How Farmer Vendors Say Markets Can Help Them-AFT/FMC survey

To echo what my colleagues at FMC said in their original post accompanying the survey results, I recommend that you click through the answers below to our website and read the comments from the respondents. Do remember that the answers may not be drawn from a truly representative group of vendors and are a very small sample, but still, it is likely that each market has vendors that would agree with the majority of the statements.

Most of their comments have to do with the writing and enforcement of rules, the request for governance to be stable and for market managers having skills related to retail management, such as advertising know-how, location management expertise and product awareness. In all cases, these skills are possible for market staff to acquire, but won’t necessarily come from experience. In other words, it is time that professional development becomes a benefit/requirement of market management.

In order for markets to thrive in a competitive world full of external pressures and internal tensions, it is my contention that market managers (and boards!) who ask in other professionals to assist the market, who reach out to their peers regularly and who work constantly to balance between the vendors, the visitors/shoppers and the larger food/civic community’s needs are more likely to succeed. Professional development may mean attending a conference, taking a class on marketing, or researching product reach. However it is done, it should be built into the market managers year, even if it is only an hour or two a month.

I fully expect to get replies from managers telling me that they already work hours and hours without pay, have a list of to-dos longer than their product list or have a board that doesn’t care about their development. My reply is I know that all of these issues truly exist in real time for managers; I was one of those hard-working managers at one time and finding time to increase my skills was very difficult, but I did it. I did it partly by spending the time to find more volunteers, training them to do important work and at times, even writing my own job review in order to indicate where I needed help. I also built systems so that I didn’t have to explain how to do something each time or have to spend time recreating each time what needed to be done (designing a system for setting up the Welcome Booth that included lists of what and where items went out is an example of that as was a map of where to do outreach when flyers or postcards were ready to go). I  wanted to stay in the field and so I looked for ways to become better at what I did and to become a professional market leader.

In turn, boards have to add benefits or a living wage so that they can retain trained market managers. As many experts have noted, what employees truly want is some autonomy, flexibility and appreciation.They want to feel that they are part of a purposeful place and that innovation is allowed, even encouraged and rewarded. Where better to build all of that in then a market?

I’ll also say that many advocates for markets (like FMC and AFT) also understand that the capacity of markets must be increased and that means that the job of market manager has to become a respected and long-term job. Check out this webinar about a wonderful survey of market vendors done by Colleen Donovan of Washington State University, Small Farms Program that gave excellent input on how to use the data to increase market expertise. It is also a big reason why FMC is investing in the Farmers Market Metrics project, so that good data about markets impacts can be shared and will encourage more investment.

What we know is that the number of volunteers and part-time staff must increase to assist managers and that the best way for a board to help management is to write and enforce clear and fair rules and to raise and manage money. We want markets to keep growing and to do that, management has to understand every nuance of their market and of the larger system to make their market resilient.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“To better understand the evolving needs of farmers markets and the farmers who sell at them, American Farmland Trust and the Farmers Market Coalition teamed up with C2It Marketing to complete a national survey of farmers who sell at farmers markets.  Read the FMC posts here.

Over 550 farmers who sell at farmers markets nationwide responded to the survey, providing valuable feedback and ideas that should help farmers markets improve their operations. Despite the large number of responses, keep in mind these responses may not be representative of vendors from your local farmers market.

FMC recommends that markets review the issues farmers highlight in this survey, and then ask their own vendors about what would make the market more successful. Please also note that the views expressed by the survey responses do not necessarily reflect the views of FMC.

What Respondents Requested from Markets

When asked, “What could be done to help you and your farmers market be more successful?”, many farmers noted several areas where markets and supporting organizations could make improvements. The following answers provide a snapshot of the prevailing issues. Click on the links to view details on each suggestion:


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July Market Data Collection: Athens (OH) Chillicothe (OH) and New Orleans

Since 2002 or so, my public market focus has really been two-fold: designing grassroots markets and creating replicable ways to measure and share their success. Both are necessary in order for markets to remain at the fulcrum of viable and equitable food systems. And THAT means that the desire for programs and funding to create long-term stability and build professional skills must be integral to the field (which includes markets partners), which is far from the case as of yet.

One way we will get there is by capturing data that explains shared success measures while still illustrating innovative and unique approaches in each place. I am honored to be the eyes and ears for Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) and its partners on their Farmers Market Metrics work which we hope will serve those ends. I am in the middle of a summer of travel to sites to observe actual data collection at markets using the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s data collection protocols in the Indicators for Impacts AFRI-funded project shared with FMC and whenever possible, to stop at other markets to view their data collection too.

One of the big bugaboos seems to be in doing direct data collection with visitors or vendors; on a side note, it occurs to me as I write this how rarely I see Dot Surveys (or as we redefined them, Bean Polls!) any longer. Seemed to me that markets did them constantly in years past, but they may have began to decline for the same reasons I made the Bean Poll; vagaries of weather, managing blow-y pieces of paper and light-as-air easels outside, keeping track of previous hours responses etc. Let me stop for a minute to be clear: Bean Polls can only be used in very specific instances as described in the link above. Don’t think I mean that they can be used to collect sensitive data or replace intercept surveys-they cannot. But they can introduce the community to  regular data collection and offer a mood of the day response about possible trends. I wonder if the lack of Dot Survey I see is an indicator of something retreating in data collection at market level, or if I just show up at the wrong time…

And counting visitors- I don’t think I’ve ever suggested to a market that they should count their visitors regularly without them telling me it was near to or outright impossible. Okay, that maybe an overstatement, but I have heard that exact phrase quite often! I respect the low-capacity efficiency of markets, but I do think every market can do good Counting Days and I continue to dream up new ways that counting can be done without a slew of volunteers or paid staff. If anyone is up for trying them out, contact me at dar wolnik at gmail; but do know, it’ll require some planning…

In any case, what I see out there already are some very good systems for data collection that will probably work for small and large markets and everyone in between. As soon as those systems are tested and able to be replicated you’ll hear about it.

The Farmers Market Coalition website hosts the resources and updates  for all the Farmers Market Metrics work, so do check in there for more information.

And if you missed it, here is an account to my first market visit: Hernando Mississippi.

Next: Ruston LA, Williamsburg VA and Takoma Park MD (Crossroads)

Please click on the first photo to view the gallery. My apologies to my Facebook followers who have seen most if not all of these pictures.

