The link below is to a post from Richard Florida on examining rural-urban tropes that are used ad nauseum often in lieu of updated facts. It is my opinion that with this type of analysis (often done for the excellent CityLab), Florida has mostly made up for what many believe was his famous yet flawed theory of an emerging creative class as the main driver of economic success. Many of his critics believed he included too many non-creative careers in his accounting, or that he cherry-picked cities where his theory fit best, or they pointed out its lack of info on the structural inequities that allow some (read young white people) to have unequal access to resources and to opportunities. (I’d also add that the very mobile/online nature of many of the careers and the age of those who hold them means any effect will need a longer span of years to truly analyze its effect.)*
Unfortunately, that original theory has been misused over and over again by municipalities, allowing developers to profit from shiny “open space” monuments to unchecked consumerism for technology-addled people to sit in silence, more divided than ever, rather than insisting on meaningful public spaces serving a diverse group of people. I know many farmers market leaders that read this blog know exactly what I mean by that rush to capitalize on it.
Since the election of 2016, the rural/urban discussion has become a juggernaut of its own, and yet in most analysis, it still lacks regional context and nuance. I am sure that is not surprising to anyone, as that is the norm in American election campaigning. In terms of our work in farmers markets however, this issue is something we must understand and own and we cannot allow easy reads of it to stand. The good news is that our work illuminates what Florida and others have already found, and our data can help even more good analysis to follow – that is, when we collect and share data and when we challenge our own assumptions.
For example, I always question food system activists when they use the term “urban agriculture” because I don’t think it means anything. Or rather, I don’t think it means what they think it does. It seems to me that term does disservice to both urban producers and to their rural sistren and brethren, as well as confusing the visitors that we want to attract. I also challenge rural activists when they refuse to share their lessons learned with their urban colleagues. Cannot tell you how many times people have rolled their eyes at me when I suggest they publish something about their small town triumph, or when I suggest they go to regional conferences that include urban topics. And our just-as-dedicated suburban food system leaders almost always get scornful dismissals from rural and urban colleagues and funders even while they are seeing a huge influx of immigrant diversity in their midst, as cities becomes too expensive for many newly arrived residents.
This is important because as I have written on this blog previously, I believe one major impediment to more resilient food systems is this lack of regional thinking, and the unwillingness of many food activists to explore the effect of their work across planning or political boundaries or to think critically beyond the short-term outcomes of their project.
When farmers markets are thriving, I find they are challenging assumptions and boldly expanding who depends on that market community. So understanding your own regional rural-suburban-urban challenge seems like a good first step to your farmers markets becoming place-based regional hubs of innovation, inclusion, and import-replacement. (that alliteration just happened, I swear.) I hope Florida’s piece helps.
Not all of rural America is in decline. Far from it. Significant parts of it are thriving, while others have economies that are in transition. The same is true of urban and metro areas of all sizes. Some are succeeding, others are failing, and still others are standing still.
The reality is that economic growth is not only uneven and unequal between urban and rural places; it is also uneven within them. Some cities and large metros are growing like gangbusters, while others are declining; some suburban areas are booming, while others are beset by economic dislocation and poverty. So it is with rural places.
I am sure that many market leaders are also involved with their urban system too and some may be even under 40- If so, check out Next City’s annual gathering, this year in Montreal.
Vanguard is Next City’s annual gathering of 40 of the world’s best and brightest urban leaders age 40 and under. The conference is free, and the window to apply closes Monday, December 12, at midnight. Here are their top 10 reasons to throw your hat in the ring to be part of the 2017 Vanguard conference happening in Montreal, May 31 to June 3.
1. Get to know 39 amazing leaders in your generation all doing innovative work in cities across the world.
2. It’s Montreal’s 375th anniversary and the city is celebrating year-round. Vanguards will explore one of our favorite projects, Cite Memoire, a nighttime multimedia experience projected throughout Old Montreal.
3. Participate in the planning process of Montreal’s urban transport network by using MTL Trajet throughout the conference. Designed by our conference partner Concordia University, Vanguards will track their movements across the city contributing to the Smart City Action Plan.
