It’s a Make, Break, or Take set of moments. Get ready.

Dear Colleagues,

I am thinking of each of you,  your teams, and communities as you make decisions and adapt your Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) channels. If I can help, I hope you know you can contact me and also access our FMC resources,  and any updates.

Once we get get to the healing side of this pandemic, there are many things that markets may have to operationalize into best practices. Some of those we have noted already:

changing markets designation from special events to essential food and social space services.

writing rules for vendor food handling during outbreaks

having emergency layouts for smaller-than-usual markets

plans for fast pick up for items that don’t penalize the vendor with massive added fees or convert markets into something it cannot return from

communication plans for media

communication plans for vendors

          partnerships for emergency situations

and of course much more to come. And as always, those ideas and solutions will come from you and your community leaders, and mostly not from an academic or government partner or from other “experts.” At FMC, our team continues to scour the internet, participate on our listservs, answer emails, and be ready to pick up the phone to learn what is going on.


 

 

This moment is reminiscent of the disasters that we worked through here in New Orleans while I was Deputy Director of Market Umbrella, and is also reminiscent of so many of our peers work on their own emergency situations. It is similar, and yet it has new wrinkles that most of us have not had to address.

That is something that I dread will be the new normal: cycles of disasters that remind us of previous examples and that we can draw from, but that bring brand-new challenges that we need to quickly assess and master too.

And as important as it is as to bravely and clearly react to the moment, how we protect our fragile community from profiteers and bureaucrats and how we prepare to share any learning for the next one is equally as important.

Make moment examples

Of course, José Andrés World Central Kitchen team is already out there. Not only is WCK  immediately ready to deploy healthy food and community at the first moment necessary, the entity illustrates Jane Jacobs’ “eyes on the street” model that is as crucial during emergencies as in everyday life. Because they are there and attract media attention, they are able to call out the policy changes that have to be made, especially challenging those that push aside local knowledge or responses.  Our DTC channel organizations can clearly learn from that approach in getting media attention during these events.

“In emergencies, locals know best how to take care of their own,” Andrés said as he decried the tendency of government personnel to tell locals “how you should run your lives” when they enter disaster zones. “We need to achieve a better moment where those organizations come in to help people in America or around the world, listen to the locals more and bring them into the solution.”

Beyond the famous chefs, there are so many of these types of interveners that come to us during these moments. In New Orleans we had tens of thousands of respondents over the decade of recovery: everyone from the Rainbow Family setting up a wonderful emergency camp and doing soil mitigation right after the levee breaks to massive numbers of faith-based volunteers that came for years every summer to build houses. Be ready to spot those for this emergency: it may be someone with a better temporary space for your pop up market, a policymaker willing to suspend rules that limit the exchange of healthy foods,  a school bus driver to deliver food,  a fellow NGO leader with an idea for getting healthy food to more communities, or a farmer able to deliver to a multiplicity of neighborhoods or towns.

Also crucial to remind ourselves is that any make moment uses the assets and goodwill of the local community to respond, but also accounts for the length of the disaster. Some  of these last days, some weeks, some months or years. COVID19’s length is still undetermined, which is deeply frightening  especially as this timeline relies on a the response level of a weak medical system and a lack of a concerted response from our national government.

What those of us who have been through an emergency know is that it is vital to recognize the different phases as stages, each of which may require different responses and partners. The GoFish YouTube videos we did at MU with support from Kellogg Foundation helped us capture some of what our markets and small businesses came up with as responses and allowed us to record them across the length of that response – and not least, get those businesses money for those innovations over the long official response to Katrina.

Break moment examples

Cities closing down open-air food markets because they are viewed as events rather than as essential services are the main break moment we have to prepare to meet in this moment. In the weeks after Katrina, I was called into New Orleans City Hall (which was still set up in an eerie, blackout curtain-covered, borrowed hotel space) to defend the idea of selling food from what had been flood-covered land. What was interesting about this question from City Hall was they were unaware that most of our vendors came from the surrounding parishes outside of the levee breaks that had inundated New Orleans with water.  Only three vendors were growing food in the city, and all had already sent in soil tests to LSU. So, by sharing that information and plan, we were able to move quickly past that question. And since we operated in parking lots, building renovation – which slowed other retailers down for months or for years – was not an issue that we had to deal with. The open-air and transient nature of our design absolutely helped us, taking what would have  been a break moment into a make moment for our small market organization in the months and years after 2005. We never forgot that lesson for our emergency-prone area.


