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.”

2018 National Direct Agriculture Marketing Summit

The first 2018 National Direct Agriculture Marketing Summit (the first of its kind in the U.S.) will be held September 15-18 in Arlington, VA.

The summit is specifically designed for farmers market managers and direct-marketing farmers wanting to network, and learn more about new industry resources and recent direct-to-consumer research and data, as well as join in on technical assistance workshops.

Attendees will learn about:
– data collection and how to communicate impacts
– technology uses for data visualization and mapping resources
– business development and marketing plans
– value-added agricultural resources available for producers

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Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) Applicant Webinars

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Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) Applicant Webinars

On March 7, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced the availability of $27 million in grants to strengthen market opportunities for local and regional food producers and businesses through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. Read updated information about these grants and register for upcoming webinars to learn more about them.

AMS will host two webinars to help farmers, producer groups and other potential applicants to understand the program requirements.

The Grants.gov webinar on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, at 2 p.m. (ET), will cover how to register in Dun & Bradstreet, track a submitted application, find funding opportunities and apply for those opportunities. The FMLFPP webinar on Wednesday, March 28, 2018, at 2 p.m. (ET), will provide an overview of the program objectives, eligibility and basic information about the application process. Register today:

Grants.gov Webinar


FMLFPP Webinar

Additional information is available on the AMS website:
https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/grants

Economic Assessment Toolkit-USDA

I recently attended a two day workshop on the new toolkit, conveniently held in New Orleans during the Food Distribution Research Society’s  2016 Conference: Exploring Linkages in Food Market Innovations. FDRS has a very sensible membership rate for anyone interested in research on food systems, which should be just about everyone reading my blog.

The first part of the workshop provided a general overview of the purpose and the layout of the online toolkit with time for a round of introductions from the attendees.  The gathered group (SRO by the way!) was a wonderful cross section of municipal projects, regional assessments and some feasibility/benchmark needs for newly emerging initiatives. 32 states were represented among the attendees which meant lots of networking happened in the hallways.

 

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Day 1 breakout, facilitated by toolkit team member Dr. Todd Schmit of Cornell University

 

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Day 1 breakout, facilitated by Dr. Dawn Thilmany the coordinator of the toolkit project.

 

The next day, one could choose either of the tracks to learn more detailed information. True to my usual m.o., I traveled between  both rooms depending on the topic being discussed.

Track A: Advanced Economic Impact Assessment

  • Review of Economic Development Principles
  • Modelling Issues to Consider in Economic Impact Analyses
  • Hands-on Customization of IMPLAN data for Analysis
  • Assessing your Community’s Efforts

Track B: Integrating Benchmarks into Your Local Food Assessment

  • Food System Typology
  • Economic Benchmarks across the Typology
  • Mapping the Range of Economic Multipliers

 

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The two days contained amazing detail on unpacking data for analysis when using secondary dbs such as the Ag Census. The researchers also did a great job discussing (in layperson terms)  how to think about economics within the food system as a whole and across connected sectors as well as frank discussions on sorting out long-held assumptions that one might have about data ( I find markets need this reality check as much if not more than other project leaders so do take note).

If this workshop comes to your town, I’d recommend that you invite your Extension partners and any market planning on conducting in-depth research on their own. They may even be offering some travel scholarships as they did to this one.

I am gratified to see that the work the FMC team has done for the last 5 years or so to research and adapt existing tools into the still-in-development Farmers Market Metrics training and pilot materials closely follow the same framework used by this very smart group. I think FMM will be the market-focused portion of data collection and data use that toolkits like this rely on existing in local communities that make their work easier.

With all of this attention being paid to collecting and discussing data, it is becoming more evident that practioners and researchers will have many ways to share dynamic and disciplined ideas on the impacts that local and regional food systems have on their communities. Join in, won’t you?

In case you haven’t heard of this yet, I urge you to check it out online:

USDA-AMS’ The Economics of Local Food Systems: A Toolkit to Guide Community Discussions, Assessments and Choices