4. Finally get your chance to not be the biggest urban planning geek in the room.
5. Visit Mount Royal, designed by the world-famous Frederick Law Olmsted.
6. Participate in the annual Big Idea Challenge, which will leave a lasting impact on the city.
7. Form deep and lasting connections within an influential network of your peers.
8. Practice your French skills amongst Montreal’s Francophiles in the heart of the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec.
9. You won’t be just another tourist. Yes, there are fun photo ops, but Vanguard classes dive deep into host cities. Check out what we packed into three days in Reno in 2015.
10. After seven years of hosting the Vanguard conference, we’ve built an influential alumni group, and many past participants will be attending. You’ll get to meet them — and join that growing club.
I read Next City faithfully, because like many food system activists, I am also a student of any kind of civic engagement strategy, including urban design. So I was pleased to see this short piece about how urbanists should pay attention to the lessons of food organizing. As those who regularly read my blog know, I am always searching for lessons and templates in other sectors that we can apply to our work and that the thoughtful and inclusive work that we do is noted by other sectors in return is appreciated.
Of course, I’d prefer to not be called foodies which sounds a lot like the term “women’s libbers” that second-wave feminists were tagged with back in the 1970s. These terms can isolate the work being done by suggesting that it is restricted to a small group of people who have adopted a lifestyle, rather than according the respect due by being broad social movements.
Still, I like the piece very much and would recommend that markets link to it on their FB pages and to share with their municipal partners.
I marvel at the success of the food movement partly because it required so many changes in different parts of the food system. Farmers have had to grow their crops differently; stores and distributors have had to start offering different food for sale; new recipes had to be discovered or invented; and ultimately millions of individuals have changed the way they eat.
I also think it’s interesting that many of the key actors and institutions were entrepreneurs and small businesses. It wasn’t just activists, it was the people writing cookbooks, it was restaurants and grocery stores, farmers and manufacturers all contributing to a lasting transformation.
The sustainable food movement has changed how we eat. Will the urbanist movement change how we live?
June 2015: The update means no label is required to sell raw honey and deletes the earlier need for registering at the state for sales tax collection. However, if there is local (parish or municipality) sales tax registration and collection required, it does not lift that requirement.
The following foods were specifically listed:
Baked goods, including breads, cakes, cookies and pies
Good site for the cottage food community which includes some interpretation of laws.
More detail from the sales tax issue. The original article from TP overstates the sales tax issue a bit. I asked for a clarification from the sponsor and this is what I was sent:
The pertinent information is in the bill itself on page 1, line 19 through page 2, line 5 of HB 79 Enrolled – which provides as follows:
“No individual who prepares low-risk foods in the home shall sell such foods unless he is registered to collect any local sales and use taxes that are applicable to the sale of such foods, as evidenced by a current sales tax certificate issued to the seller by the sales and use tax collector for the parish in which the sales occur.”
This means that if any local sales taxes are applicable to the sale of the food, then the seller must be registered to collect that tax in order to sell his home-produced food legally. If no local sales taxes are applicable to the sale of the food, then the seller doesn’t need to be registered to collect taxes on the sale of the food.
The main purpose of this particular amendment that HB 79 makes to the cottage law is to strike the reference requiring sellers to register to collect state sales tax. This correction was necessary as state sales tax does not apply to food for home consumption
Hope this helps,
Legislative Assistant to
Representative Richard Burford
I used these examples in Part 2 of this series, but wanted to use them again for this post. To review:
Market A (which runs on Saturday morning downtown) is asked by its city to participate in a traffic planning project that will offer recommendations for car-free weekend days in the city center. The city will also review the requirement for parking lots in every new downtown development and possibly recalibrate where parking meters are located. To do this, the city will add driving strips to the areas around the market to count the cars and will monitor the meters and parking lot uses over the weekend. The market is being asked for its farmers to track their driving for all trips to the city and ask shoppers to do Dot Surveys on their driving experiences to the market on the weekend. Public transportation use will be gathered by university students.
Market B is partnering with an agricultural organization and other environmental organizations to measure the level of knowledge and awareness about farming in the greater metropolitan area. For one summer month, the market and other organizations will ask their supporters and farmers to use the hashtag #Junefarminfo on social media to share any news about markets, farm visits, gardening data or any other seasonal agricultural news.