And we also learned that adaptation is the key.  As described again by Andrés:

“If we plan too much, chances are that things are gonna be completely wrong. And once you have a plan, and everybody agrees on the plan, if the plan goes out of line, people freeze,” Andrés admitted. “Adapting always in these scenarios is gonna be more important than planning.”

So don’t let the urge to make each moment the exact right response break you.

In other words, do what market organizations do best:  pilot something, learn from it quickly, adapt from its lessons and regroup. 

Take moment examples

There are also what we’d down here call “carpetbaggers” in every disaster situation. Already the NYT had a story of someone hoarding tens of thousands of hand sanitizers hoping to profit from this pandemic. Luckily, online stores shut him down, although he made plenty before it happened, and there will be others who will not caught or penalized.

I have already been contacted by many online stores and developers about aiding DTC channels. Now some of them are absolutely dedicated to helping and not hurting and offering their expertise- but some are not. The wrong ones can break our small businesses with hidden fees and bad design. Good, indifferent, or bad, don’t let them take our value proposition or our message for theirs. They are still two different business models and even if we borrow from each other, we have to remind our shoppers that we will return to our model because our DTC farmers and vendors are still not able to benefit from most of those models. Use your peers to ask about these opportunities, and ask them a lot of questions too. Yes, take advantage of the right opportunity, but don’t make a good idea into a bad situation by not being careful.


Another important point is to be ready and open enough to take the gifts that will come your or your community’s way.  Whether it is a a friend offering to make dinner for you, a market shopper willing to help with social media,  asking a peer to get on a webinar on your market’s behalf, or stopping for a moment for a walk or to close your eyes even on a busy busy day, take it. Being givers, market leaders and vendors are loathe to take their share, but for this moment, it is vital that you do. 

I just dropped some juice off to local culture bearers and small business owners who have been feeding me this week with their art and with healthy food. That was my gift to them; the fruit I used was a gift to me from neighbors and friends.

the bit I left at my pals door, photographer Cheryl and musician Mark.

And I was able to harvest so much this last week due to a gift of time and help by my Vermont food system pal Jean Hamilton who was in town for the National Good Food Network meeting.

Jean up in that tree!

I’ll add more examples here as they come to me through the extraordinary, creative community of food and civic activists that make up my world. I know we will grow stronger through this trial, and hopefully rebound by reminding even more people and community leaders why local farmers and businesses and their markets, farm stands, and CSAs are vital to a resilient, healthy place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Veg variety expands acceptance with kids

Australia: Increased acceptance for multiple vegetables was noted during the five weeks of one study and sustained at the three-month followup. Following the study, parents reported that offering the vegetables was “very easy” or “quite easy” with the majority following the instructions provided by the study.

This study recruited 32 families with children between the ages of four and six where low consumption of vegetables was reported. Parents completed an online survey and attended an information meeting prior to participating.

Study data was collected in several ways: two dinner meals served at the research facility during which children could eat as much of the broccoli, cauliflower and green beans as they wished; changes to actual vegetables consumed at home, childcare or school recorded through food diaries; and parents reporting on usual vegetable consumption. Families introduced one vegetable served broccoli, other families tried multiple vegetables. Parents were provided with a voucher to purchase the vegetables and given instructions on portion size and cooking instructions along with tips on how to offer the vegetables. Children were served a small piece of vegetable three times a week for five weeks. A sticker was given as a reward to children trying a vegetable.

Families that offered multiple vegetables recorded an increase in consumption from .6 to 1.2 servings, while no change in consumption was observed in families serving a single vegetable or families that did not change their eating habits.

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190909123713.htm

Pirate ships, untie.

