A summit for us: Atlanta 2016

A whirlwind of a week in Atlanta with Wholesome Wave and its “surfers”: markets, market advocates and food system organizers. Held at the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta GA, just down the road a block or two from the CDC offices. WW did a great job with the week: well-organized, great food and drink (thumbs up for the smoothies available each day) and plenty of space for networking and meetings. Atlanta was lovely and the rare off-site food and drink I had was excellent, but I gotta say that the traffic is as unholy of a mess as I have experienced in any US city. Talk about needing a quality of life intervention!

Highlights for the Summit for me included:

The WW Georgia market shopper who turned to good food to beat her cancer; she was charming in telling a very personal story on a panel and brave to share her still-emotional reaction to using SNAP, even while sharing her appreciation for the program.

Organizing for State Nutrition Incentive Policies : all of the presenters had unique input on their state’s strategy: Ecology Center (CA), Experimental Station (IL), Maryland Farmers Market Association and New Mexico Farming Market Association. This group: Martin, Connie, Amy and Denise have a lot to contribute to any discussion of how to move the dial at the state level.  Check out their varied work on their respective websites and if you have a chance to buttonhole any of them at a conference, tell them I told you to do it. And the short answer is to have a creative and flexible strategy that includes how to pay for it and a constant champion in your statehouse.

Clinic-Community Initiatives-Pathways to Sustainability: what I got out of this session was one of those unintended consequences: the analysis that MANNA has done of their program as a handout was one that responded to a question that our new FMC Research and Education Director Alex Canepa had just been asking earlier that day: can we get data that actually indicates positive health changes from medical nutrition therapy  strategies that offset traditional medical costs? See the Examining Health Care Costs Among MANNA Clients and a Comparison Group report…

The Role of Technology in Supporting Nutrition Incentives: For those of us gamely working on technology solutions for markets that support the range of no-tech, low-tech to high-tech markets out there, this was an in-depth and honest conversation. I sincerely appreciated Darcy Freedman from Case Western Reserve University talking about how the tool is half of the puzzle; the TA is the other half.

Measuring the Impact of Vouchers at Farmers Markets: I think the title threw some people off this one as well as the description. This covered the evaluation being done by University of Delaware/CRESP and led by Allison Karpyn on the incentives and vouchers funded by WW. Her powerpoint is available to those who request it (check with them or with WW) and I’d recommend that you get a copy. Allison shared some of the early data and was game to listen to input from the attendees about what they thought about it so far.

Measuring Markets Economic, Ecological, Human and Social Capital: Of course I chose this one. FMC Project Director Sara Padilla led the show, but Jen Cheek also popped up to add some updates on how FMC is embedding this into FMSSG reporting and she managed the lively Q&A as I roamed the room and made some notes for later conversations based on those questions. We had hoped to role play some of the training materials/exercises that will be embedded within FMM in this hour, but the room, the late hour and the lack of actual market leaders attending meant a quick change to describing it only and instead spent time sharing our thoughts on the components of grassroots evaluation, which seemed to be a good choice.  As I shared later with the rest of the FMC team, I think grassroots evaluation work is evolving slowly but surely and our work in this area seems to be helpful to markets and to their partners.

The FMC team also spent some time with the WW evaluation team  (shout out to Katie and Elizabeth for finding the time between their many conference duties), continuing to find ways to streamline and support both portals without duplication. I can tell you we are all committed to that goal….

Lastly, I left feeling that I just saw and heard and met a whole bunch of people who are doing some excellent network level work in their states. It felt like it has only at a few moments in the last 10 years: that there is some sensible support for contextual strategies for increasing access at markets, and some help to use that support to change policies for markets and their direct marketing producers. But, also an awareness that there is danger in markets or networks in diving in the too-deep water before they are ready, before they have a plan for what this extra work is meant to do for their markets and how it will absorb it. Because what we know is to attempt that before examining the culture of the market or the willingness of the market leadership to invest years in this type of intervention is foolhardy*. I’d also point out how that the lack of production-side advocates in attendance to talk about how these strategies were changing regional food production (for the good and for the bad) jarred me slightly and I’ll hope for better participation at future summits.

(*…. for all of those uncertainties here is the process to change them:  market communities becoming true partners in the design of their projects, taking the time to work with their community in this process long before the funding starts, leading or sharing in the data collection process as well as in the analysis of that project and beyond that, being brave about seeking and sharing evidence of all of the market’s impacts. And if that is where your community is at, I can tell you that there are some people ready and willing to do just that, many of whom I just saw in Atlanta.)

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Technology session, FMC’s Jen Cheek asking another good question from the floor

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WW’s Katie Merritt, chatting with FMC’s Sara Padilla and Alex Canepa pictured. WW’s Elizabeth Atwell  (back of her head showing), Jen Cheek and yours truly also present

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Allison Karpyn’s incentive evaluation presentation

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FMC’s FMM presentation

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FMC’s audience involvement spectrum

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One of only 2 off-site meals, this one had with WW’s Gabrielle Langholtz who sang Hamilton the musical songs to the waiter. Not odd behavior if you know her…

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The food we ordered off that chalkboard menu; all great.

