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.”

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

Share with Charlottesville

I hope National Farmers Market Week was productive in your area. I hope your market received great support both from your community’s producers and its shoppers. I hope the media covered whatever event you hosted at your market. Good job everyone on spreading the news of our continued and expanding impacts.

Unfortunately, this was not the case for at least one market last weekend: the Charlottesville City Market, which was open for business on Saturday during the tragic events that happened two blocks away. Vendors and shoppers had courageously decided to show up, knowing the tense build-up over the past few days to the scheduled rally that afternoon. The market was attempting to do once again what it has done for many years: connect and comfort its citizens through the shared love of regional food and the championing of local creative output.

Instead, the name of its town is currently synonymous with riots and murder and the safety of its downtown with its lovely parks and pedestrian mall will be questioned, as it is likely to be threatened by more events like the ones that the world watched with horror last weekend.

I know this market. I have shopped there, gathered data there and discussed the hopes and dreams of its organizers and its vendors when there. It is like a great many of our markets across the country, located on underused weekend space, open to anyone and everyone, full of gorgeous produce and hand-crafted items proudly displayed by its makers. It is managed by the city and has been operating since the early 1970s, making it a “first wave” markets in my timeline of market eras.

This is what one regular market goer, William J. Antholis, Director and CEO of the Miller Center at UVA wrote about the market on this day:

My wife and I took our daughters for a walk around the protests, four blocks south (of their home), to the farmer’s market on the other side of the historic, pedestrian-only Downtown Mall. Immediately, we felt the sense of danger as fully armed white supremacist protestors walked dangerously close to counter-protestors. Taunts were already being hurled in both directions.

When we arrived at the market, we were surprised to find it eerily quiet. The market is usually packed on a Saturday morning. Row after row of beautiful heirloom tomatoes sat undisturbed, in a rainbow array of colors. Bread stands and coffee stands and local artisans had plenty of product, and not enough customers.

Stacy Miller, Farmers Market Coalition’s former Executive Director, has lived in Charlottesville for six years and is among the vendors at Charlottesville
City Market. Nervous about the potential for violence (and anticipating a slow
sales day, she said), she withdrew her participation several days before.

Several other vendors shared messages of solidarity and commitment to be there ‘come hell or high water’ on our public Facebook group. One said, specifically, “We won’t stand down for these terrorists! They come to our town uninvited and unwanted!… We will stand our grounds, with our fellow vendors and friends, against fascism, against xenophobia, against oppression!” While I certainly shared the sentiment, and I made sure to visit the market early to do my own shopping and wish good luck to those still setting up, I was eager to get back home, readying for other plans later that day. A helicopter (which may have been the same one crashing later that day) was already circling loudly overhead and would become my background noise nearly all day, as we barricaded into our little apartment. Thankfully, my husband was not working at the hospital that day, and we updated each other from various media sources, texts, and Twitter as things escalated, with photos of Nazis “indiscriminately” beating black youths in a parking garage. As my son napped (and, presumably, dreamed) 20 feet away, we quietly watched jerky, just-taken videos and photos of the black Charger with Ohio plates plowing through people on the downtown mall four blocks away, at an intersection I walked almost daily.”

When I read those quotes, I have to confess I had a little PTSD from my days of organizing New Orleans’ markets during hurricane seasons. As a matter of fact, on the Saturday before the landfall of Katrina our market manager, Tatum Evans was off so I was in charge of the day. The newscasters had told us on Thursday that the storm was to veer to Florida and any impact in the city would be negligible, so at that point, most locals stopped watching hour by hour updates.
Of course, since I was managing a market, I continued to monitor the weather and noticed the size of the storm and the lack of major movement eastward. I called vendors on Friday and told them they had the option of staying home, with no rent penalties for missing the day. Still, most showed up and as the day wore on, the tension in and around the market was palpable and the small number of shoppers also obvious. Stories of lines forming for gas and of panic rising around the city began to weigh on me and on our Executive Director Richard McCarthy who was calling me every half hour. Finally at 10:30, I closed the market.

I tell you that because as a result of that and other tense mornings in New Orleans, I felt the market’s anxiety in Charlottesville all the way down here in Louisiana, and I am sure many of you did too.