Some of you may have heard the news earlier this year that Slow Food USA’s  Executive Director Richard McCarthy was stepping down from his command after six years. Of course anyone who reads this blog knows he was the founding visionary and 18-year E.D. at Market Umbrella* which is the NGO that manages the Crescent City Farmers Markets in New Orleans, and where I was lucky enough to work as Deputy Director and then as Marketshare Director for a decade.  I had departed its solidity and dynamic programs in 2011, feeling as if I needed to use the skills and resources I had gained to build the field of markets across the US and to focus on Farmers Market Coalition’s development, an entity that Richard had raised the initial private funding for and had served as the first board president when it became its own 501 (c) organization. He very graciously allowed me to take most of the materials we had developed at MU to grow my consulting business (Helping Public Markets Grow) and to use it later on as the basis of my current work as part-time staff at Farmers Market Coalition.

Since his move to NYC in 2012, we have kept in regular contact. I had even attended both of the Slow Food Nations events in Denver that happened under his leadership, partly to see if there could be an alignment between the work I did with FMC and with SF, but also to experience some of the synthesis he was famous for orchestrating between NGO leaders and chefs, private foundations and practioners, savvy media types and farmers, and a slew of others who share the theory of change that put farmers and markets in the democratic center of food systems. He always introduced me with the description that I know he had carefully crafted for me: “Darlene is a market guru and my colleague from the New Orleans days of running markets…” Like much of his wordsmithing, it was carefully open-ended and charmingly odd.

Whenever we met up, it was very much as if we were back in the cramped offices of Market Umbrella, discussing both the minute details of the work to put on a market, and the systemic trends and changes we noted and those we hoped to see. I often told him that I wished he would STOP running non-profits, and start to write, speak, and work at a different level on behalf of the entire system of organizers in the food and civic systems.

Now he is happily unmoored from his tether, roaming the world looking for places to put his efforts in the coming years.  My goal is getting him visiting the port of farmers markets regularly, and so I am doing my best to get him to work on a farmers market anthology with me, with part of the proceeds benefiting FMC and other worthy orgs. Maybe that will happen, but in the meantime, he is beginning to use the blog format to share his thoughts and to raise his flag.

The blog is called think like pirates, and I can offer a tiny glimmer as to why it is called that, although Richard has developed this idea in new ways since its unveiling. But here is the beginning:

Some years back, I watched a Charlie Rose episode with  Tori Amos and found this resonant:

Charlie: Now, this tour with Alanis Morrissette, tell me about her. Do you like her? Do you admire her? Is she good?
Tori: She’s a lovely person, good heart. She’s good at what she does.
Charlie: That’s it?
Tori: That’s good!
Charlie: I mean… well, was there conflict, was there tension? Or was it just a lovefest?
Tori: No tension because… I think honestly, she approached me and she did it in a way that was like, “Hey, lets be creative and put two shows together, two separate shows and um… I had to bring my own production. I didn’t want to do anything where I couldn’t bring my own production because that’s not how I work. I have a pirate ship, I have a captain…
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: I’m the ship. (giggle)
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: I have loads of chefs.
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: And all sorts of people floating around. Thieves, fantastic. A few harlots.
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: All on my ship.
Charlie: Yes.
Tori: And we all had to come and be respected that, you know, no compromise on any level. and, she has her captain, she is her ship, and of course that’s how it had to be approached. And, because of that mutual respect it worked out really well.

I went to the MU office the next day and told Richard about this interview. He immediately connected to it to our work, and came up with his pirate ship anthology for markets. (It is my memory that he had long been obsessed with pirates and maybe that’s why I told him. I believe he already flew a pirate ship flag on the front of his house.)

He began to say in presentations that we have to work as pirate ships, with our own flag, shanties and crew, but mooring together when needed. One day we even came up with a button that said, “Sail Alone, Anchor Together”; I still have one and wear it to market events where it is universally understood.

So I am pleased to introduce my readers to my pal’s new blog. His writing is practical, literate and metaphorical, and will encourage you to ponder it later on that day or week. Maybe over grog on your yardarm…

 

  • Market Umbrella was previously organized as ECOnomics Institute, and was a project of the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice at Loyola University from 1994-2008.

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.”

Why strong and weak ties are both necessary

A good article that describes bridging and bonding types of social capital. It is important for markets to understand which of them are at play in their market and how that depends on the market type the community is building. Basically, a person gets comfort and advice from their strong ties (bonding) and new information from weak ties (bridging) and so both are helpful for any type of behavior change.

For example, Food Access and Neighborhood/Niche market types often prioritize bonding social capital, while Flagship and Main Street market types focus on bridging social capital.  There is no one answer to how to build (or to measure) social capital, but it is important for every intervention to understand the two and which is preferable based on the strategy involved.

