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.”

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FINI report, Year 1

In Year one, FINI supported incentive programs at almost 1,000 farmers markets, representing 4,000 direct marketing farmers in 27 states. These farmers market programs alone generated almost $8 million in SNAP and incentive sales spent on produce. Program evaluation conducted by grantees indicated uniformly high redemption rates, strong support for the program among stakeholders, and a great deal of collaboration from both public agencies and private program partners. These collaborations were particularly important in conducting outreach to SNAP recipients.

 

FINI_FarmersMarkets_Year1_FMC_170413

Counting public gatherings in 2017-Washington Post article

The point of this post is to show how complex and grassroots public gatherings can be counted and measured. The two main researchers quoted in these Washington Post articles are Erika Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman, both respected analysts of the details of large-scale civil movements and gatherings. As a data junkie, I have followed this effort with a great deal of interest (and have even counted some of these gatherings in my own town to check others’ counts) and look forward to more of the analysis of both the methodology and the actual count data. The analysis included not just the number who gathered but who and what was being protested or being supported, where these events were held, what symbols were used, how many arrests were made.

For March 2017, we tallied 585 protests, demonstrations, marches, sit-ins and rallies in the United States, with at least one in every state and the District. Our conservative guess is that 79,389 to 89,585 people showed up at these political gatherings, although it is likely that there were far more participants.

Certainly, food and farming systems should note some of the systems used for collection and analysis. For example, the Crowd-Counting Consortium may be something that national entities involved in any grassroots data collection systems like food systems should discuss creating for their own use.

Here is their counting method:

We arrived at these figures by relying on publicly reported estimates of march locations and the number of participants involved in each. We started a spreadsheet and called for crowdsourced information about the location and number of participants in marches. Before long, we had received thousands of reports, allowing us to derive low and high estimates for each event. We carefully validated each estimate by consulting local news sources, law enforcement statements, event pages on social media, and, in some cases, photos of the marchers. When reports were imprecise, we aimed for conservative counts; for example, if observers reported “hundreds” of participants, we reported a value of 200 (“thousands” was 2,000, “tens of thousands” was 20,000, etc).

An example of their public data set.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/04/24/in-trumps-america-whos-protesting-and-why-heres-our-march-report/?utm_term=.ce99baecf0b6

Food companies distort nutrition science says Nestle

…So Nestle decided to document the problem: On her blog, Food Politics, she began tracking all the industry-funded food and nutrition research she came across, paying particular attention to the number of studies that had positive results (i.e., favoring the funder).

Her findings so far are remarkable. Of the 152 industry-funded studies she has examined, 140 boast results that favor the funder. That’s more than 90 percent.

 

Source: Food companies distort nutrition science. Here’s how to stop them. – Vox

Sweeping study of US farm data shows loss of crop diversity the past 34 years

U.S. farmers are growing fewer types of crops than they were 34 years ago, which could have implications for how farms fare as changes to the climate evolve, according to a large-scale study by Kansas State University, North Dakota State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Less crop diversity may also be impacting the general ecosystem.
“At the national level, crop diversity declined over the period we analyzed,” said Jonathan Aguilar, K-State water resources engineer and lead researcher on the study.
The scientists used data from the USDA’s U.S. Census of Agriculture, which is published every five years from information provided by U.S. farmers. The team studied data from 1978 through 2012 across the country’s contiguous states.

Source: Sweeping study of US farm data shows loss of crop diversity the past 34 years

The Truth About Poor People’s Eating Habits Will Surprise You 

A recent Centers for Disease Control survey of 5,000 American children and adolescents age 2 to 19 offers proof that poor people not only don’t consume more fast food than those with higher incomes, they actually consume slightly less. The study, which looked at figures from 2011-’12, found that “no significant difference was seen by poverty status in the average daily percentage of calories consumed from fast food among children and adolescents aged 2 to 19.” In fact, the poorest children surveyed got the least amount of their daily calorie intake from fast food, at just 11.5 percent. That number rose to 13 percent for their more affluent peers.

And a Gallup poll from 2013 found “[t]hose earning the least actually are the least likely to eat fast food weekly — 39% of Americans earning less than $20,000 a year do so.” Conversely, more affluent Americans — “those earning $75,000 a year or more — are more likely to eat [fast food] at least weekly (51%) than are lower-income groups.”

Source: The Truth About Poor People’s Eating Habits Will Surprise You | Alternet

Farmers Market Metrics May Be Coming To Your Town

This is a reprint of a blog that I wrote for the Farmers Market Metrics page on Farmers Market Coalition’s site. There is a growing need for food and civic systems evaluation that is designed and implemented in partnership with the grassroots organization and uses contextual and disciplined metrics that are useful to that organization and to their partners. The new pilots and research happening at FMC and their partners, such as University of Wisconsin-Madison, are hoping to address that need.
ecocities emerging