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

Charlottesville vendor Good Phyte Foods talks value-added product development

My great pal Stacy Miller is always in constant learning mode, especially interested in learning through the experience and ingenuity of farmers and other entrepreneurs in her local community. This podcast is fascinating for the detail that she offers about product development, marketing concerns, trends in snack foods, and the props to farmers markets and FMC of course (and an honestly humbling plug for the Dar Bar but let’s leave that aside for now although I remain grateful that my name rhymes with bar.)

This is a great example of how a value-added business can offer authenticity to market messaging,  how these innovative vendors can illustrate the market farmers story through storytelling and through lovely presentation of their ingredients offering healthy, delicious snacking. So let’s remember what those vendors offer our markets and honor them too.

Day carts bring new faces to Reading Terminal Market

“We found ourselves in this incredibly competitive environment where you want to test new concepts and give customers something new,” Gupta said. “We needed a way to bring in some of these hyper-local entrepreneurs, these small-batch products that you can find at farmers’ markets. And the way to do that was to lower the barriers to entry.”

The wheeled carts, left over from the market’s days as a train station, already were being leased to a few businesses that needed no refrigeration — like Lansdale’s Boardroom Spirits and newcomer Birdie’s Biscuits — for use as pop-up stands in the center of the building. The feedback from customers and owners was good, Gupta said, so last fall he and members of his team started working with the Health Department on turning the former Wan’s Seafood into a flexible space for multiple kiosks. The space has no built-in cooking station, but other than sinks, refrigeration, and the proper permits and licenses, it turned out little was needed for businesses to start selling ready-made food.

http://www.philly.com/philly/food/reading-terminal-market-day-carts-20180124.html

What’s new at the grocery store?

Nielsen, a research and consulting firm, said last month that for the first time in a decade, shoppers were making more trips to stores, but coming out with less in their baskets. “They’re not stockpiling their pantries as much,” said Jordan Rost, the company’s vice president for consumer insights. “They’re really buying more fresh produce and prepared meals.”

 

 

Mr. Ruhlman predicts that much of what is sold in the center of the store — the cereal, canned soups, detergents and Ziploc bags — will be largely bought online in the not-too-distant future as food shoppers become more accustomed to e-commerce.