Hernando Farmers Market Data Collection Day

I kicked off my summer of market travel in northern Mississippi this year, which is one of my favorite places to work and to visit in the U.S.

Hernando is in DeSoto County (someone had to point out to me the appropriate alignment of the names of the city & county, honoring the first European known to cross the Mississippi) and it ranks highest in most indicators for good health in Mississippi, but is next door to a slew of counties that are at the very bottom of that same list, in what is called the Delta.

I first got to to know the Hernando Market when I was doing research a few years back for a report for The Wallace Center on existing challenges for direct and intermediate marketing farmers in Mississippi. Everyone told me to go talk to this market to see what impressive work was being done there. And so I went up and met with Shelly Johnstone, who founded and ran the market while working as the Community Development Director of the city. The market had been running for only a few years by the time of my visit but already was one of the largest and most productive in economic terms for area producers. I remember well what she told me about being Hernando as a  regional leader during that visit: “We’re grateful to be leading the state in healthy behavior but we know we need to assist our fellow counties and get those folks in the same situation. It won’t be enough to fix Hernando.”

She invited me back up to see the kickoff for her weekday local food market box program called 4Rivers, created in partnership with the Northwest Mississippi Community Foundation, which has done a great deal in food and active living projects for the area. She also discussed her work to provide technical assistance to neighboring markets and to support the expansion of organic/sustainable farmers through the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network. All of this and more happened because of the leadership of Mayor Chip Johnson, who remains a strong proponent of the weekly farmers market.

I left impressed with the mayor and Shelly’s connections and drive, looking forward to many years of their leadership. Of course, news came to me within a year that she was retiring from the city and her post(s), but would stay involved with the efforts in her area. Unfortunately, circumstances have not allowed her to be as visible as she would probably have liked, but the good news is that her successor at the city, Gia Matheny, has the same drive and empathy for her fellow citizens. Of course, coming into the market some years after its founding has meant some catch up for Matheny, but luckily, she has deep skills, an open personality and is willing to ask about what she doesn’t know.

So when the request was sent out by Farmers Market Coalition for markets in MS to become a pilot site of the Farmers Market Metrics work, I was pleased when this market asked to be considered as one of the sites. The 3-year data collection project would teach the research team at University of Wisconsin-Madison a great deal about the unique qualities of markets and regions and so having this strong market in the mix for Mississippi was going to be beneficial for everyone.

Hernando (like the other 8 pilot markets) was instructed to choose metrics that best represented the current impact that the market was having on its vendors, its visitors/shoppers, its neighbors and the larger community.

Here are their choices:

Dollars spent at neighboring businesses by market shoppers on market days

Percent of customers who were first time visitors

Average number of SNAP transactions per year

Total dollar amount of Senior FMNP redeemed annually

Number of different fruit and vegetable crops available for sale annually

Percentage of shoppers walking,bicycling, carpooling, driving or taking

public transportation to the market (estimated annually)

Percentage of shoppers from represented zip codes (estimated

annually)

Additionally, all 9 markets were asked to collect the same data on these metrics (called the Common Metrics):

Average number of visitors per market day:

Total annual vendor sales at market

Average distance in miles traveled from product origin to market

Acres in agricultural production by market vendors

Once the metrics were selected in the fall of 2014, the UW research team created a unique Data Collection Package (DCP) for each market detailing how and when they would collect the data for each metric. Each market then chose their collection days for the summer/fall of 2015 and searched for and scheduled volunteers accordingly. June 13th was one of Hernando’s four scheduled dates for visitor surveys and visitor counts and so I drove up to observe the day and offer any assistance I could. I was also lucky enough to be asked to ring their 100-year old market bell to open the market:

The 100-year old Hernando Market bell

The 100-year old Hernando Market bell

FMC FB post of the video of me ringing the bell

Gia mapping out the day

Gia mapping out the day

GiaMHernCollectors

The Hernando Market Welcome Table

The Hernando Market Welcome Table

One of the two team members that would be doing the visitor surveys

One of the two team members that would be doing the visitor surveys

The other member of the team conducting the visitor surveys- yes that is an iPad which was being tested for use in doing surveys; unfortunately, the WiFi signal was not strong enough to use and so paper surveys were used instead.

The other member of the team conducting the visitor surveys- yes that is an iPad which was being tested for use in doing surveys; unfortunately, the WiFi signal was not strong enough to use and so paper surveys were used instead.

The set of clickers to be used for Counting Day

The set of clickers to be used for Counting Day

Gia doing a survey

Gia doing a survey

Some of the team were assigned at advantageous locations to count the visitors, while others were to complete visitor surveys. The volunteers were a mix of folks, from corporate volunteers (Walgreens corporate office staff for this Saturday) arranged through Volunteer NW Mississippi, to a city youth leader and Gia’s daughter and her friend. They picked up on the tasks easily and (and something that is not unusual in my experience) offered good feedback throughout the day and even gladly volunteered to take on more data collection tasks when necessary.

Overall, the data collection went extremely well and the immediate and ongoing analysis of it will mean an even smoother day for the next round for  the market leaders. It was impressive to see how many city officials, visitors and vendors wanted to know more about the pilot and and were eager to discuss the market in measurement terms with me.

