Grocery and farmers markets

I just finished a blog post for FMC co-written with Research and Education Director Alex Canepa about Amazon and Whole Foods. Our short answer in our rather long piece was we don’t know how this merger will affect food generally and local food specifically, but it doesn’t look promising.

Because of that post, I have spent even more time recently reading about grocery stores and food purchasing in reports from trade papers, some general books and articles, all of which are sure of only a few things:

  1. Current storefront retail sales are sluggish.
  2. Consolidation of stores or of chains doesn’t help the consumer.
  3. Online sales for food are one of the few growth patterns in food but if anyone has figured out how to use this method to actually make a profit it’s still unknown.

One of the reasons why the media is obsessed with stories about the big chains is because the story is simpler: success only means profit which means either increasing the number of stores or same-store sales and no matter where you are in the US, it’s the exact same story. There is no need to worry about seasonal interruptions, cultural uniqueness or local factors or find other measures of success.

All of this means that in this age, the farmers market story has to be powerful, exciting and positive. The days of flyers in the coffeehouses and yard signs on market days as the only way to let folks know about the market are basically done.

The stories we tell need to encapsulate what our marvelous markets of the modern era actually do:

Offer civic space to all citizens, with no purchase necessary;

Introduce people to good food produced by their neighbors;

Increase access to healthy foods for our at-risk neighbors;

Encourage wise stewardship of land;

Champion the innovators of our good food system;

Support the larger food and farming system as leaders;

Advocate for better policies at the city, state, and national level.

All of that goes back to one of my action phrases for 2017 which was laid out in this blog earlier this year:

Don’t Hide the Hard Work.

In order for the community you live in to understand how their markets do all of these things, the market organization needs to be constantly visible and engaged. The staff, board, advisors and anchor vendors need to continually let people know their role at the market, invite feedback and share what they learn with the market community.

Language that defines those things markets do has to be put into metric form and shared regularly with the larger community. That is because anecdotes and stories are not appealing to those who do not know us. They need simple and directed assertions as to why shopping directly for their food matters. They need it in 140 characters or less or in a single picture on Instagram or even told them by an influencer whose blog they follow.

Now, you may find those ideas ridiculous; I can understand that thinking as someone who gave up her smartphone a few years back (after being one of the first with a Blackberry, and then an iPhone and then an iPad), but the reality is mass communication has changed forever. And not just for young people: most studies of social media show that some channels – like Facebook – are increasingly used by older people. And not just how, but what they are looking for has changed. That is why the sector that is most sensitive to any change in people’s lives – grocery shopping – has become a free-for-all.

We need to face it head on and decide how the farmers market and larger good food system will flourish in spite of this chaos.

Each market needs to check in on all of these areas above and ask itself how is it doing on each and then act upon the findings.

This is the best chance we have to not be submerged by the mess that is retail right now. By aligning ourselves and our farmers as community leaders and our markets not simply as sales outlets, we can continue our revolution even as the storefronts around us change names and focus and even in some cases, disappear from view.

 

 

Update: check out this story about the new NEW players in food: (and yes the first is “related” through the Albrecht family to Trader Joe’s): Aldi and Lidl.

 

 

 

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6 Things Paul Ryan Doesn’t Understand About Poverty (But I Didn’t, Either) 

Karen Weese is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Salon, Dow Jones Investment Advisor, the Cincinnati Enquirer, Everyday Family, and other publications.

There are many prescriptions for combating poverty, but we can’t even get started unless we first examine our assumptions, and take the time to envision what the world feels like for families living in poverty every day.

Alternet

New streetcar line drives market biz, sez vendor

Barb Cooper and her husband operate a fresh produce and specialty shop called Daisy Mae’s Market at Findlay Market and launched Cincinnati Food Tours in 2012 to introduce visitors to Findlay Market, share culinary experiences and spread her enthusiasm for Over-the-Rhine. She says some stores have reported a 30 percent increase in sales since the streetcar started traversing Cincinnati’s streets.

“The excitement around it is just amazing. Most of the people that are coming on my tours live in the suburbs and they’ve heard about the streetcar. They’ve heard about Over-the-Rhine’s revitalization, and they really need somebody to help them navigate it to see what’s really here,” Cooper said.

