2019 data collection strategies-South Champlain Islands and Capital City Farmers Markets, Part 2

from Part 1

For the last few years,I have worked on an FMPP-funded project under the supervision of NOFA-VT’s Direct Marketing Coordinator, Erin Buckwalter. This project will aid in building a culture of data collection at Vermont’s farmers markets and has included resource development, evaluation strategies for all market types, and direct technical assistance and training. Because of this, I added a second annual trip besides my usual winter conference attendance. And lucky for me, it was scheduled for the summer rather than the usual winter trip, which, although very lovely, is somewhat limiting for this Southerner and means I see few markets.

Erin suggested that we create a team of market managers, agency leaders, and market volunteers to gather data for markets in August. The goals were multiple:
1. model good data collection habits
2. network markets interested in data collection
3. test out some methods for different types of markets
4. look for opportunities for needed resource development on evaluation
5. see more markets and make a direct connection with market leaders
6. collect some data!

She sent out an email to a few markets to nominate themselves. Obviously we needed to be able to do them in a short span of days, the successful applicants needed to have a use for the data, and they would have to have some capacity to assist the team.

We ended up with 2 excellent choices: Champlain Islands Farmers Market – South Hero, held Wednesday afternoons 3-6 pm, and Capitol City Farmers Market (Montpelier) held 9-1 pm Saturdays.

They were wonderful choices because they were so very different, and they have enthusiastic leadership that are very interested in the data.

Capital City Farmers Market-Montpelier

The team:
Jennie Porter, NOFA-VT’s Food Security Coordinator
me
Dave Kaczynski , Montpelier FM board member, VTFMA board member
Sherry Maher, Brattleboro Winter mkt leader, and NOFA-VT’s lead for in-state data collection strategies on this project
Alissa Matthews, VT Agency of Ag, Food and Food Systems (VAAFM)
NOFA-VT alumni Jean Hamilton and Libby MacDonald
Elizabeth Parker from Sustainable Montpelier Coalition who offered to stay and help when we approached her as a shopper that morning.

Dave and his fellow board member Hannah Blackmer were our leads for the this farmers market collection. This required a very different plan than South Hero, as the Montpelier market is much larger and is situated on a busy shopping district street. As most Vermonters know, this beloved market has been around for 40 years, but has already had to move locations more than once, and will have to do that again after this year. So questions about location had to be added to this survey which meant a flurry of emails and even some refinements to the survey on Saturday morning- thankfully, there is a copy/print company right down the street that was open.
And because this market was on a Saturday morning, market leaders who were interested in doing team data collection could not help, as most were either running their own market or working another job.
So because we had a smaller than necessary team, and the survey would take longer, we decided on a different and relatively new method for collecting the visitor count. We used a method that works better for small teams and for less busy markets: the Sticker Count.
The idea is to give each adult who enters the market a sticker to wear, telling them that we are counting the attendance that day, and then count how many stickers were given out to assess the number. And by wearing the sticker, we won’t double count them.
This method can be fun and less taxing to counters than clicking entries, but it has its own issues, such as:
1. The community has to be aware of this activity beforehand and know to take a sticker but only one.
2. Since counts are estimating potential shoppers, kids are not usually counted. That can be difficult when kids cannot take one of these stickers as they are often the only ones who want to wear a sticker. (Our solution was to stick those stickers to the back of our paper that someone had refused to take to be able to give kids one of those. That way the child’s sticker was not adding to our count. Another way to solve this will be to have kids-only stickers to hand out.)

3. Complex layouts can also make this hard (although complex layouts make ALL counting hard!) and CCFM has ONE fascinating and complicated layout:

 

 

In terms of the survey, we decided to have more ways to complete them as we had a goal to get over 260 completed surveys:
• “intercept” surveys, which means a surveyor asked questions and wrote the answers on their form

•  self-reported surveys under a tent, where people could fill out the forms on their own on paper, or on one of our laptops set up for that;


•  having signs with a QR code for smartphone users to snap a picture using their smartphone which takes that phone to the form online.


The tent was ably staffed by Alissa Matthews, who we decided to have there because she has been involved with this relocation process and could better answer questions about the possible locations and is always calm and cheerful . Dave set the tent up beautifully, both by adding eye-catching signs and table coverings. He also knows how to make tables comfortable for those reading or writing by adding leg extensions which helped as well. His survey work is also stellar; he is a natural at it.
The tent was constantly bustling, Alissa aided by me or by nearby Sticker Queen, Libby McDonald.