Next up: Chillicothe and Athens OH

Vermont and Illinois market meetings

Sometimes work travel can be lonely. Saying goodbye to family and friends (especially when it’s 80 degrees at home and 15 at your destination), waiting at airports for hours, being at hotels on weekends. In my travels, I see and talk to plenty of people out there who live in the spaces from airport to hotel and back and spend most of their time in dry meetings in some nondescript building. I however, get to go hang out with warm and engaged market practioners who are interested in what a visitor is doing there. How gratifying it is when you bring up a market subject and eyes light up with recognition and excitement. Or that new market manager you spend some time with at lunch has great ideas and plans and you are able to say-“wow, you have an excellent plan, I think this is absolutely going to work” and they convey gratitude which is lovely but unnecessary. Or that you get to reconnect with market advocates you met on a previous trip and laugh, talk and maybe make a friend.
This month I did that in 2 states- Vermont and Illinois. Both are states that I have been invited to previously and was very honored to be invited back again.
In Vermont, I traveled to the conference with a market leader who I admire and can bat ideas back and forth on a wide-ranging set of topics. Once on the Vermont Law School’s beautiful campus in South Royalton, I get to see many peers again who catch me up and share news. The host organization, NOFA-VT is an honorable elder organization that has true leadership and camaraderie and those qualities are shared by those who comes to their events. Everyone shows up for them, from the Agency of Ag to the state benefit program leaders and a whole bunch of assorted activists. Vermont is so focused and collaborative on building their sustainable place that it feels important to keep reminding them how far forward in the vanguard that they are and how we are all watching their work closely for replication.
Adding to that, colleagues from previous years have become friends and take good care of me and make sure I have fun and good food: this trip, Libby was on call for me.
After those few days in Vermont, I hopped over to Illinois, first to Chicago and them to Springfield for the Illinois Farmers Market Association meetings (IFMA). This association has ramped up their activities very quickly, partnering on multiple trainings, analysis, policy work and pilots in every corner of this big state. I was able to drive from Chicago to Springfield with the state’s mother hen of markets, IFMA’s energetic and multi-tasking Executive Director Pat Stieren along with a fellow baseball pal with a wise agricultural/entrepreneurial mind, IFMA board member and Local Food Systems/Small Farms Educator at University of Illinois Extension, Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant. THAT conversation was global in its range and so very entertaining.
The board of the IFMA is one of the most hands-on that I have worked with, no doubt. Washington state’s market meeting seemed this year to have about the same level of participation and leadership from their board, and I am sure that other states that I have not been to recently will email me to tell me how great their board is too, but in Illinois I saw so much integrated activity for markets across all of the disciplines the board represents that I will hold them up this year as a beacon of volunteerism and professionalism.

Illinois also had an impressive amount of partners at both of their meetings, from USDA staff to technology solution providers to regional academic and NGO stakeholders. They are very interested in evaluation for markets and so asked many questions about the Farmers Market Metrics projects being piloted at FMC. I do think that when a state reaches for common sense and multiple ways to measure what is being done at markets, that those states are really ready to boost market capacity. It is no secret that one of my goals as a consultant is to build a professional set of market managers across the nation, well-paid and able to stay in place to pilot new ideas that keep their markets at the center of their food system. Obviously without a way to show how they increase benefits across many types of capital, markets will continue to use all of their energy and strategic thinking time on just the lengthy day-to-day to-dos every market has and as a result, will never grow their markets to sustainability or increase their own leadership.
It was probably not a coincidence that both of these states (and others) have started to create more peer-to-peer discussion opportunities at these meetings, which of course, will lead to more leadership development and embedded practioner problem-solving. I look forward in future years to those discussions being recorded or notes uploaded for other markets to learn from and action items identified to complete.
What both states struggle with at these meetings is how to assist the new markets (and sometimes the even newer organizers who aren’t even sure that a market is what they will do) who tend to show up in large numbers to these events, while still keeping the experienced markets attending. It may be time to create separate tracks for new and experienced managers for half a day and then bring them together at lunch, or to ask more of the experienced managers to design and lead more workshops in the morning and then allow them to meet with their peers in the afternoon. I’d also love to see one or two states pilot a one-on-one training system with a mentor market and a newer one at these conferences, offering 2-3 hour sessions with checklists and worksheets to be completed at the end by the trainee.
In any case, it was a marvelous week of market talk and ideas being offered and expanded, and I look forward to many more of these meetings and a return to two of my favorite market states.

Good information picked up in VT and IL

Good information picked up in VT and IL

IFMA discussion group

IFMA discussion group


Vermont Roundtable

Vermont Roundtable

Protestors rally in support of Golden Gate farmers market

FYI- this is Florida and not northern California..

A few issues that I would like more information about from this story: one, if the market and the county had communicated in the past and two, how many local people think that flea market goods have too much room at this market and if they agree that a farmers market should not contain those goods. I’m not advocating for flea market goods at markets (my own markets were very strict about any non-food goods) but whether it is true that flea market goods are taking up most of the space in this market and whether those flea market goods have a place in farmers markets should be up to the local community, which certainly includes the municipality in question, but doesn’t mean the commissioners should decide these issues alone. It is important to note that in many cases across the Americas, staple markets have a place in many communities and can be a very useful type of market for small rural communities or for immigrant communities.

Lastly, the rule to only allow open-air markets to operate only 28 days per year seems awfully restrictive. I wonder when that was passed in Florida and how many counties have that rule? And is it to restrict flea markets but ends up restricting farmers markets too? I do know from my pals in farmers markets in Florida that the use of the term farmers market is all over the place across the state; resellers use the term in normal practice and of course, in a state like Florida that has massive agricultural exports, small farms and direct marketing are not likely to be valued as highly as in other states. Of course, California does have a thriving farmers market system, but also has a very different political climate and history.

For all of these issues, this is why I advocate for formal rules that allow for constant transparency and clarity in market governance. Rules that explain why, when, how and for whom a market operates can help reduce these issues before they get to crisis stage. In addition, this is also why I hope Farmers Market Coalition and their partners are successful in building a simple and usable data collection system; If all markets could gather a few comparable metrics each year, these issues might be more easily diverted or at least, add facts to lessen a charged situation.

The controversy started when Collier County commissioner Tom Henning used the word “gypsy” to describe vendors at the Golden Gate Community Center market. Commissioner Henning wanted to protect a business that complained the farmers market shoppers were taking up his parking spots….
While county commission retracted their initial vote to shut the market down, their problems aren’t over.

County laws say open-air markets can only operate 28 days a year. But vendors at the farmers market want to stay open all year. A petition with 1,300 signatures will be presented at a county commission meeting on Tuesday.
this from another
Taylor said the county’s issue is that it’s not a farmer’s market, but more of a flea market and it appears to be disrupting local businesses.

Protestors rally in support of Golden Gate farmers market – NBC-2.com WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral & Naples, Florida.