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The dog that came with my airbnb, Sadie, wondering why I am leaving so early on a cold day..

 

Farmers Market Metrics site updated

We are pleased to present an updated version of Farmers Market Coalition’s Farmers Market Metrics (FMM) website. We have streamlined and organized information about the current efforts, and will use this site to offer background information and project updates on all of the components of FMM that are underway. The final set of resources and tools will be available on a separate portal in development, expected in 2016.
Some highlights include:
Unique pages for current and past projects
Information on our project partnerships and funding sources
Examples of some of the resources being developed (currently in draft phase)
We hope you will take some time visiting and exploring our new pages. Please contact me with any questions.
Thank you for your ongoing support and enthusiasm for Farmers Market Metrics and the Indicators for Impact project.
Sara

Sara Padilla, FMC Project Manager

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

FMC’s Free SNAP EBT Equipment Program is Open

As you may have heard, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) partnered with the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) to provide eligible farmers markets and direct marketing farmers with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) equipment necessary to process Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

WHAT


FMC will cover the costs of purchasing or renting SNAP EBT equipment and services (set-up costs, monthly service fees, and wireless fees) for up to three years. After their application has been approved, eligible farmers and farmers markets will choose their own SNAP EBT service provider from a list of participating companies. Transaction fees (for SNAP EBT, credit, and debit payments) will not be covered.

WHEN


The application period will open at 9:00am EST Tuesday, February 17th, 2015. This is a first-come, first-serve opportunity, which will be over when all the funds have been allocated. Don’t wait!

WHO


SNAP-authorized farmers markets and direct marketing farmers (who sell at one or more farmers markets) are eligible for funding if they became authorized before Nov. 18, 2011, AND fall into one of the following categories:

A. They do not currently possess functioning EBT equipment; OR

B. They currently possess functioning EBT equipment, but received
that equipment before May 2, 2012.

Wondering what qualifies as ‘not currently possessing functioning EBT equipment?

Markets and farmers do not currently possess functioning EBT equipment if:

They currently rely on manual/paper vouchers to accept SNAP,
They do not currently accept SNAP and have never possessed functioning SNAP EBT equipment, or
They do not currently accept SNAP because their EBT equipment is
:
Damaged beyond repair.
Non-operational because their SNAP EBT service provider no longer offers SNAP EBT processing in their state.
Stolen or lost.
For more information on the program, including frequently asked questions, an eligibility chart, background information and application instructions, visit them at farmersmarketcoalition.org/programs/freesnapebt
found here.

Farmers Market Metrics Vendor Metrics Released

Farmers Market Impact Metrics Released for First Season of Testing
Research project addresses the need for consistent measurement of farmers market impacts nationwide.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the national nonprofit, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) released metrics this week that will allow markets and their partners to gather data on vendor and customer activities. The data will assist market organizers in constructing targeted marketing and advocacy plans and will offer farmers and other producers specific information on building their business goals.
The project is funded by the USDA’s Agriculture, Food, and Research Initiative (AFRI) and will allow nine markets across the U.S. to test data collection and reporting techniques in 2015 and 2016. The project team gathered known metrics used over the last decade in farmers markets and food system research and prioritized those that could be easily gathered by the market community itself. The metrics were grouped into one or more of four types of benefit they provide:
economic (i.e. sales or job creation), ecological (land stewardship), social (new relationships) and human (skills gained or knowledge transferred).
The research project’s principal investigator Alfonso Morales, Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison said, “We believe that it is vital that grassroots markets have the tools and embedded skills to gather data on behavior for their own needs, not only on shopper activity but also on the small businesses that depend on these markets for their family’s income.”
From the list of 90 metrics identified, the team focused its initial efforts into refining 38 of those metrics for immediate use by the nine pilot markets chosen for the project. Participating markets selected those metrics that are most useful to their current work and will begin to gather data in late spring 2015. The data will be analyzed by the project team and final reports shared with the markets later in the year. The team will conduct another round of data collection at the same pilot
markets in 2016.
The first round of metrics sent to the markets focus on collecting vendor data through questions embedded into vendor applications or through direct surveys or observation at market of vendors. Later rounds of metrics will allow visitor data to be collected using the same methods, while future metrics are likely to focus on the “placemaking” skills of the market and the internal workings of the organization running the market.
Vendor metrics for this project include acres in production for markets, distance traveled from production to market, sales data, and the number of women-owned businesses. Jen Cheek, Executive Director of Farmers Market Coalition affirmed, “Many markets are not sure what to collect and when; others already collect some of this data but are unsure of how to use it once collected. These measurement projects that FMC is taking on with the University of Wisconsin will offer shared language and common-sense guidelines for reporting, while allowing markets and
their vendors the freedom to define what success means to their market and community.”
Find the vendor metrics here and a template letter for vendors here and a glossary of terms and vendor tree here.
#
The Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farmers markets for the benefit of farmers, consumers, and communities. For more information about the Farmers Market Coalition, including Farmers Market Metrics please visit their website at http://www.farmersmarketcoalition.org.

