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.”

The Importance of National Farmers Market Week August 5-11, 2018

First, let me share the link to the excellent campaign materials that we at FMC have been creating and amassing for the last year:
https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/national-farmers-market-week/

In a nutshell, the job of NFMW is to spotlight the importance of farmers markets to policymakers, to consumers and to farmers. It’s a campaign and it lasts one week per year.
With more than 8,600 farmers markets operating in the U.S., many among us may think we have made our work visible to most people.I’d beg to differ. With visitor attendance at those markets ranging from around a hundred to thousands, I’d bet that we attract around 2, maybe 3 million regular visitors each year. That sounds impressive but remember the population of the US is around 326 million. So 0.6134969325153374 of 1 percent. Or maybe 0.9202453987730062 of 1 percent.
Less than 1 percent.
Look, I’m not trying to rain on our parade. I think we do mighty things with that less than 1% with impacts that clearly stretch to the corporate food sector to making resilient places, and to meaningful citizen engagement. Local and organic and place-based foods are a HOT trend, mostly due to the work we all do and the farms that battle development and industrialization. Please congratulate yourself and your vendors, and volunteers and board.
And then, lets’ set a goal to expand that number. Maybe to 2% by 2020. That’d be 6.5 million regular visitors. Imagine doubling your attendance in 18 months.

So how to do that? for one, remember my phrases from this blog for this year:
Don’t Hide the Hard Work
Function like a Network Whenever Possible

Tell the world about your market organization, not just about individual vendors.
Talk about the history of markets in your area, acknowledging the long line of organizers.
Make your website appealing and full on information for longtime shoppers and vendors and for new ones too.
Ask shoppers to make it to more than one market this week, even if one of those markets is not managed by your organization.
Drop off some materials to your community foundation or to your local elected officials.
Ask your municipality to use our template to designate NFMW officially.
Send out tweets and instagram photos of your market using the images and people and feel free to use whatever details FMC has that work for you.
Connect with other markets and write a letter to the editor together, inviting newbies to your market.
Create a “bring a friend” incentive for this week.
Ask your loyal shoppers to tweet and post on FB about the market.
Have a postcard campaign to your legislators about how the Farm Bill needs to protect farmers markets.

This campaign week is our best chance to share those impacts and to ask for partners to increase our capacity and viability to support farmers and other artisanal producers.
One last thing to do:
On market day this week, call your team together and give yourself a round of applause from all of us at FMC. We deeply admire our innovative and enthusiastic market leaders and try to do our best to tell you that often.
Now go ring that bell.

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Sustainability while Shopping

The Hartman Group’s research has found that 87% of consumers are inside what we refer to as the World of Sustainability. Those inside the world are impacted in their attitudes and behaviors by sustainability in some way. Most consumers are aware of sustainability as a term. However, attitudes, depth of knowledge, and engagement differ according to where they are within (or outside of) the World of Sustainability. Here are three key factors consumers consider when making purchase

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Resources:
Click to view full infographic
Report: Sustainability 2017

Grocery and farmers markets

I just finished a blog post for FMC co-written with Alex Canepa about Amazon and Whole Foods. Our short answer in our rather long piece was we don’t know how this merger will affect food generally and local food specifically, but it doesn’t look promising.

Because of that post, I have spent even more time recently reading about grocery stores and food purchasing in reports from trade papers, some general books, and articles, all of which are sure of only a few things:

  1. Current storefront retail sales are sluggish.
  2. Consolidation of stores or of chains doesn’t help the consumer.
  3. Online sales of food is one of the few growth patterns in food but if anyone has figured out how to use this method to actually make a profit it’s still unknown.

One of the reasons why the media is obsessed with stories about the big chains is because the story is simpler: success only means profit which means either increasing the number of stores or same-store sales and no matter where you are in the US, it’s the exact same story. There is no need to worry about seasonal interruptions, cultural uniqueness or local factors or find other measures of success.

All of this means that in this age, the farmers market story has to be powerful, exciting and positive. The days of flyers in the coffeehouses and yard signs on market days as the only way to let folks know about the market are basically done.

The stories we tell need to encapsulate what our marvelous markets of the modern era actually do:

Offer civic space to all citizens, with no purchase necessary;

Introduce people to good food produced by their neighbors;

Increase access to healthy foods for our at-risk neighbors;

Encourage wise stewardship of land;

Champion the innovators of our good food system;

Support the larger food and farming system as leaders;

Advocate for better policies at the city, state, and national level.

All of that goes back to one of my action phrases for market leaders for 2017 which was laid out in this blog earlier this year:

Don’t Hide the Hard Work.

In order for the community you live in to understand how their markets do all of these things, the market organization needs to be constantly visible and engaged. The staff, board, advisors and anchor vendors need to let people know their role at the market, invite feedback and then share what they learn with the market community.

Language that defines those things markets do has to be put into metric form and shared regularly with the larger community. That is because anecdotes and stories are not enough for those who do not know us. They need simple and directed assertions as to why shopping directly for their food matters. They need it in 140 characters or less or in a single picture on Instagram or even told them by an influencer whose blog they follow.

Now, you may find those ideas ridiculous; I can understand that thinking as someone who gave up her smartphone a few years back (after being one of the first with a Blackberry, and then an iPhone and then an iPad), but the reality is mass communication has changed forever. And not just for young people: most studies of social media show that some channels – like Facebook – are increasingly used by older people. And not just how, but what they are looking for has changed. That is why the sector that is most sensitive to any change in people’s lives – grocery shopping – has become a free-for-all.

We need to face it head on and decide how the farmers market and larger good food system will flourish in spite of this chaos. Each market needs to check in on all of these areas above and ask itself how is it doing on each and then act upon the findings.

This is the best chance we have to not be submerged by the mess that is retail right now. By aligning ourselves and our farmers as community leaders and our markets not simply as sales outlets, we can continue our revolution even as the storefronts around us change names and focus and even in some cases, disappear from view.

 

Update: check out this story about the new NEW players in food: (and yes the first is “related” through the Albrecht family to Trader Joe’s): Aldi and Lidl.

 

 

 

New streetcar line drives market biz, sez vendor

Barb Cooper and her husband operate a fresh produce and specialty shop called Daisy Mae’s Market at Findlay Market and launched Cincinnati Food Tours in 2012 to introduce visitors to Findlay Market, share culinary experiences and spread her enthusiasm for Over-the-Rhine. She says some stores have reported a 30 percent increase in sales since the streetcar started traversing Cincinnati’s streets.

“The excitement around it is just amazing. Most of the people that are coming on my tours live in the suburbs and they’ve heard about the streetcar. They’ve heard about Over-the-Rhine’s revitalization, and they really need somebody to help them navigate it to see what’s really here,” Cooper said.

Findlay Market vendor claims streetcar is behind booming business – Story

 

Here is a link to other posts about Cincinnati’s Findlay Market from this blog. Here is a post on my French Quarter blog comparing the French Quarter to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood where Findlay and the new streetcar sit.