U.S. farmers are growing fewer types of crops than they were 34 years ago, which could have implications for how farms fare as changes to the climate evolve, according to a large-scale study by Kansas State University, North Dakota State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Less crop diversity may also be impacting the general ecosystem.
“At the national level, crop diversity declined over the period we analyzed,” said Jonathan Aguilar, K-State water resources engineer and lead researcher on the study.
The scientists used data from the USDA’s U.S. Census of Agriculture, which is published every five years from information provided by U.S. farmers. The team studied data from 1978 through 2012 across the country’s contiguous states.
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
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:
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
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.
Early bird registration for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group is still open for a little bit longer (2 more days) through December 21st. Register online, or download a registration form and get it postmarked no later than Dec 21st for the lowest conference rates. They accept, via mail, checks made payable to Southern SAWG. They accept, via mail and online, VISA, Master Card, American Express and Discover credit cards. Pre-registration continues through midnight on January 7th. After that, registration will be on location in Mobile.
I will be leading two workshops and also moderating an open discussion (information exchange) this year. Find me here:
Friday, 10:45 a.m. – Noon
Using EBT, “Double Coupon” and Other Programs at Farmers Markets – Does your market employ the EBT, FMNP, Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (FINIP) or WIC programs? Do you have a double coupon incentive program for SNAP, WIC or SFNMP? Discuss technology issues and share best practices for implementing these programs at markets.
Saturday, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon
Why Farmers Markets? Learn to Communicate Their Value to Your Community – Making the case for farmers markets to farmers, shoppers and community leaders is crucial for continued community support, yet most markets struggle with this task. Learn how to capture and communicate meaningful measures of your market’s success. Using exercises and worksheets from the Farmers Market Metrics project, this session will give you practical examples of simple and effective data collection techniques that you can use for your market. Darlene Wolnik, Helping Public Markets Grow (LA) and Sarah Blacklin, NC Choices (NC).
Saturday 3:30-5:00 pm
Farmers Markets as Business Incubators: How Market Managers Can Help Improve Their Vendors’ Businesses – Increasingly competitive market outlets for local food means that the top farmers often jump from market to market. This session will offer practical strategies for market managers and board members on identifying and understanding their anchor vendors and their needs, as well as addressing the challenges of retaining new vendors. Darlene Wolnik, Helping Public Markets Grow (LA) and Sarah Blacklin, NC Choices (NC).
As some may have noticed in comments on any index that I share on here, I am usually more interested in how the makers of that index collected the information and how the metrics were defined, than in the final ranking system. One of my online discussion groups “The Future of Cities” had a recent post on the fallibility of the happiness and livable indexes you see on many sites. The original post by Sam Jacob was so thoughtful, I thought I’d link it here and also send a link to the discussion. I have also added my own comment here.
His final conclusion was succinct:
We can draw on big data, on communication technologies but we shouldn’t be in thrall to it. We need to recognise the sheer difficulty of comprehending the complexity of cities and the difficulty of making them. We need a fuller understanding of the texture and depth of what life – and “liveability” – might be. We should openly acknowledge the intrinsic political dimension of the city and its fundamentally democratic nature.
As someone who offers support to those between the formal and informal economies (in regional food systems), I appreciate the thoughtful comments above on the subjective nature of metrics in terms of indexing livability and happiness levels. I also agree that using these in terms of ranking cities or any endeavor is a marketing ploy and without real value to those in that place. However, as a food system organizer, I can assert that we are in need of well-developed and shared metrics that reflect the values that we forward, such as small business economic activity (success is not always about pure job creation in other words), social cohesion (trust between parts of the community unknown to one another before that activity like farmers and family table shoppers), ecological values (building a closed loop of sustainability) and human capital (transferring knowledge and building skills). I am working on a project that will forward a set of metrics that WILL have context as to the individual place that is being measured and not be designed to be used for ranking one place against another. We hope that this will allow for success measures that derive from the work at the grassroots level of organizers and users of that community and yet can explain the transformative nature of the community food system to policy makers as well and is therefore in agreement to Mr. Jacob’s original idea. Feel free to check out the early days of this work, done through a partnership of the Farmers Market Coalition and University of Wisconsin at FMC’s FMM page
This is a good article about how municipalities are using well-being indexes to measure intangibles such as levels of happiness among citizens. That alone makes this article useful to markets (to compare to their shoppers happiness levels or to find metrics that markets could also use perhaps?) but also interesting is that the article details how responses were collected. Ensuring that the proper methodology and sample size is crucial to anyone collecting qualitative data.
Food system organizers in these cities could learn from the conclusions and even work with these municipal leaders to also survey farmers market shoppers, possibly adding a question or two about their use of local foods and markets. Additionally, knowing about these data collection projects could also allow markets to easily locate experienced survey teams and tested methodology for their own survey work.
“Despite this caveat, Hadley stresses that the undertaking is eminently worthwhile, given the relative ease of conducting the surveys. “It’s not as hard as it seems to do a good, simple survey of your residents,” he says. “We did it all in-house and we did it all for under $4,000. It’s totally doable.” And the more cities that begin to do the surveys, the better, because they can compare results and learn from each other. For example, Somerville’s average rate of satisfaction was 7.5, but this number is hard to interpret without the context of responses from other cities.”