One issue at the tent was that the online form was designed to require an email address, which is helpful to ensure only one response per email, but it seemed to freak out those at the computer. The reason the online survey was also included was partly to gather more responses next week after market day, because the location issue is significant for the entire market community to be able to weigh in. Oddly, those doing the self-reporting paper surveys at the same tent were less concerned about the email request on their form and even when we told people they didn’t have to fill out their email on those forms, they often did, saying they would be happy to learn more about the market or the relocation process. (And those doing intercept surveys don’t ask for emails at all.) Another issue was that the printed self survey had a few areas that confused people (the frequency of visit choices were too close together so many people circled more than one choice, and lots of folks missed the other side!) One last issue that I noted a few times were both members of a couple were filling out surveys, which means their economic contribution that day would be doubled. I don’t think any of these damaged the day’s data in a major way, but these are the issues that can arise with allowing self-reported survey completion.

 


The sticker counting started off extremely well, with aforementioned volunteer Libby taking the entrance near to our tent as her stickering responsibility. We worked out language around that, as brandishing a sticker at someone entering a market could seem off-putting, and the market had less time to let folks know beforehand that we’d be doing this.

Instead of “Can I offer you a sticker? The market is counting everyone attending..” which offers an easy chance for a NO.

we settled on:

“here’s a sticker for you (putting it gently on a shoulder or handing to the person) ; the market is counting everyone attending by giving each adult a sticker. The good news is if you wear it, we’ll not bother you again!”

3-5 of us were constantly handing out stickers (and the surveyors also had stickers if someone they stopped had gotten past us), all strategically placed near entrances or busy areas. We also had signs at all of the vendor booths and also explained what was happening and asked them to steer anyone without a sticker to one of us.

Our estimate was that maybe 20% were not stickered, especially later on when larger groups started to show up and we couldn’t get to them all. That part is still a very rough guess, but with more trials, we may get better at it.

Still, it was a cheerful, participatory way to do counting and many people were intrigued by the idea and one person even said enthusiastically to one of our team when asked if she had taken a sticker: “Yes,  I was counted today!”  Honestly, that made my day.

Overall, the numbers of surveys far exceeded our goal (we even had to go print more surveys for people to fill out!), our count felt as if was a good test and the team felt relatively confident about the numbers.

 

The Cap City Team: Me, Dave, Sherry, Jennie, Jean, Alissa, and Libby (sorry to miss Elizabeth who had left.)

Part 1

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2019 data collection strategies-South Champlain Islands and Capital City Farmers Markets – Part 1

Checking out different ways that markets collect and use data is one of my chief duties in developing evaluation tools over the past 20 years. And since part-time at FMC, I have also contracted directly with some markets and networks, mostly on data collection strategies, which also informs my FMC duties.
One of those delightful synergies can be illustrated through my long time relationship with Northeast Organic Farming Association- Vermont (NOFA-VT). For the last few years, I have worked on an FMPP-funded project under the supervision of NOFA-VT’s Direct Marketing Coordinator, Erin Buckwalter. This project will aid in building a culture of data collection at Vermont’s farmers markets and has included resource development, evaluation strategies for all market types, and direct technical assistance and training. Because of this, I added a second annual trip besides my usual winter conference attendance.  And luckily for me, it was scheduled for the mid-summer rather than the usual winter trip, which, although very lovely, is somewhat limiting for this Southerner and has meant few market visits.

Erin suggested that we create a team of market managers, agency leaders, and market volunteers to gather data for markets in August. The goals were multiple:
1. model good data collection habits
2. network markets interested in data collection
3. test out some methods for different types of markets
4. look for opportunities for needed resource development on evaluation
5. see more markets and make a direct connection with market leaders
6. collect some data!

She sent out an email to a few markets to nominate themselves. Obviously we needed to be able to do them in a short span of days, the successful applicants needed to have a use for the data, and they would have to have some capacity to assist the team.

We ended up with 2 excellent choices: Champlain Islands Farmers Market – South Hero, held Wednesday afternoons 3-6 pm, and Capitol City Farmers Market (Montpelier) held 9-1 pm Saturdays.

They were wonderful choices because they were so very different, and because they have enthusiastic leadership that are very interested in the data and learning more about collecting it.

