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.

 

https://farmersmarketlegaltoolkit.org/

 

 

 

 

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FINI report, Year 1

In Year one, FINI supported incentive programs at almost 1,000 farmers markets, representing 4,000 direct marketing farmers in 27 states. These farmers market programs alone generated almost $8 million in SNAP and incentive sales spent on produce. Program evaluation conducted by grantees indicated uniformly high redemption rates, strong support for the program among stakeholders, and a great deal of collaboration from both public agencies and private program partners. These collaborations were particularly important in conducting outreach to SNAP recipients.

 

FINI_FarmersMarkets_Year1_FMC_170413

Interested in Free SNAP EBT Equipment?

If you are a farmers market or a direct marketing farmer interested in offering card processing but currently lack EBT equipment, check out Farmers Market Coalition’s link below to get information about two programs that offer free equipment and cover many of the fees for a period. The site is easy to navigate to see if your market or business can begin EBT processing. FMC also supplies some good FAQs here for anyone searching for more information on these systems.

Source: Interested in Free SNAP EBT Equipment?

Farmers Market Metrics site updated

We are pleased to present an updated version of Farmers Market Coalition’s Farmers Market Metrics (FMM) website. We have streamlined and organized information about the current efforts, and will use this site to offer background information and project updates on all of the components of FMM that are underway. The final set of resources and tools will be available on a separate portal in development, expected in 2016.
Some highlights include:
Unique pages for current and past projects
Information on our project partnerships and funding sources
Examples of some of the resources being developed (currently in draft phase)
We hope you will take some time visiting and exploring our new pages. Please contact me with any questions.
Thank you for your ongoing support and enthusiasm for Farmers Market Metrics and the Indicators for Impact project.
Sara

Sara Padilla, FMC Project Manager

Visitor counts

Over the last few months (and years really), I have spent a great deal of time asking people for input into valid ways to count market visitors, and in researching how other sectors (festivals, fairs and city planning for example) conduct these counts. Most researchers working with markets recognize that asking them to do what is commonly called a full count is unlikely to happen at most markets. So they employ some version of a sample counting system where, for one time span everyone is counted and that is used as a representative total for the entire day.

The research team at University of Wisconsin-Madison led by Dr. Morales working with Farmers Market Coalition in their combined AFRI-funded Indicators for Impact three year project, is piloting a method of 20-minute intervals counts at entrances every hour for the 9 markets in the pilot. That method certainly has the potential for a more precise estimate than the method currently used by many markets of counting everyone within the market for one time slot each hour. By the way, here is an update on that project.

In all cases of market counts however, the labor required taxes the market leadership and the methods used have not been found to be entirely accurate or appropriate for the many types and layouts of markets that exist across the US.

Still, we keep trying and know that sooner or later, the technology will be available to make this easier for markets and other food system projects. Seems like it is closer than ever, based on the article I found recently about a study to analyze pedestrian and transportation uses in one city which mentions one company that provides counting tools and analyzes those counts, often using existing cameras. The cost is still uncomfortably high for markets, but when technology adapts, products often become more suitable to our odd little world of pop up tents and milling groups of people.

Stay tuned in other words; the possibility is very close for precise counts of visitors for markets, which in turn will allow for better data use and more support for our hard-working markets.

My new role

Since many people have written to me with congratulations on accepting a staff job with FMC (see below), while others emailed with surprise because they thought I was already on staff, I  thought I’d post something about the news, but really more about my feelings about FMC, as I have had a unique vantage point to observe its evolution.

But first the news here: after many years in an outside support role with FMC, I arrived at the conclusion that the opportunity to work daily on the Farmers Market Metrics and other resource development for markets could be best done as an employee when offered that opportunity by Jen Cheek, our able Executive Director.

I also felt that the organization was at a key moment in its growth and being included in that work was right for my skills to assist and to learn. And since I am going to keep my consulting for markets going, it becomes even simpler for me to share news and ideas and looming issues heard from markets with my FMC team and then even easier to dream up or seek solutions.

What made the personal decision become an employee relatively easy was that I know first hand how thoughtfully and carefully FMC has been built by its two Executive Directors, first Stacy Miller and then Jen, supported and led by its talented and committed volunteer board. To illustrate how committed, I remember how the early versions of the board (made up of market leaders) were so vigilant about designing it in such a way to ensure its continued stability and relevancy for serving the independent market community that they even jettisoned a few early passes at it until it seemed right.

Back in the first days of being the first staff hired, Stacy asked a lot of questions (well she still does that), and I observed her as she gladly checked in with anyone and everyone who was open to talking or working with FMC on farmers market advocacy. That sort of openness to building relationships is crucial for an organization, especially one that hopes to represent a wide range of members. Out of those informal one-on-one conversations and early collaborations, she (later with membership and outreach coordinator Liz Comiskey) slowly built a respected young organization, one with some discipline and good relationships.