The use of public space for a public market is a heavy responsibility. Not only does one have to manage tender young businesses and seasoned ones side by side, but also shoulder the responsbility of managing risks of slip and falls, theft, disagreements, weather, dog bites and more crop up constantly.
And this last weekend, we saw once again that even when all of that is managed well, the danger around a market can still overwhelm its good intentions and positive vibe. (Update from C-ville market folks: The market was finally forced to close early because of the nearing clashes and the helicopters circling right overhead, making it impossible to communicate.)

I don’t really have a lesson to impart here. I just wanted to send my admiration to the Charlottesville City Market, to its manager Justin and to the entire team at the market, to its hard working vendors and its loyal shoppers and tell them that to me, YOU are Charlottesville. You are what I think about even as your city’s name is plastered across every news site and linked forever to a very, very bad day in American history.
I know that your market will once again become the center of health, wealth and good civic engagement. As a matter of fact, you will become that as early as next Saturday.
People will gather and hug and probably shed some tears in your lot. They will ask vendors how they are and vendors will ask that of their shoppers. Shoppers will tell vendors they hope they remain committed to coming to their downtown market and vendors will ask the same of their shoppers. The very best of what we do with farmers markets will become evident to everyone in Charlottesville over the next few weeks and months. Media will come to show “normal” activity returning and the market will know to embrace that opportunity and use it to encourage people to leave their homes and connect once again on Saturday mornings.
I know this because it is what happened to us during those months of darkness in 2005-2010.
And I know I was changed because of the love and care that the market community showed everyone here. I believe that markets do something that few other entities or ideas do in modern America: they build and keep community across age, background, political divides and socioeconomic status. I am proud to be part of that.
So let’s send out some good community energy to our friends in Charlottesville; I guarantee they’ll appreciate it.

After gastric bypass surgery, many experience eating difficulties

About 71 percent of the gastric bypass group, compared with 17 percent of the others, could not tolerate certain items, including red meat and foods high in fat or sugar. Water was not tolerated by about 7 percent of those who had had gastric bypass, vs. none of the others. The researchers found no link between the amount of weight people had lost and the digestive problems. Link to story

Markets could put small lists of available products together for different users of their market, including those who have digestive problems. It’s important to remember that many of these folks are just beginning to understand their problems, learning what works and doesn’t. I remember how, after my gallbladder surgery in 2007, I had to figure out what needed to come off my shopping list. It was through trial and error and asking a lot of questions and reading a lot of information that I was able to understand what worked best for me, but in the meantime, I had to give away or throw away some items I bought at first which used to be fine for me but were no longer. Another reason why vendors offering small “sample” amounts of different items can be a great way to invite new visitors (or newly fragile shoppers)  to become regular, return shoppers.

I know of at least one market outreach program that focused on these patients – the wonderful North Union Farmers Markets in my original hometown of Cleveland Oh.

Their frittata project is one of my favorite programs to pull out of my sleeve when markets ask me about ideas for working with obese or recently obese populations. (These programs make me seem smart even though what I really am is well-traveled.) Their project is shared with many other types of healthy food clients too, but I was really taken by the idea they had of working with bariatric patients through the Cleveland Clinic system.

 

More on their project:

The Frittata Project teaches young mothers (and fathers!) how to cook a nutritious meal on a budget to feed their family. The food used in the recipes we teach can be bought at our markets for around $10 (the amount we match in produce perks for EBT-SNAP/Ohio Direction Card). Workshops and demonstrations bring families together to learn how to sustain a nutritious diet while staying within their economic constraints. Our aim is to foster relationships in the community by empowering individuals to make informed decisions about the food they purchase while having the skills to prepare it. In addition to those on EBT-SNAP (Electronic Benefits Transfer- Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program) and WIC (Women and Infant Children), the program is also open to senior citizens who participate in the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program by the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging.

Our signature frittatas include farm fresh eggs, local grated cheese, a dash of grass-fed cow’s milk, and sautéed spinach seasoned with salt and pepper.

Students go home with not only new skills in the kitchen, but with cooking supplies (pan and spatula) and gift certificates for fresh and local produce from the farmers markets.

‘More on the history of this flagship market organization can be found here.