Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Tool Maps Peer Cities 

Let me share one of my (not so) secret goals for FMC’s Farmers Market Metrics program – to be able to assist markets by using the profile data to build dynamic peer networks through matching typology of those markets.
This would mean that a market searching for information about trends or ideas for programs would be connected to a market that has the same type of programs, location, governance and vendor makeup. As it stands now, too often markets that are simply near to each other are unfairly compared, or markets will try to adopt programs managed by markets designed very differently from their own.

I also hope that we can also do the same for direct marketing vendors at some point, using the business characteristics to match them to peers, resources and to help select the right outlets and success measures for their business.

In the meantime, check out this tool to find data on cities similar to your own.

The Peer City Identification Tool is like a DNA test for civic data, allowing users to tell at a glance where certain cities’ specific interests and challenges align, and where they deviate—in effect, who their real siblings, cousins, and other relatives are.

Source: CityLab

Communicating community

Hopefully, all of you who read this blog are okay with my use of Vermont as one of this blog’s recurring examples of food system work. I will caution my readers to refrain from assuming that the Vermonters think they have it all figured out just because their residents are rightly proud of its glorious revival of small-acreage farming and its rep as an organic stronghold. I’d say the state food and farming leaders are very honest about the issues that they continue to face and their assessment of what remains to do. For example, there are still no full-time market managers at all and the average market manager makes less than 10,000 per year (really, it’s likely much less but I am trying to not overstate it here) and, in a state with only 625,000 residents (the most rural state in the union with 82.6 percent of its population living in either rural areas or small cities, and many of them poor*), the 80 or so markets are always struggling with maintaining attendance and sales amid strong competition from co-ops and other well-regarded outlets. And of course, like everywhere else, the state’s farmers are pulled in so many directions trying to serve every outlet at once while dealing with weather and regulatory woes and the typical small business challenges that many are not profitable.

What is exciting is that they all try to work collaboratively at the network level to seek appealing ways to showcase producers and organizers’ hard work. The pictures below are an example of that. My home team there (NOFA-VT) has an artist who does lovely work that hang on their walls and whose art is used by NOFA in many other ways. During my last visit, Erin Buckwalter showed me this bowl in their office of farming “affirmations” from that artist some of which also include actual data. She encouraged me to take a handful and so I have been asking people at markets to reach in to my bag of cutouts and take one. What a simple way to display the difference in our system from the one that reduces everything in a store to a place for purchased advertising. So if you see me, ask to dip in and see what you get…

IMG_4714.JPGIMG_4855.jpg

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This one, from NOFA-VT’s imaginative and thoughtful Executive Director, will remain on my board to inspire me.

 

 

• Income and Poverty in Vermont

iMedian household income (in 2015 dollars), 2011-2015 $55,176 (US $53,889)
iPer capita income in past 12 months (in 2015 dollars), 2011-2015 $29,894 (US $28,930)
iPersons in poverty, percent Warning Sign 10.2% (US 13.5%)
Fifteen states have more than half their populations living in rural areas or in towns under 50,000 population.

One business shares a gratitude index

In what has to be the most common topic in this blog for 2016, I offer another illustration of how data collection can be simply managed, yet offer meaningful data for a wide variety of audiences.
The elegant metrics from a small value-added business in Charlottesville VA are below. It seems important to note that Stacy was my comrade for the original creation of the FMC Farmers Market Metrics work (and FMC’s founding executive director before our current excellent Jen Cheek) , and did a incredible consulting  job in 2016 assisting FMC with metric refinement, data collection research and devising the workbooks that are at the core of the FMM program. Those tasks are in addition to what the output shows in the metrics below, her devotion to fitness as a student and a leader and (along with her ever cheerful husband Joe) raising their energetic son.

2016 was good phyte foods’ first full calendar year of operation, after our first humble sale at Charlottesville City Market in May 2015. Since January this year, the business has made from scratch and sold 57,024 crackers, 1,003 bars, 157 pounds of granola, 978 pumpkin muffins, 533 kale cookies, and a motley assortment of odd-looking experimental snacks. In so doing, we have bought sustainably grown (and often certified organic) vegetables and herbs from at least twelve farms² in Central Virginia. We are grateful not only to our loyal and patient customers at City Market, but to our enduring local partners at The Juice Laundry, Random Row Brewing, Blue Ridge Country Store, and ACAC Downtown. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It is a humbling honor to be part of this evolving local food economy.

And for those who think cottage industry producers only care about their own cash flow:

In the coming year, we want to expand our reach to more retail partners, reinvest in new equipment, train some cracker apprentices, experiment with early summer cracker flavors, and give back to community organizations that are helping kids eat more vegetables. I have recently been appointed to the Advisory Council of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, which, among other things, teaches children of limited economic means how to grow, use, and appreciate fresh organic vegetables.

Go Stacy Miller; Keep the goodphyte going.

Source: getting specific: gratitude counts in our 2016 index

Embrace Difference to Achieve Health Equity

Health equity is gaining prominence in public conversations about community well-being…

…Every community has its own culture and assets on which to build. These can direct efforts to achieve health equity by addressing the avoidable and unjust social, economic and environmental conditions that lead to health inequities. Active Living By Desig (ALBD) considers Community Context to include the residents, location, history, policies, systems and resources and the interplay of these factors. Those various factors have a unique influence on health in each community and must be understood and accounted for at every stage of the healthy community change process. This includes the selection of strategies and the order in which those strategies are implemented. To support this process, ALBD helps communities tailor their approaches using the Community Action Model as a guide through community change.