Odds and ends from the Washington State Farmers Market Association meeting

View from the conference dining room

View from the conference dining room

Just got back from a great farmers market association meeting in Olympia WA with what I hear was around 200 participants but seemed like double that with the ideas and networking flying around. Karen Kinney, WSFMA’s impressive Executive Director could be seen everywhere, adding content to their market bootcamp, introducing sessions, setting up table displays, and making time to chat with anyone who stopped her, like Farmers Market Coalition Executive Director Jen Cheek, or even a random consultant from New Orleans…
2015-02-08 19.27.40Jen and Karen

In many ways, Washington represents the apex of the U.S. market work right now because of the serious attention paid to building the capacity of market organizations themselves and their work on regional and national issues that benefit all markets and their communities. (California has to be exempted from any comparison as it is always is a decade or so ahead of the rest of us.)
I have found that meeting long time and full-time market professionals in Washington is not unusual, nor is finding stable and expansive market organizations across the state that offer their communities tons of resources and spend time to increase the connections between direct marketing producers and shoppers in their region. One of the indicators for the flagship market typology is the ability of the market to look “outward” and assist the larger food system or other market organizations. Flagship markets seem to abound in Washington.

There is no doubt that the WSFMA is considered one of the top (flagship?) associations in the country by most market advocates and partners with Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York thought to be in that same tier too.
In recent years, the level of sharing that Michigan and Washington especially have done on programs such as Washington’s benefit program pilots/card technology research, its data collection and policy work and Michigan’s respected manager certification program really stand out. Pennsylvania’s PASA, although not specifically a market association, should be mentioned for its excellent service for markets in their very large state. I can also tell you that in all of my work with markets in any state, I go back to these folks time and time again for input or to ask them to share their analysis and they always deliver.
Many younger or all-volunteer associations are coming right behind in the level of resources or strategy they are offering in their state to increase market professionalism – some of the ones I am asked about regularly are Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia. Sorry if I left any out, that was just off the top of my head…

The Vancouver Farmers Market gorgeous literature and materials on display

The Vancouver Farmers Market’s gorgeous literature and materials on display


The WSFMA market bootcamp run by WSFMA board member Ann Foster and WSFMA staff member Jennifer Brown,

The WSFMA market half-day bootcamp run by WSFMA board member Ann Foster and WSFMA staff member Jennifer Brown and assorted speakers.

great display of a project to help start-ups test food products. They have a program at OSU to conduct surveys for producers and help them figure out the best products to get the best niche.

great display of a project to help start ups test food products. They have a program at OSU to conduct surveys for producers and help them figure out the products to get the best niche.

I saw a bunch of great resources, a few workshops and had dozens of conversations about some fascinating market projects.

Here are some:

The 2014 CSA Farming Report

List of Washington’s Top 10 most frequently purchased minimally processed F&V

Details on the pilot project for procurement of unprocessed f&v

WA Cottage Food Operations Permit

Loads of information on both MarketLink‘s new and improved services and FMC’s new replacement technology program. Amy Crone of MarketLink and Jen Cheek of FMC presented together and were ably assisted by Suzanne Briggs.

I also learned about the Moscow Idaho market, Gorge Grown’s interesting mobile market, discussed data collection with a trio of rural Oregon markets, and heard a RIVETING presentation by Washington State University Small Farms Coordinator Colleen Donovan. Colleen used her time to lead a spirited discussion with the entire room of farmers and market leaders about her survey data collected in Washington State on farm and market farmer characteristics. Donovan is an advisor to the Farmers Market Metrics work and did a great 2013 workshop for FMC that can be heard and seen on FMC’s YouTube channel. Check out her work; even though it is for Washington, her methods and analysis are vital for any and all markets to see. I left thinking (and saying): every state needs a Colleen Donovan.

So, now I’m back home with some time to experience our holidays here (Mardi Gras is Tuesday February 17 this year, and no, it’s probably not what you imagine it is…) and then to read all of those reports and keep on working inspired by the new connections and knowledge gained in Olympia.

Big data and little farmers markets, Part 1

Recently, I have been reading a few books and articles on the new world looming over the next bend. This new world is called many things and includes shiny named ideas and tools to make it so. Here are some of those titles in case anyone needs some bedside reading:

•Collaborative Commons (Rifkin, (The Zero Marginal Costs Society)
•Disruption (Next City 2012, Fortune 2014 “Next up for disruption: The grocery business”, Urbanophile 2014, Disrupting the Disruptors )
•Flattened economy (Friedman The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century 2005)
•Spiky Economy (Florida, “The World Is Spiky” 2005)
•Alternative Economics, Community-Supported Industry (Anderberg 2012, Schumacher Center for New Economics)
•Social impact bonds (Jacobin Magazine Issue 15–16 “Friendly Fire”)
•Placemaking/Livable Places (PPS, Tactical Urbanism, CityLab)
•Human-Centered Design (LUMA, Ideo)

and then bunches on how to measure this stuff:
•Measuring Urban Design: Metrics for Livable Places (Ewing, Clemente 2013)
•3 Keys To Better Data-Driven Decisions (Technology Evaluation Centers)
•Five Borough Farm II: Growing the Benefits of Urban Agriculture in NYC (Design Trust for Public Space 2014)
•Data Infoactive (Chiasson, Gregory 2013)
•Disruption Index (Next City 2012)
•Livability Index (livability.com 2014)

and so on. (and please feel free to send me any that you find useful).

Much of this discussion of the new economy and its infrastructure centers around the use of technology to allow data (usually known as Big Data) produced by every system, sensor, and mobile device to be shared across sectors and users – aka the Internet of Things (IoT). Big Data and IoT are representative of what is both good and bad about the new world; they pressure public entities to adopt private sector characteristics and measures, and conversely, ask private entities to add public sector transparency as a mode of operating in this new world. Additionally, both sectors must respond immediately to any trends or innovations. This can be good and bad.
 (The intersection of public and private is what the non-profit sector is supposed to exist and, increasingly how it participates in Big Data, is a measure of its ability to do just that. I’ll come back to that very idea later in this series.)

Examples of Big Data:
Think of how that grocery store loyalty card transmits information about what, when and where customers purchase goods. Or citizen used tools to measure and report pollution, or how that electronic parking card tells the city the peak parking hours, letting planners know the need for more (or less) parking facilities. Or, the sensors that are timed to go off for irrigation to start for food production.
For food system advocates, the connection to data sharing is mostly through the public health sector at this point, but the planning and design sector of governments will be wanting data from us too and then, you can expect the line to form from other sectors after that.