At a time when the United States is becoming more starkly and rigidly unequal, when Americans are sorting themselves into demographically uniform clusters, we are evidence of the problem. We are, at least passively, the cause of the problem.

This is the downside of high neighborliness. It is a classic case of “bonding social capital,“ which tightens the weave of trust among people who are already alike—as opposed to “bridging social capital,” which helps generate trust among unlike groups.

Bonding capital makes for in-group loyalty and unity. But a civically healthy society depends on bridging capital, and what social scientist Mark Granovetter has called “the strength of weak ties.” America is sick today in part because the weak ties that used to be fostered by diverse neighborhoods and associations are dissipating….

The Worst Thing About Good Neighbors – CityLab

 The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating 

A wonderful interview for anyone interested in community and creativity. So anyone working in markets, food and farming.

 

MS. TIPPETT: And I want to — I want to bring in the word tribes that you used, because that’s another way, you’re using a word that we associate with something primitive. Right? That we think, that we thought modernity was about outgrowing.

MR. GODIN: Right.

MS. TIPPETT: You are actually really affirming that… We choose who and what we belong to. It’s not just about survival. It’s about connection and flourishing.

MR. GODIN: So, you know, in the desert or the jungle, the tribe was defined by geography alone. That you were in the tribe based on where you were born. And then if we fast-forward to, I don’t know, Mark Twain. Mark Twain would show up in a city and a thousand people would come to hear him speak. And everyone who came was in his tribe. They were in the tribe of, you know, slightly satirical, slightly jaundiced people who were also intellectuals who could engage with him. And he had never met them before, but within minutes, they were part of a congruent group who understood each other. And so if we fast-forward to today — you can take someone who hangs out in the East Village or Manhattan who has 27 tattoos — they go to Amsterdam, they can find someone in Amsterdam who talks their language and acts like them, because they’ve chosen the same set of things that excite them, and that they believe in. And we divide tribes as small a group as we want. But what the Internet has done is meant that we don’t have to get on a plane anymore to meet strangers who like us.

That — the Linux operating system, which is on a billion computers around the world, was written by a group of strangers who have never met, who are part of the same tribe. And so the challenge of our future is to say, are we going to connect and amplify positive tribes that want to make things better for all of us? Or are we going to degrade to warring tribes that are willing to bring other groups down just so they can get ahead?

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So, you know, on the way into the studio today, I passed a 1934 Rolls Royce. And in those days, if you were really rich, you bought a fancy expensive car like that. So we went through this era where you would value something that was physical. But now the things we pay extra for are connection. Right? The things we pay extra for are what are other people using — what networks can we be part of — what conference can we go to — who can we be with? And the people we choose to be with, the products and services we choose to talk about are all interesting and unique and human and real, as opposed to industrial and cheap and polished and normal.

Seth Godin — The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating – | On Being

“Creative placemaking? What is it that you do?”

Great article linked below along with a salient excerpt about placemaking which is something all market organizations should know a little about.

We essentially believe that a creative placemaking project needs to have four basic parts:

First, the work needs to be ultimately place-based, meaning that there is a group of people who live and work in the same place. It can be a block, a neighborhood, a town, a city, or a region, but you need to be able to draw a circle around it on a map.

Next, you need to talk about the community conditions for all of the people who live in that place and identify some community development change that that group of people would like to see: a problem with housing that needs to be fixed; an opportunity with a new transportation infrastructure that needs to be seized; a problematic narrative around public safety that needs to be changed. (There are ten categories of community development changes that we currently track.)

Third is when the “creative” comes into play: how can artists, arts organizations, or arts activity help achieve the change that has been articulated for this group of people?

And, finally, since these are projects that explicitly set out to make a change, there needs to be a way of knowing whether the change has happened. Some people call this “project evaluation.” We simply say it is important to know when you can stop doing something, cross it off your list, and move on to the next thing.

"Creative placemaking? What is it that you do?" | ArtPlace.