Findlay Market vendor claims streetcar is behind booming business – Story

 

Here is a link to other posts about Cincinnati’s Findlay Market from this blog. Here is a post on my French Quarter blog comparing the French Quarter to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood where Findlay and the new streetcar sit.

 

Structural racism and farmers markets, Part 2

Recently, I wrote the first post of where markets began and some of the barriers we have encountered along the way to healthy food for all. I hope that those who read it understood the distinction I was making between individual, institutional and structural racism.

In it, I gave my version of the chronological history of markets in order to show the intentional and thoughtful work done by leaders so far. One of those milestones was the work with public health advocates, starting in the early 2000s and one of the examples I use of that is Kaiser Permanente’s creation of farmers markets. This began around 2003, when ob/gyn Dr. Preston Manning had an idea to put a farmers market on the Oakland  KP campus and begat a movement of “market champions”around the U.S. during their shift to wellness rather than crisis care. This report on their markets came out a few years ago and has some very interesting analysis of market interventions.  The evolution of the “campus” market in the emerging market typology spectrum linked below is illustrated in there as is some data on the marked increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables among surveyed marketgoers, and (what I remember as the surprising outcome to them ) of the increase in social capital for their staff. (Here is the draft version of the market typology.)

The KP markets marked one of the first long-term partnerships with a health care provider interested in them as interventions for their target audience. In other words, it seems to be the beginning of the era of partners realizing markets were more nimble than they had previously seemed and so could be added into new communities for multiple reasons, including those with complex public health goals. The KP/market relationship seemed strained at times (full disclosure: back then, my organization  was in discussion to help KP with their market strategy, but the New Orleans levee breaks of 2005 took precedence for our time. We did continue to discuss markets with them and even included their staff in some of Market Umbrella’s trans•act research into market evaluation), but  KP remained thoughtful about how they supported markets and constantly offered some good critical thinking about the capacity of markets and what success measures that they thought were appropriate.

I became fond of saying that the relationship was a match made in heaven as (back then) markets were all energy with little discipline and public health was all discipline with little energy. These health partnerships have led to many things, like the incentive strategy and the expansion of the voucher programs. There is no doubt that market have adopted a wider view of good food  and done an amazing job at encouraging those with benefit program dollars to come to their markets. Most importantly, markets gained a better understanding of the social determinants of health paradigm.

World Health Organization (WHO) offers a two tier view of these factors: the daily physical environment of a person and the distribution of resources and the political power to change the factors. It is important to address the safety, transportation needs, housing etc of a person who is at-risk in order to offer solutions to repair their health, but without also addressing how that environment ended as less safe or without decent places to live, that individual will remain at risk. What is also important to note about these indicators is that they rely on community wealth being available. Before we tied our market balloon to these pillars of health, our initiatives were often seen as elitist and obsessed with a construct of local that had no relevance to the larger world. Now of course, it is clear that addressing inequities cannot be completed by outside funders swooping in, and that entrepreneurial activity is a necessary aspect for empowerment; efforts across the globe in micro-investing or Slow Money here in the U.S. have shown the trend is appealing even to big time money folks. So economic power at the local level is key to this shift and in food systems, no one does that better than farmers markets.

Kellogg Foundation’s shift about the same time to a continuum of health for families  – encapsulated beautifully at one of their conferences as”first food, early food, school food, community food”  – allowed them  to lead the discussion on this overarching strategy. The foundation focuses on “three key factors of success and their intersections: education and learning; food, health and well-being; and family economic security. Lots of good language to seek out as well viewing some of the work from Kellogg and its partners. Check out their resources.

The CDC definition:

“the conditions in the environments in which people live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Conditions (e.g., social, economic, and physical) in these various environments and settings (e.g., school, church, workplace, and neighborhood) have been referred to as “place.” In addition to the more material attributes of “place,” the patterns of social engagement and sense of security and well-being are also affected by where people live.

http://www.cdc.gov/socialdeterminants/data/index.htm

So place and the civic engagement could be the two buckets to consider. How can markets address either of these? Place is pretty simple isn’t it? Let’s say that your market is working to add at-risk shoppers using an incentive and EBT program and finds that one chief barrier is the lack of public transportation options around your location. It may help to advocate for a bus to alter its route for the market day. Or to add more bike parking to encourage non-drivers or to set aside a few parking spaces close to the entrance for drop-offs, shuttles, jitneys or uber. One great way to look at the place around you is to use PPS’ Placemaking audits and tools and see how inviting your area is.