Social media is not the center of Big Data, but it’s already helping to study the behavior of its millions of users. In the interdisciplinary Cornell University course entitled “Networks, Crowds and Markets” taught by professors David Easley, Jon Kleinberg, and Éva Tardos, they use data from online networks to talk about “strong and weak ties” and “bridges” and to map the patterns of why, how and when connections are made and what impact those connections have in the fields of economics, social sciences, and public health, among others. Since social media is mostly networking, informal updates, and chatter, (constant and sometimes as cheerfully mindless as an acquaintance’s wave from across the street), it may seem without value, but it is certainly changing the way that we communicate.
Social media can also power revolutions, allow for professional development and offer small businesses appealingly designed, low-cost online faces for their already-developed customer base. This blog you are reading is part of social media and as such, is written to be ephemeral and chatty opinion with links to other information sources rather than hosting peer-reviewed reports.

Recently, I had the good fortune (thanks to the Farmers Market Coalition) to be invited to a Knight Foundation technology gathering of social entrepreneurs and so heard many ideas for leashing the power of Twitter and other social media platforms to better aggregate data or reorganize news feeds. No doubt as new platforms are built on top of the first tier, there will be more usability and versatility, but for now, many people view it as a multi-platform address book to keep track of friends, colleagues, and friends of friends.

The ease of using social media is what was beguiling to many at first but the gossamer veil of privacy means that if not careful, one’s identity may be stolen or become the target of a bully. At that point, that once-enticing open entry can drive plenty away and that very fact is what is being argued about sites like Airbnb and Uber: 1) that the lack of regulation at city halls or public agencies allows for exemption of rules that their counterparts with physical outlets are not able to sidestep and 2) since there is often no face to face meeting between buyer and user, the perceived opportunity for criminal activity increases. My feeling is that the regulation needed for the IoT and online sites must be a new system rather than asking for adherence to the old since the old grey mare of city hall or the federal government is not suited for managing these (which sounds like what the community food system has been saying for the last few decades!)
The European Commission has already published a report outlined some best practices for architectural, ethics and governance of the IoT, highlighting social justice, privacy and opting out concerns (“consent activities” in designer language). Their early conclusions encourage better credential exchange systems and a deeper awareness of “reliance versus trust” parameters. In short, make sure most online relationships include a requirement for sharing some sort of identification and create some active boundaries between systems. Maybe the U.S. community food system can jump on these ideas, thereby leaping ahead in confidence levels to be able to share useful data more rapidly than other sectors.

Yet, even with the perception of these systems as being hackable, an increasing number of people in the Western world still participate regularly even while others hoot it down while they cling to their wall phone and postal stamps as their talismans against the new world of constant updates. Those folks are not likely to let us forget that social media is just a part of the communication sector and only the ephemeral part of it. We still read newspapers and books, meet people face to face and still have postal carriers and grocery store corkboards with lists of apartments to rent.
Therefore, how we use social media within community food systems has to be balanced far better than we early adopters have done so far. Plenty of markets and other food system initiatives use social media brilliantly within its limited use, but others often ignore traditional media entirely by not factoring in that those reached with social media are only a tiny portion of the audience that might be found. Or conversely for the Luddites among us, the need to adapt their thinking to understand that social media has worth for a low-capacity, face-to-face entity like a Saturday morning market.
What I have noticed is that social media helps drive farmers market or CSA sales for a single or a few products on a single day extremely well. It also does a passable to good job reminding its users that they are members of a larger community of doers and thinkers, which can extend the social and human capital of a market. It can connect producers to shoppers on non-market days (although I think less well than promised) and can do something akin to the Dot Survey method pioneered at market by Stephenson, Brewer and Lev: allow for an easy mood of the day give and take between market organizers and users. It also is that friendly wave from across the street that in our sped up world can stand in for reminder of community on a bad day and add a layer of connection. Let’s just not build our world entirely on chance meetings or depend on a small number of tools.

update This morning, I am sitting in a farmer workshop at Southern SSAWG conference listening to a 5th generation farmer talk about the open source free crop planning software system, sensors, and apps that he uses to run his direct marketing farm business; clearly, for some, the IoT is already here.

Coming Soon
Part 2 The minefield of analyzing Big Data
Part 3 Connecting farmers markets and food systems to Big Data
Part 4 Managing face to face and online communities in farmers markets

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Coming Soon
Part 2 The minefield of analyzing Big Data
Part 3 Connecting farmers markets and food systems to Big Data
Part 4 Managing face to face and online communities in farmers markets

Wisconsin farmers market graphic on benefit program usage

Professor Alfonso Morales, principal investigator to the Indicators for Impact project sent this interesting graphic to the project team last week:
PDF

here is the top part for those unable to see the PDF:

WISNAP_graphictop

Using infographics to tell a story about multiple benefits is rapidly growing throughout the farmers market field and the Farmers Market Coalition Farmers Market Metrics project (including the Indicators for Impact research) has already devised prototypes of reports and graphics for markets which will continue to be refined. Here are some examples of how some of the FMM/FMC prototype markets have already used the graphics on FB and in print too:

JacksonFB1

AkronFB1

Jackson_print1

Washington Ag Today talks about farmers markets

These are excellent audio snippets from Colleen Donovan, Washington Small Farms Program Research Coordinator at WSU about some benefits of farmers markets.

Community Impact of Farmers Markets

These are so well crafted that anyone could embed them into their website to show the impact of markets and market farmers, no matter where they are located.

What is most useful about Washington’s work is that it uses the context of organizational capacity to gauge if and how those multiple benefits are being forwarded to shoppers, farmers and the larger community. For reports that offer data without explaining that a volunteer-led effort managed it or that markets are often doing complex projects with part-time labor, I recommend to them that they consider adding it to any future analysis or funder report. The Farmers Market Metrics work we are doing at FMC and University of Wisconsin right now will add that piece into any resources or templates that we design, I promise you that!
In any case, associations in Washington and Michigan are truly the leaders right now in doing excellent analysis and resource development and then spending time sharing as well. (And if it was up to me, I’d give Illinois the rising new star award.)
Colleen did a webinar with FMC in fall of 2013 on the results of this report which is found on FMC’s YouTube site. Yes that is me (talking too low) introducing Colleen:
Link to YT recorded webinar

Knight Foundation supports research for farmers markets

As a member of Farmers Market Coalition’s research team, I for one am very excited to receive this support from the Knight Foundation and their Prototype Fund. This pilot will allow FMC to listen to markets’ needs and ultimately fashion dynamic solutions to upload simple data (customer counts, number of new products offered, staff time dedicated to outreach for at-risk populations) to then see that data in an appealing info-graphic style for use with market partners as well as to see it aggregated on a national map with other markets data.
Please let me know if you have ideas or experience in data work in your market that may lend itself to iterations of this prototype and please look forward to more information throughout the year on this Farmers Market Metrics work happening at FMC.

http://www.knightfoundation.org/press-room/press-release/24-new-projects-will-go-idea-demo-funding-knight-f/

Indicators (sick of them yet?)