Market C is working with its Main Street stores to understand shopping patterns by gathering data on average sales for credit and debit users. The Chamber of Commerce will also set up observation stations at key intersections to monitor Main Street shopper behavior such as where they congregate.
Market D has a grant with a health care corporation to offer incentives and will ask those voucher users to track their personal health care stats and their purchase and consumption of fresh foods. The users will get digital tools such as cameras to record their meals, voice recorders to record their children’s opinions about the menus (to upload on an online log) with their health stats such as BP, exercise regimen. That data will be compared to the larger Census population.
So all those ideas show how markets and their partners might be able to begin to use the world of Big Data. In those examples, one can see how the market benefits from having data that is (mostly) collected without a lot of work on the market’s part and yet is useful for them and for the larger community that the market also serves.
However, one of the best ways that markets can benefit from Big Data is slightly closer to home and even more useful to the stability and growth of the market itself. That is: to analyze and map the networks that markets foster and maintain, which is also known as network theory.
Network theory is a relatively new science that rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s and is about exploring and defining the relationships that a person or a community has and how, through their influence, their behavior is altered. What’s especially exciting about this work is that it combines many disciplines from mathematics to economics to social sciences.
A social network perspective can mean that data about relationships between the individuals can be as useful as the data about individuals themselves. Some people talk about this work in terms of strong ties and weak ties. Strong ties are the close relationships that we use with greater frequency and offer support and weak ties are those acquaintances who offer new information and connect us to other networks. The key is that in order to really understand a network, it is important to analyze the behavior of any member of the network in relation to other members action. This has a lot to do with incentives, which is obviously something markets have a lot of interest in.
I could go on and on about different theories and updates and critiques on these ideas, but the point to make here is this is science that is so very useful to the type of networks that food systems are propagating. Almost all of the work that farmers markets do rely on network theory without directly ascribing to it.
Think about a typical market day: a market could map each vendors booth to understand what people come to each table, using Dot Surveys or intercept surveys. That data could assist the vendor and the market. The market will benefit in knowing which are the anchor vendors of the market, which vendors constantly attract new shoppers, which vendors share shoppers etc. The market could also find out who among their shoppers bring information and ideas into the market and who carrries them out to the larger world from the market. All of this data would be mapped visually and would allow the market to be strategic with its efforts, connecting the appropriate type of shoppers to the vendors, expanding the product list for the shoppers likely to purchase new goods and so on.
Network theory would be quite beneficial to markets in their work to expand the reach to benefit program users and in the use of incentives. Since these market pilots began around 2005/2006, it has been a struggle to understand how to create a regular, return user of markets among those who have many barriers to adding this style of health and civic engagement. Those early markets created campaigns designed to offer the multiple and unique benefits of markets as a reason for benefit program shoppers to spend their few dollars there. Those markets also worked to reduce the barriers whenever possible by working with agencies on providing shuttles, offering activities for children while shopping, and adding non-traditional hours and locations for markets. Those efforts in New York, Arizona, California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Louisiana (among others) were positive but the early results were very small, attracting only a few of the shoppers desired. When the outcomes were analyzed by those organizations, it seemed that a few issues were cropping up again and again:
1. The agency that distributed the news of these market programs didn’t understand markets or did not have a relationship of trust with their clients that encouraged introduction of new ideas or acceptance of advice in changing their habits.
2. The market itself was not ready to welcome new benefit program shoppers- too few items were available or the market was not always welcoming to new shoppers who required extra steps and new payment systems.
3. Targeting the right group of “early adopters” among the large benefit program shopping base was impossible to decipher.
4. Some barriers remained and were too large for markets alone to address (lack of transportation or distance for example).
4. Finding the time for staff to do all of that work.
Over time, markets did their best to address these concerns, which has led to the expansion of these systems into every state and a combined impact in the millions for SNAP purchases at markets alone. The cash incentives assisted a great deal, especially with #2 and #4. However, this work would be made so much easier and the impact so much larger if network theory was applied.
Market A is going to add a centralized card processing system and has funds to offer a cash incentive. But how to spend it? And how to prepare the market for the program?
