and through lovely presentation of their ingredients offering healthy, delicious snacking. So let’s remember what those vendors offer our markets and honor them too.
In terms of describing how intellectual and ecological capital can be increased by markets, this interview from a few years back during the kickoff of the Creole Tomato Festival in the French Quarter in New Orleans is an excellent illustration of how a market manager can do just that:
NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – It’s time to talk tomatoes! This weekend the French Market will be filled with tomato festivities for the 29th annual Creole Tomato Festival. News with a Twist Reporter, Kenny Lopez wanted to learn more about the creole tomato. What is it? How’s it different than a regular tomato? How do you pick one?
Andrew McDaniel with Crescent City Farmers Market helped answer those questions.
“It’s been debated upon what a creole tomato is. Some people say it’s a variety of tomato that was put out by LSU in the 1960’s. …the creole tomato is a tomato grown in Louisiana soil. These tomatoes are usually grown along the river parishes, the parishes that line the Mississippi River. The soil is richer, so these are the ones we consider creole,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel said that the main difference between a regular tomato and a creole tomato is the taste. “Creole tomatoes stay on the vine longer, so they’re fresher. They’re better because the tomatoes don’t have to travel across the country. The soil is what makes them sweeter,” he said.
He sure knows a lot about creole tomatoes and how to pick some good ones.
“You want them to be firm and red. If it’s for a salad then you don’t want them to have a lot of blemishes. Those kind end up slicing well. When you come to the Farmers Market, you’ll often find a basket called ‘seconds’. These kind of tomatoes are good for stewing, cooking, and making salsa. They are just as good, they don’t always look as pretty as the others, so that’s the reason they’re cheaper,” he said.
The summertime is the perfect time for creole tomatoes.
“Creole tomatoes are just a quintessential summertime food, especially when you pick them up fresh,” McDaniel said.
In 2002, when the National Organic Program took effect, farmers in New York’s Hudson River Valley laid the groundwork for their own grassroots certification. What started as a regional program appealed to farmers across the country, so it quickly grew. The organization was completely managed by farmers for the first five years.
Fun Facts from their site:
• Georgia has more Certified Naturally Grown producers than any other state, and 15% of CNG’s membership. For years, Georgia growers have been enthusiastic leaders in our movement. Several farmer’s markets and grocery co-ops prefer or even require their producers are either CNG or organic, such as the Peachtree Road Farmer’s Market, Grant Park Farmer’s Market, and the Daily Grocery Co-op, (check out our Market Directory to find out if there are any such markets near you). Our strength in Georgia is partly due to early adopters like Rashid Nuri, the figurehead of urban agriculture in Atlanta at Truly Living Well, and Lynn Pugh, educator of many new farmers, at Cane Creek Farm. Let’s see if Pennsylvania – the state with the next-most CNG farms – can catch up to Georgia in 2017!
• Last year we launched the nation’s first certification for all-natural aquaponics systems, and we added a certification for mushroom growers too. Know any mushroom or aquaponics producers? Please help spread the word. We’re eager to grow our membership in these areas.
Crony capitalism is an extremely important topic for the community food system to ponder. This is how I define what has happened a few times when online aggregators or other techies spend all of their money building fancy software and no money or time investing in distribution systems or training staff and then throw up their hands when the farmers don’t immediately flock to their door to sell their items below retail or the weekly market shopper doesn’t become enamored of their online tool. This may also best describe the situation when new, poorly-planned farmers markets open without adequate time to plan or to talk to the community it wants to serve or build relationships with producers a season or two before opening day. (Sometimes these folks call me a few weeks before they plan to open a new market and are dumbfounded when I tell them they should have begun planning 18-24 month before!)
I want to be clear that I am NOT talking about the majority of markets, but those thrown together (often by a developer or another outside interest) that simply see the market as visual dressing to sell their apartments or product without any effort made to whether there is a need and if the vendors will make any money.
This is why I believe farmers market managers roles should be financially supported by other food system initiatives, and experienced market managers should be brought in as consultants or facilitators to use their expertise in curating other relationships between buyers and sellers for new market ideas, for intermediate sales (specialty stores and restaurants), and even when building value chains for institutional buying.
But Robert Litan and Ian Hathaway, writing in Harvard Business Review, have a more dire hypothesis. They surmised that many American entrepreneurs are no longer looking for ways to produce more useful stuff, and are instead looking for new techniques for extracting money from each other and from the government. In other words, crony capitalism may be slowly cannibalizing productive capitalism.
Evolution of Organic is a new film from Mark Kitchell, maker of Berkeley in the Sixties, which was nominated for an Academy Award and A Fierce Green Fire, a big-picture exploration of environmental activism that aired on American Masters on Earth Day 2014. Veronica Selver edited the rough-cut; she is best known for Word Is Out, the pioneering film about gays in America. Legendary editor Robert Dalva is slated for the fine-cut; his credits include The Black Stallion, Jumanji, Captain America, Jurassic Park III and docs including the amazing television cut down of A Fierce Green Fire.
Evolution of Organic made it to rough-cut in May. At 77 minutes it’s taut, feeling far along and getting good reviews. Some 500 people have seen it and what stands out is how much people like the film. We’ve had a good run. Six former funders gave $54K to shoot interviews last fall. Then a $40K grant from Gaia Fund enabled the rough-cut phase — four months of scripting, editing and gathering archival material. By now $170K has been raised. An estimated $160K is needed to finish.
Farmer Veteran Coalition was recently invited by the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund to compete in the American Heroes Charity Challenge from May 23 to July 6. In this competition, we’ll be going head-to-head against other nonprofit organizations that support veterans and first responders for a chance to win the $15,000 top prize.
While a little friendly competition among nonprofits is fun, more important are the funds we’re in need of raising so we can assist more farmer veterans around the country and provide them with critical items, such as livestock, used tractors and greenhouses, as they launch their farming operations.
We’ve set our goal high–$40,000—and we will be fortunate for every dollar we raise, but we believe that you, our member and supporter, are the greatest hope we have to reach our goal. Either by making a small donation or sharing this email with others who support veterans, you can help us raise crucial funds that will make a direct impact on beginning farmer veterans and the future of American agriculture.