With the announcement of the 2018 FMPP/LFPP RFA this week – tucked into the Specialty Crop Block Grant announcement- I wanted to alert you to this 2017 post below about the indicators that are included in the proposal.

There is also a shorter version on FMC’s website.  Here is the link to it. )

Congratulations to everyone who got their FMPP/LFPP grants in by the deadline yesterday. I talked or emailed with a few of you throughout that process and was impressed by the well-crafted strategies that I read and heard about.

As you can imagine, a lot of the calls I was on focused on the new prescribed indicators (performance/outcome measures) that were included with the RFP for the first time. Those were the same for FMPP as for LFPP projects and were:


 OUTCOME 1: TO INCREASE CONSUMPTION OF AND ACCESS TO LOCALLY AND REGIONALLY PRODUCED AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.

Indicators 1. Of the [insert total number of] consumers, farm and ranch operations, or wholesale buyers reached, a. The number that gained knowledge on how to buy or sell local/regional food OR aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute local/regional food b. The number that reported an intention to buy or sell local/regional food OR aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute local/regional food c. The number that reported buying, selling, consuming more or supporting the consumption of local/regional food that they aggregate, store, produce, and/or distribute

2. Of the [insert total number of] individuals (culinary professionals, institutional kitchens, entrepreneurs such as kitchen incubators/shared-use kitchens, etc.) reached, a. The number that gained knowledge on how to access, produce, prepare, and/or preserve locally and regionally produced agricultural products b. The number that reported an intention to access, produce, prepare, and/or preserve locally and regionally produced agricultural products c. The number that reported supplementing their diets with locally and regionally produced agricultural products that they produced, prepared, preserved, and/or obtained

OUTCOME 2: INCREASE SALES AND CUSTOMERS OF LOCAL AND REGIONAL AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.

Indicator 1. Sales increased from $________ to $_________ and by ______ percent ( n final – n initial/n initial (100) =% change), as result of marketing and/or promotion activities during the project performance period. 14 | Page 2. Customer counts increased from [insert total number of] to [insert total number of] customers and by _____percent ( n final – n initial/n initial (100) =% change) during the project performance period.

OUTCOME 3: DEVELOP NEW MARKET OPPORTUNITIES FOR FARM AND RANCH OPERATIONS SERVING LOCAL MARKETS.

Indicators 1. Number of new and/or existing delivery systems/access points of those reached that expanded and/or improved offerings of: a. ______farmers markets. b. ______roadside stands. c. ______community supported agriculture programs. d. ______agritourism activities. e. ______other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities. f. ______local and regional Food Business Enterprises that process, aggregate, distribute, or store locally and regionally produced agricultural products. 2. Number of local and regional farmers and ranchers, processors, aggregators, and/or distributors that reported: a. an increase in revenue expressed in dollars: _____ b. a gained knowledge about new market opportunities through technical assistance and education programs: ______

3. Number of: a. new rural/urban careers created (Difference between “jobs” and “careers”: jobs are net gain of paid employment; new businesses created or adopted can indicate new careers): _______ b. jobs maintained/created:_______ c. new beginning farmers who went into local/regional food production: _____ d. socially disadvantaged famers who went into local/regional food production: ______ e. business plans developed:____

OUTCOME 4: IMPROVE THE FOOD SAFETY OF LOCALLY AND REGIONALLY PRODUCED AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.

Indicator(s) – Only applicable to projects focused on food safety. 1. Number of individuals who learned about prevention, detection, control, and intervention through food safety practices:_____ 2. Number of those individuals who reported increasing their food safety skills and knowledge:______ 3. Number of growers or producers who obtained on-farm food safety certifications (such as Good Agricultural Practices or Good Handling Practices): _____

The applicant is also required to develop at least one project-specific outcome(s) and indicator(s) in the Project Narrative and must explain how data will be collected to report on each applicable outcome and indicator.



These confounded many,  while others knew exactly how to use these to define their grant’s outcomes. I hope that  USDA calls in some of those who do a bang up job in setting and achieving their numbers to talk with the newbies in future years.

Because of the previous work on the trans•act tools (which include the SEED tool) while at Market Umbrella, and the more recent and engrossing Farmers Market Metrics (FMM) work I have been doing with FMC and their partners these last few years, I have become very familiar with this language and these indicators.  Most are included in the metrics chosen by FMC to be collected starting in 2016 with FMM through their own projects and through offering support to networks that area ready to embed evaluation systems in their projects.

Since I spent some time working with various project leaders on this, I thought I’d give my two cents here as to how I’d approach these if I was the lead.In this post, I’m going to talk about my general theory of data at the grassroots level and the first two outcomes; I’ll tackle #3 and #4 and unique indicators in upcoming posts.

Some may disagree with my assessment of how to handle these indicators which to me is actually a good thing since by tackling this in varying ways,  we are likely to hit on the best  methods of establishing these baseline numbers and for collecting the data.

The first thing that confounded some proposal writers is how every indicator could be met by the varied projects: of course, they cannot and are not expected to. Since some projects are focused only on increasing sales at a market and not on increasing the number of outlets, some indicators are more relevant than others and should be used in more detail. Remember, these indicators are for both FMPP and LFPP projects which covers a wide spectrum and so are meant to support the general outcomes for all. It is my opinion that the unique indicators asked for at the end are likely to be the most useful for reviewers to read closely in order to match to the narrative or budget. I’d expect though that those proposals that could not reasonably answer a majority of the indicators with numbers will suffer in that reviewing process, as did USDA it seems, as they recommended in their webinar that everyone explain those that they couldn’t answer. Or if possible, add a piece to their project to address that indicator. And I think you can assume that USDA was being firm in saying that this pot of money should result in changes of these kinds, so if your project cannot reasonably do any of them, maybe look elsewhere for support.