If the market joined forces with a public health agency and a social science research team from a nearby university, it might begin by mapping the networks in that market to understand the strong and weak ties it contains as well as the structural holes in its network. It might find out that its vendors attract few new shoppers regularly or that the market’s staff is not connected to many outside actors in the larger network, thereby reducing the chance for information to flow.
It might also see that younger shoppers are not coming to the market and therefore conclude that focusing its efforts on attracting older benefit program shoppers (especially at first) might be a strategic move. If the market has a great many low-income shoppers using FMNP coupons already, the mapping of those shoppers may offer much data about how the market supports benefit program shoppers already and how it might expand with an audience already at market
The public health agency might do the same mapping for the agencies that are meant to offer the news of the market’s program. That mapping might find certain agencies or centers are better at introducing new ideas or have a population that is aligned already with the market’s demographic and therefore likely to feel welcomed.
As for incentives, what markets and their partners routinely tell me is more money is not always the answer. Not knowing what is expected from the use of the incentives or how to reach the best audience for that incentive is exhausting them or at least, puzzling them.
If markets knew their networks and knew where the holes were, they could use their incentive dollars much more efficiently and run their markets without burning out their staff or partners.
They might offer different incentives for their different locations, based on the barriers or offerings for each location. (They may also offer incentives to their vendors to test out new crops.)
If connectors are seen in large numbers in a market, then a “bring a friend” incentive might be offered, or if the mapping shows a large number of families entering the system in that area, then an incentive for a family level shopping experience may be useful.
One of the most important hypotheses that markets should use in their incentive strategy is how can they create a regular shopper through the use of the incentive. Of course, it is not the only hypothesis for a market; a large flagship market might identify their role as introducing new shoppers to their markets every month and use their funds to do just that. But for many markets with limited staff and small populations in and around the market, a never-ending cycle of new shoppers coming in for a few months and then not returning may not be the most efficient way to spend those dollars or their time. So this is also where network theory could be helpful.
By asking those using their EBT card to tell in detail where and how they heard about the program and by also tracking the number of visits they have after their introduction, we could begin to see which introductions work the best. Or by asking a small group of new EBT shoppers to be members of a long-term shopping focus group to track what happens during their visit (how many vendors they purchase from and how long they stay) and after (see Market D example at the top), we could learn about what EBT shoppers in that area value in their market experience. We may also find out that the market has few long-term return shoppers from the EBT population or we may find out that connectors become easy to spot and therefore they can be rewarded when sharing information on the market’s behalf.
In all of these cases, it will be easier for the staff to know what to do and when to do it if they understand their networks both in and around the market.
And of course, mapping the larger food systems around the markets’ systems would be exciting and could move policy issues to action sooner and allow funding to be increased for initiatives to fill the holes found.
However markets do it, what seems necessary is to know specifically who is using markets and how and why they decided to begin to use them and to whom those folks are connected. Network theory can be the best and widest use of the world of Big Data, especially to accomplish what Farmers Market Coalition has set as their call to action: that markets are for everyone.
Scrolling down through the list of FMPP successful proposals shows the ingenious and unique approaches that farmers markets and farmer advocates are employing across the U.S. to further community food systems.
I am just finishing up a commentary for an online magazine in my original home of Cleveland, Ohio and to remember some details, I pulled out the Michael Shuman report “The 25% Shift: The Benefits of Food Localization for Northeast Ohio & How to Realize Them” that he and coauthors Brad Masi and Leslie Schaller completed for the Northeast Ohio food community and its municipal partners. I find it informative and ambitious.
From the summary:
The following study analyzes the impact of the 16-county Northeast Ohio (NEO) region moving a quarter of the way toward fully meeting local demand for food with local production. It suggests that this 25% shift could create 27,664 new jobs, providing work for about one in eight unemployed residents. It could increase annual regional output by $4.2 billion and expand state and local tax collections by $126 million. It could increase the food security of hundreds of thousands of people and reduce near-epidemic levels of obesity and Type-II diabetes. And it could significantly improve air and water quality, lower the region’s carbon footprint, attract tourists, boost local entrepreneurship, and enhance civic pride.
The more than 50 recommendations would be helpful for any food system to review: