Summer Dive into Data

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am on my way to Oregon to join the FSLN National Gathering Monday – Thursday this week. While there, I’ll be meeting up with inspiring leaders who can share ideas for how I can better serve the front-line direct marketing producers, market and CSA organizers, and my own FMC team.

On the first leg of this many-phased trip, I read two recent research papers, 1 on farmers markets and 1 on consumer interest in local food, and immediately found some very interesting information I can use in various projects. I’ll share some here in the hope it is also helpful to others.

The first was a research paper by John Metz and Sarah Scherer published in 2021 titled “The Rise and Decline of Farmers Markets in Cincinnati.” This is a great, well-researched paper for anyone wanting to understand the history of that region’s markets, and also for those interested in data on market closure factors in the area.

Methodology

They did site visits, interviewed managers, and recorded data on products sold, businesses location and gathered other information from informal conversations with vendors. They also consulted another unpublished local survey. (Twiss. Green Umbrella 2016)

Market organization

For this study, the researchers defined farmers markets as having 2 or more farmers selling their own goods (using the USDA’s loose definition) and added the stipulations that farmers at these markets must have ¼ acre or more in production for local sale. They also excluded sites that were the actual production site, defining those as farm stands. They defined Saturday markets as different markets than those that had weekday markets operating at the same site, resulting in 37 sites operating 42 different markets.

Numbers

The Greater Cincinnati market grew from 21 in 2004 to 41 in 2012 with a “25 increase in 2005 and a 35% jump between 2009-2010.” The number peaked in 2012 and then fell 17% (n34) by 2018.

From 2005-2018, 42 new markets opened but 25 closed in same period for a 60% reduction.

During the 2005-2018 era, 71% of the closed markets operated 3 or fewer years. In contrast, 1975-1989 era, 32% (n7) of the 22 closed in the first 3 years.

Vendor-Led and Community-Led

The authors classify markets by its decision-makers, with “Farmer-Focused” and “Consumer-Focused” (or, in the language of a report they cite by Gantla/Lev from 2015, Vendor-Led (VL) and Community-Led (CL)*. I prefer the Gantla/Lev language so I’ll use that here).

Metz and Scherer concluded that the founders’ vision for the market created and continued the market’s decision-making structure. That is in line with the Market Eras Research that I have shared and continue to refine.

Among the Vendor Led markets, 11 of 13 were begun by farmers or Extension. The authors define this type as existing to primarily provide farmers with venues to sell produce. The VL markets had fewer vendors than CL markets (a mean of 6.8 vs 19.4) and the only items that were not produce tended to be jams, jellies, relishes, and baked goods prepared by the farmer vendors. Market managers had fewer responsibilities since these markets tended to offer fewer activities and rarely to conduct data collection (sales, visitor counts, or shopper surveys.) None of the VL markets had a website during the period studied.

12 of the 13 were managed by volunteers, often running more than one. So of the 13 markets, there were only 7 managers. Most were over 60.

Among the Community-Led markets, only 2 of the 24 were started by farmers. These markets had slightly varying goals for their existence including providing healthy food to neighbors, helping farmers make a better living, but also included community development goals as well.

These markets had many types of prepared foods and usually had music, and other activities. Half of these markets also had crafts but allowing crafts is also definitely a subcategory among CL markets as the other half did not allow them at all.

Many of these markets did collect sales (7), shopper counts (12), and shoppers surveys (10) at some point in the time period studied although few did it consistently: only 3-5 of the 37 did consistent data collection in the period studied. And only 3 managers reported collecting daily sales data with another 4 estimating sales annually.

13 of 24 of the CL markets were managed by volunteers although 2 of these volunteers did receive a (small) stipend or the market waived the manager’s vendor fee. Of the 11 that received some sort of serious compensation, only 4 were full-time and had other responsibilities besides managing the market. The researchers analyzed that 6 of those 11 received between $17-$23 hour.

20 of the 24 managers were under 60.

All managers for both types identified as white and 31 of 37 as female.

This research’s conclusions as to why the Cincinnati markets closed:

  1. Farmers markets exceeded current consumer demand
  2. The unexamined assumptions and unconscious biases of market operators who were white reduced the markets appeal to Black, Indigenous/Native people, and communities of Color.
  3. New technology in food retailing that encouraged payment options and online shopping was (is) still difficult in farmers markets
  4. Shortage of farmers
  5. Poor management of market

One thing they did NOT find as a cause for closures among this area’s markets was internal competition from other markets. Their analysis suggests that of the markets that they studied, few of those that closed were within the competition range of other markets. They also note that the number of “Tailgate Markets” closing from 1985-2004 was matched by the number of “Non-Tailgate” new markets opening.

Such a valuable report! I appreciate how it was organized and the core data it offers. They cite our Pittsburgh market report from 2019 which is not surprising as the analysis is presented in a similar fashion. Their conclusions also reflect many reports that rely on historic data from farmers market eras and the characteristics of market types –  including the VT report from my colleague Jean Hamilton that they also cite.