I think the best way to really make these outcomes accurate is for the project lead to write them with the vision of using them as a banner to fly throughout the term of the project for the team to hit, surpass or to discuss why they cannot be met and what that means. And that the numbers should be slightly lofty-it is better to extend the reach at the outset and urge the team to do their best work to reach or even surpass it. However, don’t just throw some outrageous numbers in there or you will be telling the reviewers and your team that you have no intention of achieving them. So even though I used the word lofty, there is something in being efficient with your project through establishing very precise numbers too.

Efficiency is a good plan for our tiny organizations in order to conserve ours and our vendors’ energy for the long haul and to be there for another day. And that how well we plan and how we address our assumptions about those we hope to reach has a lot to do with setting numbers and meeting or achieving them.

Okay let’s look at the first two outcomes now:

Outcome 1: Increase consumption and access.

The indicators that are clustered with this outcome are related, meaning that once you have established the  (a) the number of buyers and or producers that gained knowledge, you can then estimate the number (b) of those that then report an intention and then finally, the number (c) that reported actually buying, selling, aggregating etc. The second part of this outcome is related to those professionals like chefs or incubator-users who, if the project is expecting to reach that audience, then they are also going to be measured for knowledge, intention and actual activity.

I think this one was written out particularly well done as it takes a project step by step through the process of establishing their reach. This should have been relatively easy for most projects, as knowing how many people you plan on reaching is sort of 101 for FMPP or any USDA grant!

USDA’s suggestion was to write them out in a mathematical formula writing a beginning number, then the number you want to hit and then calculating the percentage of increase. It may be helpful to do that in 2 columns and consider both the direct and indirect ways that your project will reach people. Certainly, if you are doing training or workshops you can estimate your attendance, but how about those who just read about your training or workshop and track down the info that way? How about through the media that your project uses to gain attendees? Is it reasonable to think that others will hear about the market or outlet and begin to attend because of it? And never forget the vendors and including them into any project outcome, even if it is a straight up new shopper project; the vendors also can learn about the marketing and use it in their own sales reach if it is shared properly.  And of course, how about the project partners and their reach?

Once you set the number who will gain knowledge (and I think that your project should plan that just about everyone that gets your materials or attends your workshop will gain knowledge) you then think about who will change their behavior because of it. I wonder if I had a group of market managers and a group of vendors in one room and asked them to gauge that if 1,000 people are reached through materials or training, how many they think will actually intend to use it, and then how many will actually use that knowledge to buy, sell aggregate etc what differences we’d see. Because that estimate can vary, based on the perspective and experience of those setting the number.

My feeling would be that the vendors would assume that more people will intend to come but would think that less will actually buy. I say that because they deal with everyone directly and know painfully well how many pass by their table without eye contact or a deep perusal of what is for sale. So they know firsthand how getting people to actually do something is hard. I’d say that managers would be more likely to think more people will be reached but that less would report an intention to come to a market, but that once they are there, that a higher percentage will purchase. My assumption may be entirely wrong and maybe someday I can test it and readjust it. The most important thing is to test your project assumptions by asking everyone for numbers and adjusting them accordingly to their bias and experience and according to your plan.

I also think percentages without numbers can be difficult to be realistic about, so I often suggest that people start on the wrong end: if the project is for increasing shoppers to a single market, how many more shoppers could that market actually handle per week? 100? 200? 1000? Think about the vendors and your space and your Welcome Booth and visualize adding that number every week. Would it overwhelm the market? Do you have enough parking or access to transportation to make it happen? How many added shoppers per hour would that mean to your anchor vendors? Is that worth it?

Remember that the average shopper in most markets spends between 10-30 dollars so using those numbers above, the market would add another $1000 -$30,000 week in sales. Pretty cool huh? Or if you hope to add another market day: Maybe your Saturday market has 45 vendors on average, you might estimate that since your new market is smaller and has less parking, that you hope 25 or so can use this new outlet. In both cases, your initial outreach has to be wider than the final number, as some will not get to your market or have the ability to add market days even when told of the opportunity.

Outcome 2: To increase sales

Couldn’t be simpler as, in most cases,  FMPP projects are still chiefly attempting to increase sales. It may be true that at some later date, sales increases are not the primary indicator of the success of our work, but with the small reach that alternative food outlets currently have with food shoppers, I agree that this should still be the main goal. Even so, this indicator stymied more people (and I would imagine contributed to some not writing a grant at all) and since it is a common metric for FMM, I’m going to attempt to reason why it is necessary and how we can capture this.

Measuring an increase of sales for a project that is going to do marketing or outreach for a single sales outlet is pretty standard.  The issue is that you need a baseline number (starting point) and that is the thing many markets do not have yet. So how do you find the baseline?

Everyone knows that the majority of markets ask for standard stall fees which are not based on vendors’ sales percentages and because of that, many markets have never asked for sales data from their vendors*. What USDA, FMM, Wholesome Wave and others are now saying is that we need to know the impact of our work whether you collect this data for the market’s fee rates or not. So, for those who do already collect it, you are ahead of the curve and probably have a lot to teach the rest of us about how to do it well.

So how do the rest of us do it? Well, the simplest way is to ask vendors directly, either every market day, every month or every season. As you can imagine, the longer you wait to ask this, the more difficult it becomes for the vendor to separate the numbers from your market from the other outlets he/she sells at. However, it also is difficult for multi-tasking vendors to stop at the end of the day to count their money and get that number to you. So what works best? My answer is one that some people hate hearing: whatever works best for your community and your management level is what works best- as long as it gives you accurate data in increments acceptable to those using it.

I’ll talk your ear off about accurate data whenever discussing market evaluation because it is my experience that markets rely too much on anecdotal information and estimates that probably are better described as guesstimates as they have almost no basis in real numbers. I can hear many of you yelling at me through your computer that you are not evaluators and cannot be expected to gather data. My answer to that is as soon as you create projects that use the resources of partners and promise your community some change in behavior because of these efforts, you are both. Meaning as soon as you decided to run a market. (You like how I run the entire argument on my own and that I get the last word?)

However, I am in agreement with many market leaders and vendors that too much data is often asked of markets or vendors that is never used or not shared back with those who offered it. And of course, that collecting the data and the costs associated are almost never added to the cost of any project, and usually, partners just assume that overworked market communities will just throw that added work in their long list and get it to them toot sweet.

Yeah, don’t get me started on data collection challenges here.