(I wonder how many remember those early days when the necessity of having a national organization for markets was not shared by everyone and how, when many of us would discuss the idea with outside stakeholders, we would often be politely rebuffed. How (in some circles) markets were often seen as an anachronism or at least as having found their highest level already and therefore any talk of ongoing support to expand them was largely met with indifference. That tide was turned by the valiant push to expand EBT and access to underserved populations and by constantly stretching the reach of markets as fulcrums of food systems and civic engagement. That work was done by the markets themselves with tiny funds and with a whole bunch of sharing between those early leaders and continues to this day.)

One of Stacy’s regular activities was working closely with the state and network leaders who were building resources, analyzing trends and expanding pilots within markets. It was in that part of her work that I got to know her as we both crisscrossed the US appearing at conferences or working in groups like the Wallace Center Farmers Market Working Group or supporting efforts like Projects For Public Spaces’ Farmers Market Mini-Grant program. Back then, my job at Market Umbrella was to pilot the imaginative set of regional ideas our founder had written into grants and to strategize with him and our advisors how to build the field of markets through replicating those ideas or extracting lessons or analysis.  And after I became a consultant, she stayed in touch, hired me and  was one of the few people back then who agreed that the Farmers Market Metrics work was necessary, letting me talk incessantly about it (well I still do that), relentlessly questioning me when needed.

When she told me of her decision to step down in preparation for the birth of her son, I was a bit deflated, knowing how hard it would be to maintain the supportive energy that FMC was beginning to take advantage of to grow its funded activities. Lucky for us, the right person found FMC next and kept the momentum going, and expanding its reach and depth rather quickly. Whether the timing was just right or Jen visualized it all, she did a speedy job adding the right components while listening to those with opinions or ideas about markets and now, with opinions about FMC itself. And that is a crucial point to make: each ED had a very different primary challenge to overcome and Jen’s was to exponentially grow the income and programs at the same pace as the number of members and partners, while managing the expectations of an emerging organization with its own personality and inertia. All of which is harder to do than it may seem. Far too often, organizations have too many programs at once and members can feel left out, or not enough money for non-project staff and therefore calls and issues are not handled in real time. Having served more than three decades in non-profits, I have seen more entities fail than succeed at being true membership organizations, not guarding against duplicating what is better done by the members or partners, or losing sight as of the issues and remaining barriers that must be addressed at the grassroots level.

Well long story short (although, as my friend Roger would say, it’s too late for that), FMC has ably managed its core purpose without failing its membership on any critical tasks and has important long-term programs in place to support partners and ideas big and small, all the while tirelessly advocating from the seat next to, not in front of markets. Jen also grasped the potential of the Farmers Market Metrics and asked clear questions of Stacy and I (and our early measurement advisors like Paul Freedman of University of Virginia and Alfonso Morales at University of Wisconsin-Madison) and led us in thinking through our plan and kept fundraising to get the ball truly rolling.

Add to that, she had a plan and the skills for staffing with first-rate minds and caring individuals in order to manage its work while asking everyone to remain available for a call or email from a market in need of a reality check or a solution. She also had the maturity and tact to keep Stacy on to assist with analysis and resource writing and Stacy reciprocated with the same and so FMC has had the benefit of her continued presence in crucial ways.

So, when I tell you that I am grateful and honored to be on staff at FMC, I think you can see why. Market Umbrella under Richard McCarthy’s leadership was a tough act to follow and I think somewhere in my mind, I always suspected that FMC might welcome me sooner or later for a spell. Of course, I will remain a roving and critical eye in the market field, offering comfort and strategy to any market or food system that needs my help, but for now, expect that the FMC resource and capacity building work that I gladly get to do these days for (at least) half of my time will continue without interruption for the foreseeable future.

And welcome to my fellow FMC newbie, Honesta.



FMC’s Team is Enjoying Spring Growth!

FMC’s long time consultant, Darlene Wolnik, is now officially an FMC staffer. As Senior Research Associate, Darlene is busily working on the FMC Farmers Market Metrics Project, assisting the Vermont Law School in creating a legal toolkit forfarmers markets, and she is also maintaining her private consulting practice. You can read the full bio for Darlene here.

New to FMC with strong roots in agriculture and nonprofits, Honesta Romberger is our new Communications Associate. Prior to joining the FMC team, Honesta was a member of consulting staff at The Food Trust, a non-profit located in Philadelphia, PA, where she provided expertise and capacity for multiple projects surrounding healthy food access to schools and homeless shelters. Read more about Honesta.

Welcome to FMC!