Champlain Islands Farmers Market – South Hero
is one of those organizations that operate markets 2 days a week in 2 different locations. As such, it means the two are actually quite different in terms of vendors, products, programs, and visitors.
The Wednesday market is held behind a church and its location was partly chosen to take advantage of the visitors who are on that part of the island before they turn to the ferry. It has around 16 vendors, offering a wide variety of what is needed by seasonal visitors who will be cooking in their vacation kitchens and what permanent residents need for their table. Because the site is offered by a third party, sharing data on the positive impacts of this location is always helpful, as is analyzing the functionality of the site. Cindy Walcott, Market Chair/Treasurer and Julia Small (market manager) were gracious hosts, giving a lot of assistance to our team.

The team:
Erin
me
Dave Kaczynski , Montpelier FM board member, VTFMA board member
Sherry Maher, Brattleboro Winter mkt leader, and NOFA-VT’s lead for in-state data collection strategies on this project
Janice Baldwin also from the Brattleboro Winter Market
Alissa Matthews, VT Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM)
Anisa​ Balagam​, the new market manager of the Winooski Farmers Market​.​

This market organization has collected data previously and has devised an almost fool-proof way to count their visitors. Since the parking is routed from the main road via a narrow drive to a graveled area, they can position someone at the beginning of the drive, counting every car and the number of adults inside. Additionally, it also allows the market to collect the license plate state which is extremely important as Cindy says that the attendance for this weekday market usually about 50% Vermonters.

Using their counting sheet, two of us went to the vantage point to gather the count. Cindy has also downloaded a counting app on her smart phone, having set it up previously to capture the same detailed data, but we decided to go paper.

Cindy gives us an overview of the counting method the market uses.

The rest of us would gather surveys from the visitors, and since we had a good crew size, could team folks up and also allow them to take breaks to shop and eat.
They had a tent and tables for our use, and we decided to put it in the location where we could best capture folks on their way out. Deciding if the team will survey folks coming in or out is one of the decisions the collection supervisor needs to make before or on the day of – with input from the team.

Whether you do it on the way in or out has a lot to do with the shopping behavior

-are people frantic about missing items that quickly sell out? they will be less interested in doing the survey on the way in.

-are people loaded down with bags and have a long way to go to their parking? they may be less interested in offering data on the way out, although having tables and a tent to put their items down does help!

-and if you are asking intent on learning about their purchases that day, it may be better to wait until the end of the shopping trip. – However, if you have a small market with a lot of regular weekly shoppers, it may be okay to do it as they come in as the amount spent may not vary as much week to week for those shoppers.

We began the day with a group logistical meeting: introductions, and discussing who would be where and how to get breaks when needed. Depending on the group, a quick round of role plays with the survey sheet may also helpful. Cindy gave us the likely attendance number (which decides how many surveys to collect), and the type of shoppers this market usually experiences. My responsibility as the Data Collection Coordinator was simple for this market (and was a very different job for our Saturday market visit at Capital City – more on that in Part 2) but even when it is simple, the Coordinator should be constantly rotating, collecting completed sheets to make sure things look right, re-assigning folks when necessary, and generally seeing what else can be done (and if possible, doing data collection too.)
The crew was eager and because it was a group of market leaders was great at problem-solving, very willing to engage with shoppers, and able to gracefully steer “I don’t know” answers to a specific amount or answer.

market map

The market had originally had us next to the Land Trust info booth, but after a short discussion, the team decided that moving our tent to a spot closer to where we estimated the path to leaving the market would be was better for us. Dave also suggested that we move the picnic table into our tent for folks to sit or to place their bags, and since the day began rainy,  Julia thought it fine to do just that.
The survey collection went great as everyone was very willing to stop and answer questions. I find that the majority of people (90-95%) are always very open to this, especially if the opening line is something like “Can you spare a minute to help the market?”  It has almost always been true on the farmers market data collection teams that I have worked that surveyors constantly exceed the collection goals set for them because they find it easier and more fun than they originally expected. Sometimes it is harder to get them to slow down, which can be necessary to make sure that a comparable number of surveys are collected in each hour.Making it fun for the surveyor and not taxing to the respondent are other reasons that the survey should be well designed and as short as possible!

I must say for this experience of having every person we asked say yes AND people making a beeline for us to take the survey before we approached them was delightful, and is a credit to the excellent pre-market communication that the market had with this community and also makes it clear that the community understands that this is a data-driven market.
Well done Champlain Island Farmers Markets!

More later on the data that was collected, once it has been cleaned and organized by the market organization and NOFA-VT. We did exceed our goal for the number of surveys that the team and the market agreed it wanted to collect. For most markets, collecting 10-15% of the usual attendees will be a good number, but there are ways to calculate that further.