Essentially: markets struggle if they are not organized collectively, if they do not fight for farmers to remain at their center, if they cannot keep a consistent, paid management team, and if they do not employ realistic methods to analyze the external and internal factors that impact their existence.

All of that shows the type of deep support we need funders to start to offer market organizations – which means beyond program $$. The program partnerships are extremely welcome but they come with the expectation of a lot of added work that is not always supported. We need funders and policymakers to understand the underlying mission and operations of each organization and form long term partnerships to maintain and expand those. To make that happen, market operators need to share these reports, collect their own and stop hiding the hard work they and their vendors do.

Footnote *Institution-Led is Gantla/Lev’s 3rd category and defined as markets run by larger orgs that do more than operate farmers markets.

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

—————————————————————————–

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.”

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

Are Farmers Market Sales Peaking? (Cuz NPR likes to say so)

Let me say first that I have only begun to read the report cited and that the authors have done some excellent research. The issue is really that outlets like NPR offer snappy headlines and a sound bite or two rather than the entire story. However, it is important that food system organizers communicate more data than that to their market community.

I’ll begin with one of the conclusions from the report:
• It is difficult to draw conclusions about the local economic impact of local foods systems because the existing literature has narrow geographic and market scope, making comparing studies complicated. Data necessary to conduct economic impact analyses are costly to obtain, and researchers have yet to agree on a standard way of accounting for the opportunity costs involved when local foods are produced and purchased or on a standard set of economic modeling assumptions. Many questions surrounding the economic impact of local foods remain unanswered and could be addressed by future research (e.g., Are local food systems good for the rural economy? Might the economic benefits of expanding local food systems be unevenly distributed?)
(The authors do mention that case studies are helpful in local food system research because of the chance for context, but warn that makes generalities difficult.)

here are some other facts from the report:

Farms selling local food through DTC marketing channels were more likely to remain in business over 2007-12 than all farms not using DTC marketing channels, according to census of agriculture data.


•The significance of local food sales totaling an estimated $6.1 billion in 2012.

For organizers (markets, CSAs, farm stands) the takeaway is clear:

1. We need to collect data and work with those researchers that also want to collect it to paint a more nuanced story of the positive impacts of these channels than were able to be included in the report. Those are not limited to: new product testing, constant cycles of introduction for eaters and producers, the opportunity for attempting small (often risky) pilots for increasing access, educational resources for youth, urban/rural connections and more.

2. That data has to be on the multiple impacts of markets, not just on direct sales. Do farmers meet other buyers (intermediate) at the market? Are other outlets dependent on the market for pick up of their goods? Is it a important way for family members to start working for the farm? What about access to shoppers using benefit program dollars-is this an area of new customer sales that DTC farmers have captured almost entirely (and influenced recent national policy?)

3. A dip in the number of new markets opening or DTC sales flattening for a time (if that is indeed the case) may mean something quite different than the implicit assertion that consumers and farmers are choosing other outlets. Factors may include weather issues, or regulatory pressures (see the fee hike suggested by King County in this story as an example) or farmers unable or unwilling to separate sales outlets when reporting data.

4. An example of how market organizers could help researchers is by gathering anecdotal info for future studies to see if DTC farmers choose autonomy and non-economic benefits over higher incomes as was suggested in the report:

The lower total household income suggests that farmers with direct sales may have had less favorable off-farm income opportunities. If true, this could provide them with an incentive to remain in business even if they have less ability or opportunity to expand production.
Higher survival rates and slower growth for those with direct sales might also be explained by different attitudes toward farm versus nonfarm work. Researchers have found evidence that nonpecuniary benefits from self-employment explain why small business owners remain in business despite earning less income (Hamilton, 2000). There is also evidence that the non-pecuniary benefits to farming (e.g., greater autonomy, independence, and lifestyle factors) are substantial (Key and Roberts, 2009). It is possible that farmers who sell directly to consumers derive greater nonpecuniary benefits from their work—perhaps they enjoy interacting with their customers. This would provide a greater incentive for them to remain in business even with lower business expansion possibilities.

    Positive impacts

•The economic benefits of farmers’ markets may also extend beyond multiplier effects, which measure short-term impacts. Lev et al. (2003), for example, found that businesses near farmers’ markets reported higher sales on market days. Not only were these additional sales found to directly support the businesses themselves, but they also generated extra tax revenue for the communities in which the markets were located. Brown (2002) found some evidence that farmers’ markets increase property values in the market district.

•Additionally, farmers’ markets can function as business incubators by providing the infrastructure necessary to build skills and gain business experience (Feenstra et al., 2003; Gillespie et al., 2007). Regular interactions can “generate and circulate knowledge that vendors might use to develop new products and creative ways of marketing them” (Hinrichs et al., 2004: 32-33). Feenstra et al. (2003), for example, explored New York, Iowa, and California farmers’ market contributions to the development of vendors’ capacity as entrepreneurs and found that 66 percent of vendors expanded an existing product line, 50 percent added a new product category, and 40 percent made new business contacts. Sales income may be less important than the skills and business experience developed through participation in farmers’ markets (Brown et al., 2007).