Big Data and Little Farmers Markets, Part 3

I used these examples in Part 2 of this series, but wanted to use them again for this post. To review:

Market A (which runs on Saturday morning downtown) is asked by its city to participate in a traffic planning project that will offer recommendations for car-free weekend days in the city center. The city will also review the requirement for parking lots in every new downtown development and possibly recalibrate where parking meters are located. To do this, the city will add driving strips to the areas around the market to count the cars and will monitor the meters and parking lot uses over the weekend. The market is being asked for its farmers to track their driving for all trips to the city and ask shoppers to do Dot Surveys on their driving experiences to the market on the weekend. Public transportation use will be gathered by university students.

Market B is partnering with an agricultural organization and other environmental organizations to measure the level of knowledge and awareness about farming in the greater metropolitan area. For one summer month, the market and other organizations will ask their supporters and farmers to use the hashtag #Junefarminfo on social media to share any news about markets, farm visits, gardening data or any other seasonal agricultural news.

Market C is working with its Main Street stores to understand shopping patterns by gathering data on average sales for credit and debit users. The Chamber of Commerce will also set up observation stations at key intersections to monitor Main Street shopper behavior such as where they congregate.

Market D has a grant with a health care corporation to offer incentives and will ask those voucher users to track their personal health care stats and their purchase and consumption of fresh foods. The users will get digital tools such as cameras to record their meals, voice recorders to record their children’s opinions about the menus (to upload on an online log) with their health stats such as BP, exercise regimen. That data will be compared to the larger Census population.

So all those ideas show how markets and their partners might be able to begin to use the world of Big Data. In those examples, one can see how the market benefits from having data that is (mostly) collected without a lot of work on the market’s part and yet is useful for them and for the larger community that the market also serves.

However, one of the best ways that markets can benefit from Big Data is slightly closer to home and even more useful to the stability and growth of the market itself. That is: to analyze and map the networks that markets foster and maintain, which is also known as network theory.
Network theory is a relatively new science that rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s and is about exploring and defining the relationships that a person or a community has and how, through their influence, their behavior is altered. What’s especially exciting about this work is that it combines many disciplines from mathematics to economics to social sciences.

A social network perspective can mean that data about relationships between the individuals can be as useful as the data about individuals themselves. Some people talk about this work in terms of strong ties and weak ties. Strong ties are the close relationships that we use with greater frequency and offer support and weak ties are those acquaintances who offer new information and connect us to other networks. The key is that in order to really understand a network, it is important to analyze the behavior of any member of the network in relation to other members action. This has a lot to do with incentives, which is obviously something markets have a lot of interest in.

From the book Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World. By David Easley and Jon Kleinberg. Cambridge University Press, 2010. Complete preprint on-line at http://www.cs.cornell.edu/home/kleinber/networks-book/

From the book Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World.
By David Easley and Jon Kleinberg. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Complete preprint on-line at http://www.cs.cornell.edu/home/kleinber/networks-book/

From the foodsystemsnetwork.org website

From the foodsystemsnetwork.org website

network analysis

network analysis

I could go on and on about different theories and updates and critiques on these ideas, but the point to make here is this is science that is so very useful to the type of networks that food systems are propagating. Almost all of the work that farmers markets do rely on network theory without directly ascribing to it.

Think about a typical market day: a market could map each vendors booth to understand what people come to each table, using Dot Surveys or intercept surveys. That data could assist the vendor and the market. The market will benefit in knowing which are the anchor vendors of the market, which vendors constantly attract new shoppers, which vendors share shoppers etc. The market could also find out who among their shoppers bring information and ideas into the market and who carrries them out to the larger world from the market. All of this data would be mapped visually and would allow the market to be strategic with its efforts, connecting the appropriate type of shoppers to the vendors, expanding the product list for the shoppers likely to purchase new goods and so on.

Network theory would be quite beneficial to markets in their work to expand the reach to benefit program users and in the use of incentives. Since these market pilots began around 2005/2006, it has been a struggle to understand how to create a regular, return user of markets among those who have many barriers to adding this style of health and civic engagement. Those early markets created campaigns designed to offer the multiple and unique benefits of markets as a reason for benefit program shoppers to spend their few dollars there. Those markets also worked to reduce the barriers whenever possible by working with agencies on providing shuttles, offering activities for children while shopping, and adding non-traditional hours and locations for markets. Those efforts in New York, Arizona, California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Louisiana (among others) were positive but the early results were very small, attracting only a few of the shoppers desired. When the outcomes were analyzed by those organizations, it seemed that a few issues were cropping up again and again:
1. The agency that distributed the news of these market programs didn’t understand markets or did not have a relationship of trust with their clients that encouraged introduction of new ideas or acceptance of advice in changing their habits.
2. The market itself was not ready to welcome new benefit program shoppers- too few items were available or the market was not always welcoming to new shoppers who required extra steps and new payment systems.
3. Targeting the right group of “early adopters” among the large benefit program shopping base was impossible to decipher.
4. Some barriers remained and were too large for markets alone to address (lack of transportation or distance for example).
4. Finding the time for staff to do all of that work.