Source: Embrace Difference to Achieve Health Equity | Joanne Lee | LinkedIn

Hernando Farmers Market Data Collection Day

I kicked off my summer of market travel in northern Mississippi this year, which is one of my favorite places to work and to visit in the U.S.

Hernando is in DeSoto County (someone had to point out to me the appropriate alignment of the names of the city & county, honoring the first European known to cross the Mississippi) and it ranks highest in most indicators for good health in Mississippi, but is next door to a slew of counties that are at the very bottom of that same list, in what is called the Delta.

I first got to to know the Hernando Market when I was doing research a few years back for a report for The Wallace Center on existing challenges for direct and intermediate marketing farmers in Mississippi. Everyone told me to go talk to this market to see what impressive work was being done there. And so I went up and met with Shelly Johnstone, who founded and ran the market while working as the Community Development Director of the city. The market had been running for only a few years by the time of my visit but already was one of the largest and most productive in economic terms for area producers. I remember well what she told me about being Hernando as a  regional leader during that visit: “We’re grateful to be leading the state in healthy behavior but we know we need to assist our fellow counties and get those folks in the same situation. It won’t be enough to fix Hernando.”

She invited me back up to see the kickoff for her weekday local food market box program called 4Rivers, created in partnership with the Northwest Mississippi Community Foundation, which has done a great deal in food and active living projects for the area. She also discussed her work to provide technical assistance to neighboring markets and to support the expansion of organic/sustainable farmers through the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network. All of this and more happened because of the leadership of Mayor Chip Johnson, who remains a strong proponent of the weekly farmers market.

I left impressed with the mayor and Shelly’s connections and drive, looking forward to many years of their leadership. Of course, news came to me within a year that she was retiring from the city and her post(s), but would stay involved with the efforts in her area. Unfortunately, circumstances have not allowed her to be as visible as she would probably have liked, but the good news is that her successor at the city, Gia Matheny, has the same drive and empathy for her fellow citizens. Of course, coming into the market some years after its founding has meant some catch up for Matheny, but luckily, she has deep skills, an open personality and is willing to ask about what she doesn’t know.

So when the request was sent out by Farmers Market Coalition for markets in MS to become a pilot site of the Farmers Market Metrics work, I was pleased when this market asked to be considered as one of the sites. The 3-year data collection project would teach the research team at University of Wisconsin-Madison a great deal about the unique qualities of markets and regions and so having this strong market in the mix for Mississippi was going to be beneficial for everyone.

Hernando (like the other 8 pilot markets) was instructed to choose metrics that best represented the current impact that the market was having on its vendors, its visitors/shoppers, its neighbors and the larger community.

Here are their choices:

Dollars spent at neighboring businesses by market shoppers on market days

Percent of customers who were first time visitors

Average number of SNAP transactions per year

Total dollar amount of Senior FMNP redeemed annually

Number of different fruit and vegetable crops available for sale annually

Percentage of shoppers walking,bicycling, carpooling, driving or taking

public transportation to the market (estimated annually)

Percentage of shoppers from represented zip codes (estimated

annually)

Additionally, all 9 markets were asked to collect the same data on these metrics (called the Common Metrics):

Average number of visitors per market day:

Total annual vendor sales at market

Average distance in miles traveled from product origin to market

Acres in agricultural production by market vendors

Once the metrics were selected in the fall of 2014, the UW research team created a unique Data Collection Package (DCP) for each market detailing how and when they would collect the data for each metric. Each market then chose their collection days for the summer/fall of 2015 and searched for and scheduled volunteers accordingly. June 13th was one of Hernando’s four scheduled dates for visitor surveys and visitor counts and so I drove up to observe the day and offer any assistance I could. I was also lucky enough to be asked to ring their 100-year old market bell to open the market:

The 100-year old Hernando Market bell

The 100-year old Hernando Market bell

FMC FB post of the video of me ringing the bell

Gia mapping out the day

Gia mapping out the day

GiaMHernCollectors

The Hernando Market Welcome Table

The Hernando Market Welcome Table

One of the two team members that would be doing the visitor surveys

One of the two team members that would be doing the visitor surveys

The other member of the team conducting the visitor surveys- yes that is an iPad which was being tested for use in doing surveys; unfortunately, the WiFi signal was not strong enough to use and so paper surveys were used instead.

The other member of the team conducting the visitor surveys- yes that is an iPad which was being tested for use in doing surveys; unfortunately, the WiFi signal was not strong enough to use and so paper surveys were used instead.

The set of clickers to be used for Counting Day

The set of clickers to be used for Counting Day

Gia doing a survey

Gia doing a survey

Some of the team were assigned at advantageous locations to count the visitors, while others were to complete visitor surveys. The volunteers were a mix of folks, from corporate volunteers (Walgreens corporate office staff for this Saturday) arranged through Volunteer NW Mississippi, to a city youth leader and Gia’s daughter and her friend. They picked up on the tasks easily and (and something that is not unusual in my experience) offered good feedback throughout the day and even gladly volunteered to take on more data collection tasks when necessary.

Overall, the data collection went extremely well and the immediate and ongoing analysis of it will mean an even smoother day for the next round for  the market leaders. It was impressive to see how many city officials, visitors and vendors wanted to know more about the pilot and and were eager to discuss the market in measurement terms with me.

Next up: Chillicothe and Athens OH