Direct marketing was also associated with higher survival rates among beginning farmers (columns 3 and 4, table 5). On average, beginning farmers who marketed directly to consumers had a 54.3-percent survival rate, compared to 47.4 percent for those who marketed their goods through traditional channels.
What is it about DTC sales that seem to enhance farmers’ chances of maintaining positive sales? One advantage might stem from the fact that, for a given level of sales, farmers with direct marketing purchased less machinery and land than did those with traditional marketing. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture data, farmers who marketed directly owned $20.82 worth of machinery per dollar of sales, compared to $31.10 for those who marketed through conventional channels. Farmers selling directly to consumers also owned less land: $240 worth of land per dollar of sales, compared to $309 per dollar of sales for other farmers. Because they did not need to purchase as much machinery and land to achieve a certain level of sales, farmers with direct sales did not need to leverage as much of their wealth to obtain financing. This is confirmed by the census data, which show that farmers with direct sales had annual interest payments of only $7.85 per $1,000 of owned assets, compared to $10.55 for those with no direct sales. A lower debt-to-asset ratio should indicate a better ability to repay loans and has been shown to reduce the risk of small business failure (Tveteras and Eide, 2000; Strotmann, 2007; Fotopoulos and Louri, 2000).


Are Farmers Market Sales Peaking? That Might Be Good For Farmers : The Salt : NPR.

the actual USDA report

Call for Papers for 2015 Farm to Table International Symposium

unnamed

Call for Papers

  Farm to Table International (F2Ti), a three-day, multi-track symposium on the policy and practice of food and drink, is currently accepting papers for its 3rd annual program, taking place August 8-10, 2015 at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. F2Ti features the brightest thought leaders and leading practitioners in the burgeoning farm-to-table movement. F2Ti explores the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of food and drink sourced locally to globally. It takes place in tandem with the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Annual Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO, an event attracting food and beverage professionals from across the country.

This year’s theme, “A Feast for the Senses,” spotlights the sensual aspects of food and drink at every stage of the agricultural-culinary cycle. Topics will include, but are not limited to, best practices in urban farming, bringing products to market, sourcing locally, enhancing sustainability, and the latest trends and developments in the industry, including food science, security, and safety.

Proposals for educational sessions should correspond to the current theme, “A Feast for the Senses,” and should be designed to fit one of the following educational tracks:

•    Crop to Cup (Brewing, Distilling, Vinting, plus non-alcoholic beverages)
•    Farming and Production
•    Food and Beverage Journalism and Media
•    Farm to School
•    Food Innovation (Science, Technology, Trends, etc.)

Interested presenters should refer to the conference website at www.F2T-int.com for additional information regarding submission requirements as well as the consideration and selection process.

The deadline for submitting presentations for review is February 20, 2015. Presentations for the F2Ti program will be selected by the Farm to Table International Executive Advisory Council.

F2Ti is produced by the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in partnership with the SoFAB Institute and the LSU AgCenter.

104 Fascinating Social Media and Marketing Statistics for 2014 (and 2015)

some of the ones that caught my eye for food organizers:

There are 76 million millennials (born between 1981 and 2000) in the U.S. — 27% of the total population.

63% of millennials say they stay updated on brands through social networks; 51% say social opinions influence their purchase decisions; and 46% “count on social media” when buying online.

37% of marketers say blogs are the most valuable content type for marketing.

Pinterest grabs 41% of the e-commerce traffic compared to Facebook’s 37%. Food is the top category of content on Pinterest with 57% of its user base sharing food-related content

“Interesting content” is one of the top three reasons people follow brands on social media.

17% of marketers plan to increase podcasting efforts this year.

47% of Americans say Facebook is their #1 influencer of purchases.

70% of marketers used Facebook to gain new customers.

104 Fascinating Social Media and Marketing Statistics for 2014 (and 2015).

Junk Food Diet Keeps Rats from Seeking Out New Foods

The work suggests that consumption of junk foods may make you relatively indifferent to novel food, which may encourage overconsumption,” Morris said. “Also that you may overeat when exposed to signals linked to palatable foods, so an obese person may be more sensitive to advertising for foods like ice creams and chocolate bars.”

Junk Food Diet Keeps Rats from Seeking Out New Foods.

Survey Monkey sez start with your conclusion

Writing your conclusion first is just like proposing a hypothesis for a science experiment.

Farmers Market Metrics Prototype Released

The story about the completion of the FMC Prototype Report project done from January to June with 8 markets can be found here:

FMM Prototype story

A new Wisconsin NPR story about the AFRI-funded research for the Farmers Market Metrics work:

NPR story