Over time, markets did their best to address these concerns, which has led to the expansion of these systems into every state and a combined impact in the millions for SNAP purchases at markets alone. The cash incentives assisted a great deal, especially with #2 and #4. However, this work would be made so much easier and the impact so much larger if network theory was applied.
Consider:
Market A is going to add a centralized card processing system and has funds to offer a cash incentive. But how to spend it? And how to prepare the market for the program?

If the market joined forces with a public health agency and a social science research team from a nearby university, it might begin by mapping the networks in that market to understand the strong and weak ties it contains as well as the structural holes in its network. It might find out that its vendors attract few new shoppers regularly or that the market’s staff is not connected to many outside actors in the larger network, thereby reducing the chance for information to flow.
It might also see that younger shoppers are not coming to the market and therefore conclude that focusing its efforts on attracting older benefit program shoppers (especially at first) might be a strategic move. If the market has a great many low-income shoppers using FMNP coupons already, the mapping of those shoppers may offer much data about how the market supports benefit program shoppers already and how it might expand with an audience already at market
The public health agency might do the same mapping for the agencies that are meant to offer the news of the market’s program. That mapping might find certain agencies or centers are better at introducing new ideas or have a population that is aligned already with the market’s demographic and therefore likely to feel welcomed.

As for incentives, what markets and their partners routinely tell me is more money is not always the answer. Not knowing what is expected from the use of the incentives or how to reach the best audience for that incentive is exhausting them or at least, puzzling them.
If markets knew their networks and knew where the holes were, they could use their incentive dollars much more efficiently and run their markets without burning out their staff or partners.
They might offer different incentives for their different locations, based on the barriers or offerings for each location. (They may also offer incentives to their vendors to test out new crops.)
If connectors are seen in large numbers in a market, then a “bring a friend” incentive might be offered, or if the mapping shows a large number of families entering the system in that area, then an incentive for a family level shopping experience may be useful.
One of the most important hypotheses that markets should use in their incentive strategy is how can they create a regular shopper through the use of the incentive. Of course, it is not the only hypothesis for a market; a large flagship market might identify their role as introducing new shoppers to their markets every month and use their funds to do just that. But for many markets with limited staff and small populations in and around the market, a never-ending cycle of new shoppers coming in for a few months and then not returning may not be the most efficient way to spend those dollars or their time. So this is also where network theory could be helpful.
By asking those using their EBT card to tell in detail where and how they heard about the program and by also tracking the number of visits they have after their introduction, we could begin to see which introductions work the best. Or by asking a small group of new EBT shoppers to be members of a long-term shopping focus group to track what happens during their visit (how many vendors they purchase from and how long they stay) and after (see Market D example at the top), we could learn about what EBT shoppers in that area value in their market experience. We may also find out that the market has few long-term return shoppers from the EBT population or we may find out that connectors become easy to spot and therefore they can be rewarded when sharing information on the market’s behalf.
In all of these cases, it will be easier for the staff to know what to do and when to do it if they understand their networks both in and around the market.
And of course, mapping the larger food systems around the markets’ systems would be exciting and could move policy issues to action sooner and allow funding to be increased for initiatives to fill the holes found.

However markets do it, what seems necessary is to know specifically who is using markets and how and why they decided to begin to use them and to whom those folks are connected. Network theory can be the best and widest use of the world of Big Data, especially to accomplish what Farmers Market Coalition has set as their call to action: that markets are for everyone.

Some reading, if you are interested:

http://www.foodsystemnetworks.org

The Tipping Point

Click to access networks-book-ch03.pdf

Click to access 827.full.pdf

Click to access kadushin.pdf