Hall of Fame Market Leaders start their “farewell tour” year

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Back when I began working at Market Umbrella, our founder, Richard McCarthy gave me the names of a few people that he held in high esteem on market issues that I might check in with regularly. Interestingly, many of these folks led the “town square” phase of markets that Market Umbrella belongs with as well (eras that some of you have heard me talk about over the years.) Some of those names include:
Donita Anderson North Union Farmers Market, Cleveland OH
Chris Curtis, Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets, Seattle WA
Pam Roy (Farm to Table New Mexico)
Greenmarket NYC (many, many staff on that list. back then, Gabrielle Langholtz and Kelly Verel nee Williams, now of PPS, come to mind.)
NY leaders Diane Eggert and Bob Lewis
Massachusetts leader Jeff Cole
and two he always spoke of with great affection: Bernie Prince and Ann Yonkers at Fresh Farm in DC. I met Ann first at a Dallas TX farmers market meeting where we were both invited to speak. Ann was (and is) a woman of great style and well-formed opinions and those qualities along with her belief in markets and food systems led the energy in that room and, I am sure many others. Every time I came to DC, she and Bernie took the time out of their incredibly busy schedules to sit and talk with me. I remember once driving around MD and DC with Ann as she generously showed me her markets and we talked of mobile markets, organic farming and market logistics for most of the afternoon. In many ways, she always reminded me of Richard-both lead with their charisma and their strength of character but can also discourse on dozens of subjects easily. You leave their presence with clarity of purpose and gratitude to have leaders like this around.

On to Bernie…I didn’t know her as well in those early days, but then I began to talk more with her when she joined the Farmers Market Coalition board (and ultimately led it as its President) during its transition from its founding board and then the transition from its founding Executive Director through its present days of more staff and more advocacy. Slowly, I realized that she was a indefatigable worker and a champion strategist who would always take the time to share what she knew with her peers when asked. Whenever I visited her markets, she was picking up trash or chalking a kids game on the ground or most of the time, introducing people to a vendor through a very detailed and empathetic outline of their business history, both in and out of the market. Then, we’d often have a chat about plans she and Ann had to add markets or to raise funds or to build capacity and I’d leave sort of stunned by what they had and would continue to accomplish. I have had the privilege of hearing Bernie present more than a few times over the years and have always enjoyed basking in her energy and passion during the talk and then watching her afterwards with the newer market leaders who crowd around her, soaking up her advice and support. Her warmth and her great joy are so part of her regular personality that as soon as I just hear her voice, my mood is elevated.
As for FMC, I know how much she has personally given in time and talent and I always appreciated her constant support of the staff and the board. In my estimation, FMC owes its survival to two people more than any other: Stacy Miller and Bernie Prince, and their deep affection and respect for each other made that survival possible and set the tone for FMC as a whole. The story linked below promises that Bernie may very well stay on at FMC, which I fervently hope happens. (FYI-Sharon Yeago, Liz Comiskey and Jen O’Brien Cheek are sitting very close behind those two in credit due at FMC….)

Ann and Bernie have done so much with the food system and farmers markets in DC, Maryland and Virginia that (as I wrote on FMC’s Facebook page) it cannot be properly calculated. I will leave it to their peers at Fresh Farm and I assume civic and food leaders across the area who will take the time to honor them. I hope all of you will have the chance to meet these two giants before they hand over their market bell(s) and to thank them for all that they have given to us and will give to us in their next leadership role in our food and farming system.

WP story

Farmers Market Coalition helping SNAP at markets through USDA contract

The Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) has been awarded a USDA contract to assist in improving and expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at farmers markets nationwide.  Through the contract, FMC will collaborate with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to administer $4 million in grants for SNAP programming needs and replacement wireless electronic benefit transfer (EBT) equipment.

Over the next twelve months, FMC will complete the following objectives in collaboration with FNS: (1) establish a process that FNS will use to award support grants to eligible farmers markets, and (2) establish and implement a process to provide replacement SNAP EBT equipment and services to farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers that are operating SNAP programs in situations of hardship.

The funds will be used to provide markets and farmers with various types of support. FNS has identified the most commonly requested types of assistance, in descending order:

  1. Personnel costs to operate farmers markets;
  2. Materials to materials to inform SNAP participants of their ability to use their benefits at farmers markets;
  3. Miscellaneous equipment, such as scrip, and technology infrastructure (wifi hotspots, phone lines, electrical lines, etc.);
  4. Replacement equipment and for existing markets and farmers that are in situations of hardship.

Needs numbered 1, 2, and 3 above will be addressed in the form of support grants for eligible farmers markets, while number 4, the need for replacement equipment, will be addressed separately.  It is expected that of the total $4 million, approximately $3.3 million will be used for support grants, while the remaining $700,000 will be spent on replacement equipment.

FMC is eager to assist USDA FNS in fulfilling their goal of supporting local food systems by expanding access to healthy foods for SNAP participants. FMC Executive Director Jen Cheek shared, “SNAP redemptions at farmers markets have risen dramatically over the past five years, but they still represent a extremely small percentage of total SNAP benefit spending.  This support from USDA will help markets and farmers build strong SNAP programs – getting more fresh, locally farmed food to the Americans who need it most.”