Clearly, civic engagement is another area that markets could do more with. The Power of Produce (POP) program offered by FMC is a lovely way to offer this. Another might be for the market to work with newly arrived citizens through expanding language choices or the market’s products. Shady seating, community information are also good. But how about market leaders showing up to a housing meeting in their city? Or working on a microinvestment strategy with shoppers and local banks to encourage new producers or other community solutions?

I had the good fortune to attend the BALLE’s “The Future of Health is Local” webinar which dove into the structural work around health and wealth, although more at the institutional purchasing power level. What was really great about it was the detailed insight of health care providers like KP. BALLE is an invaluable resource to anyone working on community wealth strategies. I attended a few of their conferences in the past and had some great meet ups with initiatives and researchers who are embedding the farmers market movement and lessons into their work. It is a great and valuable time for those  thinking of attending an added conference. Definitely check out their resources.

So, the work to include all of the social determinants into our food work is not fully realized. That issue is at the heart of these 2 posts and why (I think) the divide between whites and people of color seems wider and deeper than ever. It is commendable for us to rid our language and actions from individual racist attitudes, and to add institutional partners and programs that add access, but we must go beyond that. If we use our power and privilege to explore and address inequities within the larger physical and political environment, we will start to see better outcomes, and the social determinants framework is as good of a way as any to do that in organizing terms.

Star assessment of community health

 

Related statement from National Young Farmers Coalition.

 

 

 

 

 

Embrace Difference to Achieve Health Equity

Health equity is gaining prominence in public conversations about community well-being…

…Every community has its own culture and assets on which to build. These can direct efforts to achieve health equity by addressing the avoidable and unjust social, economic and environmental conditions that lead to health inequities. Active Living By Desig (ALBD) considers Community Context to include the residents, location, history, policies, systems and resources and the interplay of these factors. Those various factors have a unique influence on health in each community and must be understood and accounted for at every stage of the healthy community change process. This includes the selection of strategies and the order in which those strategies are implemented. To support this process, ALBD helps communities tailor their approaches using the Community Action Model as a guide through community change.

Source: Embrace Difference to Achieve Health Equity | Joanne Lee | LinkedIn

Can Hospitals Heal?

Read a great report today by The Democracy Collaborative that should be a must read for all food system organizers. It is vital that markets build their capacity to anchor their food systems, and hospital partnerships have evolved tremendously to assist with that. Hospitals can offer space for campus and other  market types, fund incentivizing healthy eating, change their purchasing to offer farmers another sales outlet, conduct research with markets, offer trained health professionals to assist with strategy and outreach and much more.

More on the campus market: this is one of the early types that came from Market Umbrella’s trans•act work; I have continued to use it as a framework when working with new market partners. I think campus markets can work in more cases, but the governance, products and partnerships have to be aligned closely to the goals of the market: So in this example, since the shopping population is usually drawn entirely from inside the campus,there may be a natural ceiling on sales for the vendors. Yet, the well designed campus market may find other ways to incentivize or reward these vendors including offering more exclusives on product offerings, rewarding consistent vendors with reduced fees, putting them first in line for institutional purchases, offering a pre-sold market box to campus members to bolster sales or even allowing those vendors to access the services for free on the day they come to sell at market!

The market may even hire its manager from the campus and should include campus market champions (using Kaiser-Permanente’s early language) on their board. Since the shopping base is more or less a controlled population, projects could focus more on sharing information for the campus and creating a welcoming and attractive respite or reward of hospital work or appointments.

 

The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute found that over 40 percent of the factors that contribute to the length and quality of life are social and economic; another 30 percent are health behaviors, directly shaped by socio-economic factors; and another 10 percent are related to the physical environment where we live and make day to day choices—again inextricably linked to social and economic realities. Just 10 to 20 percent of what creates health is related to access to care, and the quality of the services received.

Some call this new approach to health “the anchor mission,” meaning that a hospital not only provides charitable and philanthropic support for the community, but begins to re-orient its institutional business practices to benefit the place in which it is based.