Additionally, sales data is at the top of the sensitive information asked presently and I often ask managers or market partners to tell me how much is in their bank account right now as an example of how asking for information without context or reason is alarming to say the least. That is, if you even know a precise number! So I say first be the change you want to see by sharing market data with vendors regularly: token sales for debit are going up but SNAP is steady? What do you think that means? And then ask them what they think it means.

Asking for it in anonymous sales slips is the  way FMM suggests it is collected, but I assume that there are other good methods to test. And that it helps all of those methods when the raw data is shared with the vendors and it is used to advocate for their needs. It must be said that to be able to use it in aggregate means it has to be collected in the same way for the same time period and a lot more data is needed to get to any collective contribution, so we do need to hit upon some common methods sooner rather than later. Here are two more possibilities:

And as many of you know, the SEED tool  asks shoppers to estimate their purchases and then calculates overall sales from those numbers.  Many feel this method of getting sales is better, but it does require more surveying of shoppers more often which means added staff and volunteers.

Another way may come as some markets grow their token systems. Depending on your market, it might be possible to estimate how many of your shoppers use that system and whether it is representative of the type of overall shopper you have and use the data to estimate sales.

The main point is we have to agree that we need some data and it should be as precise as possible without violating privacy or exposing weaknesses in one business over another- after all, this is a competitive place. The data you can use for internal analysis as to the market’s impact on its vendors and shoppers can be a lot less and a lot less specific than the data your research partners will need when they start to calculate economic numbers. And that until you have actual data, how you calculated your starting point for these indicators says a lot about your circle of advisors, your experience and your knowledge of the target population.

Whew; enough for now. I’d love to hear how some of you did calculate both of these outcomes and especially sales, both in systems you had baselines and ones that did not. I expect that some of you will disagree with much of my unscientific approach to measurement but hope you know that I welcome your opinions.

People mapping via Google et al.

This link is to a piece by Richard Campanella, an extremely popular New Orleans geographer who has written many books on the New Orleans region. He has become the regional go-to guy describing how this place shapes its people and how its people shape the place.

When I saw this piece on how he uses Google Street View to analyze a place better, I could see how it could reach beyond the world of academics and into the DIY world of farmers markets and public space.

How we measure markets is important yet we don’t have the luxury of choosing between all of the data collection methods that researchers in a controlled environment have available to them. Market organizers don’t always have access to teams of eager data collectors and analysts such as those a university professor can quickly assemble among their students. Because of those limitations, the more adventurous we are in seeking the most appropriate methods*, the better chance we will find the right suite of tools for our needs. The use of Google Street View could clearly assist a market searching for a new location, or help to decide how to lay out the market better or unveil the current uses of the area around a market in order to find program partners. Imagine using it for showing impact: taking a screenshot of an empty litter-strewn lot and then a year later showing photographs of that same area with a vibrant market now popping up. That set of pictures is almost enough for a market’s first-year annual report!

Campanella’s method is simple and could be easily used on a smaller cross-section than he did for New Orleans. Basically, he chose points across the area from 2016 to drop “Pegman” to see a 360-degree view of the area. Noting the density and activity of street life, graffiti, and bicycles, he then compared it to the earliest available imagery from 2007.

While Google Street View images are not regularly used in scholarly research, they can be a cost-effective alternative to traditional social-surveying methods, under the right conditions. Public health experts have used Street View as a neighborhood auditing tool, and have found it to be a reliable indicator of broader trends and patterns, if not fine targeted phenomena. And researchers at the MIT Media Lab used pairs of geo-tagged street images to “map the inequality of urban perception” by soliciting online input about which scene looked “safer,” “more upper class,” and “more unique.” Urban planners Reid Ewing and Otto Clemente assessed the viability of Google Street View and its competitors Bing Streetside and Everyscape for counting pedestrians, compared with live street surveys. They found that human raters were reliable in online counting and that Google Street View had the strongest correlation with live counts (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.864 on a scale of zero to one). Other researchers have proposed methods to remove people from images automatically, which would enable more systematic studies. Until such tools are widely available, researchers will have to devise sampling strategies, set up protocols, and manually deploy that invaluable remote assistant, Pegman..

I hope to see this method utilized by some markets in 2018.

*If you are searching for current methods already in use to measure your market, do check out the tool we have been working on for the last few years at FMC called Farmers Market Metrics. The collection methods are free and available to anyone who wants to use them and do not need an active account. The good news is that the Metrics Program will be available to markets in early 2018 which will be explained via webinar announced soon.
Also, check out the FMC Resource Library for the piece on visitor count methods that I did recently, and keep an eye for the visitor survey article I am doing now, which will also be posted to the Resource Library.

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Tool Maps Peer Cities 

Let me share one of my (not so) secret goals for FMC’s Farmers Market Metrics program – to be able to assist markets by using the profile data to build dynamic peer networks through matching typology of those markets.
This would mean that a market searching for information about trends or ideas for programs would be connected to a market that has the same type of programs, location, governance and vendor makeup. As it stands now, too often markets that are simply near to each other are unfairly compared, or markets will try to adopt programs managed by markets designed very differently from their own.

I also hope that we can also do the same for direct marketing vendors at some point, using the business characteristics to match them to peers, resources and to help select the right outlets and success measures for their business.

In the meantime, check out this tool to find data on cities similar to your own.

The Peer City Identification Tool is like a DNA test for civic data, allowing users to tell at a glance where certain cities’ specific interests and challenges align, and where they deviate—in effect, who their real siblings, cousins, and other relatives are.

Source: CityLab

Give em a nudge…

I love when artisanal producers find a way to urge shoppers to become more than shoppers. One of the possible metrics that may  be added someday to the Farmers Market Metrics program at Farmers Market Coalition is measuring how market shoppers influence their friends shopping and also how they share ideas and tips about local items with other retail outlets. How many times do market shoppers ask their produce manager to stop carrying out of state items and instead stock locally available items during the seasonal high point? How many shoppers are the carriers of information about market items availability for their neighbors and friends?

My guess is plenty…

The Matzo Project uses that same energy to expand their reach across the US of their wonderful crackers.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 11.06.42 AMTHE+MATZO+PROJECT+CONSUMER+REQUEST

 

How great would it be if markets offered blank cards to their shoppers so they could leave a note and share news of a market offering with their friends and even a few select retail outlets?