Anissa uses the tent

Erin does the first survey

Data collection and time for sharing and general conversations too

 

Part 2

Farmers Markets Need Support to Collect and Use Data

For the past year and a half, I have been attempting to wrangle the last seven years of FMC’s technical assistance around market evaluation (and the last 18 for me) into some sort of timeline and “lessons learned” to present to researchers and partners interested in farmers markets and data.

The process of writing a peer-reviewed paper was new to me and my fellow authors and the entire FMC team soldiered on with me as best they could, cheering me on and adding much needed perspective and edits at different points of the process. After a year and a half of drafting and reviewing, we released the article linked below through the skill of the JAFSCD team, but also because of the support of the USDA/AMS team. I think it should be said as often as possible that the AMS team is firmly dedicated to assisting farmers markets with whatever trends that arise, and in developing programs at USDA that reflect the current conditions of markets in order to increase their ability to support family farmers and harvesters. The evaluation work is just one example of how they have watched developments and offered support where they thought applicable.
The reason for FMC to put effort into this type of academic article is to make sure that researchers see the opportunity to have market operators be part of the process around what data is collected via markets and market vendors, and how it is used. It certainly doesn’t mean that we think that all of the work to collect and clean the data should be shouldered by the markets only or that using the data is their work alone. I hope that is clear in this paper. But we DO think that market work is increasingly focused around managers and vendors making data-driven decisions, and so the way the market team spends its time and how well it analyzes and shares data also has to evolve. That isn’t our choice; that is the result of the world taking a larger interest in regional food and farming, as well as the constant pressure from the retail food sector. Many in that latter group want to cash in on the trust and authenticity we value without holding the same accountability to producers that we have. We have to fight that, and doing it with data is the best way.

Finally, we think there is still much to know about the barriers to embedding data systems for grassroots markets; this paper only covers what we have learned since 2011 and up to the beginning of 2018. Much more is constantly being learned and will be reflected in the TA we offer markets and their partners.

Please email me with comments and questions about the paper and its findings.

Dar

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FMC press release: December 18, 2018 – Collecting data at farmers markets is not a new endeavor. But until recently, the data was largely collected and used by researchers, often to understand the role farmers markets play in the broader food system. Over the last seven years, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) – a national nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farmers markets – has partnered with research institutions and market organizations to better understand how market organizations have begun to collect and use data.

While until recently it was rare for market organizations to participate in the collection of their own market-level data, more and more markets have reached out to FMC over the last decade for data collection technical assistance. In 2011, the organization began to identify common characteristics and impacts of market programs, and realized more research into evaluation resources and tools that could be used easily by understaffed market operators was needed.

In a new article published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (JAFSCD), FMC outlines the industry need behind creating the Farmers Market Metrics (Metrics) program, and a timeline of the steps and partnerships that led to the creation of the tool, as well as best practices uncovered during its development.

Key recommendations include:

Create assigned roles for the market’s data collection team, and choose training materials that set expectations for seasonal staff, volunteers, and interns to maximize time and efficiency.
Prioritize staff support to allow market leaders more time to oversee data collection.
Gain vendors’ trust in the program for sharing and storing sensitive data.
Patience and support from funders and network leaders for each market’s level of capacity and comfort with data collection.
More assistance from funders and network leaders in helping markets select metrics to collect, as well as advancing data collection training for market staff.
The use of tools such as the USDA’s Local Foods Economic Toolkit, coupled with consistent support from academic partners, will encourage market leaders to delve more deeply into economic data and to feel more confident sharing results.

“FMC’s efforts to craft a suitable set of resources and a data management system for high-functioning but low-capacity market organizations has helped many stakeholders understand and share the many positive impacts their partner markets are making,” said FMC Senior Advisor and article author Darlene Wolnik. “But our analysis concludes that there is still foundational work to be done by those stakeholders to aid these organizations in collecting and using data.”

Wolnik continued, “The good news is that market-level data collection yields important information that markets can use to improve operations, share with researchers, communicate impacts to stakeholders, advocate for and promote vendors, and more.”

7 Food Trends to Consider for Your Farm Business – Hobby Farms

I think farmers market leaders will need to focus on product development with their vendors in the next era of markets and this interesting post offers some excellent ideas for helping vendors expand their choices.

Source: Hobby Farms post

Charlottesville vendor Good Phyte Foods talks value-added product development

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.