Drive-thru farmers market report for 4/05/2020, New Orleans LA

 

Today my local farmers markets reopened as strictly drive-thru. No question that it was a great success in terms of the order levels (reported by vendors as I motored through) and the appreciation from shoppers. In addition, the staff looked MUCH more relaxed than they did with their once-only, timed entry, open-air market pilot that happened in mid March.

Our Baton Rouge-based Red Stick Farmers Markets are doing drive-thru markets as well, but slightly differently, as it is not entirely pre-order. Keep an eye on the BREADA website to see what Copper Alvarez and her team come up with next.

CCFMED at entranceDrive Thru

Executive Director Kate Parker at entrance of today’s market

For some background:

The Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans LA is normally held in parking lots around the city 6-7 times per week year round (one or two locations have been seasonal, and one recently closed for good, but they are almost always running 6 markets or more per week.) This entity’s parent organization, Market Umbrella,  has long been known for their innovative work to increase access and provide support to regional farmers and small businesses.

The CCFM vendors are almost all only direct-to-consumer businesses with a smidgen of side-door restaurant sales, although most of the chefs around town simply come to the market and buy what they need. From my experience as Deputy Director 2001-2011 this is because most of the vendors are not able to do delivery or even invoice sales because they are so small, so understaffed, or so far away. After all, this is a commodity-driven region that has mostly resisted building support for DTC farmers. And yes, the Deep South does seem to be even worse than most areas across the US.  So even in good times, its pretty rough for these farmers and businesses to find resources or support to pivot or to do multiple types of channels.

The market organization decided that walk up markets would not work for them for the duration of this emergency, for many reasons I am sure. I believe that each organization gets to decide exactly how they will handle this moment. Of course, this aligns with my long-held market TA response about which rules a new market should adopt: I answer (probably maddeningly) “use those rules that are understandable to your team, to your vendors, and to your shoppers and stakeholders. After all, you need to defend them and explain why you have them.”  So the same thing goes for this moment too. And all of that market context around rules has to co-exist within the rules (if they exist) set by your local municipality, county, and/or state.  As I’ve discussed elsewhere, for markets our usual go-to agency is agriculture, which  in this case has been mostly unable to do much to help us, as this is not a food-borne virus.  Instead, it’s been public health or disease control making the decisions,  agencies which often have less awareness or fewer partnerships with  open-air farmers markets and so less understanding of our protocols.

So that’s number one. Do what is best for your organization and your vendors. Just be transparent with your shoppers and stakeholders exactly WHAT that decision is and HOW it was made.

Next, how to order: First, it’s important to share that this very sophisticated, well-advised, well-staffed organization attempted an preorder app a few years back and it was not a success, so they shelved it.   After they closed their walk-in market a few weeks back, they instead began by partnering on a box program with a 3rd party entity where the local items are pre-selected and can be paid for with SNAP or other cards. It costs 40.00 and is also available for delivery. I have only seen a few pics and it looked a little light to me, but that just may be how the pictures have been taken. I think many regular and new market shoppers are perfectly fine with this box, but it seems that many others were not and that many of their vendors were unwilling or unable to sell this way. I am one of those unwilling to do a preorder box and instead I reached out to those vendors I usually purchase from and made arrangements with them whenever possible. I also took advantage of some of these other non-market choices below:

  1. A couple of market vendors began working with local chefs to sell a box directly from only one farm at their restaurant:PocheFMboxesApril
  2. Another version has been coffeehouses et al adding local produce to their long list of items they will pack up as a preorder. My local heroes here are Good Karma Cafe because they offer coffee, tea, their tinctures, their prepared items, and are selling the produce without asking any fees from those farmers. They need the local goods themselves for their prepared items, and they feel they benefit by adding customers who want a little local produce. And they truly believe in the quality of locally grown items. There are others around town doing something similar from what I am hearing.
  3. The local news featured a farm which usually sells only to restaurants selling boxes to walk ups outside one of those shuttered places. Not sure yet how that is working but it seems to be doing well.
  4. We had a few (and I mean a few, maybe 1 or 2)  farm aggregators selling to consumers already running successfully with farmers Kate and Grant Estrade from Laughing Buddha Nursery as the model that everyone else should learn from. (LBN is their longstanding retail nursery shop and their farm is called Local Cooling Farms.) They tell me that demand is way up, and even though a few of their usual farmers are using one of the other above methods and don’t need to sell through LBN as of now, that allowed them to pick up new farmers. And instead of doing their usual 6-7 drop offs at their hub partner sites around town each week, they are selling only at their nursery which has refrigeration and allows them to set up contactless pick up. (This couple should be doing monthly webinars for DTC farmers and maybe, sooner or later, they will have enough time to do just that. I’m a big fan as you can tell.)

Okay, so how well did the drive-thru market work?

At the beginning of this post,  I mentioned the level of vendor sales channel diversity because it matters.  I understand via a quick convo with market staff through face masks that getting this small group of vendors ready for this was a HUGE undertaking, which is no surprise to me. The vendors that agreed to participate were listed on the organization’s website with the items they would have, the cost for each, and the way to order from each individually (phone or text or email) and the manner to pay (Paypal, Venmo, manual card entry over phone, etc.)

CCFM website DriveThru

I say small group because the number of vendors at this market were far fewer than their usual open-air market. I understand that some told the market “I can’t sell enough to do pre-orders, so no thanks.” (And again, every vendor ALSO has the right to decide what works for their business without scorn, but I do believe when they hear how well this went for those this week, more will want to try it. I can tell you that this reticence may be partly based on their experience with a half-dozen 3rd party aggregator projects around town over the last decade which all started up to great acclaim and then all shuttered, often still owing them money.)

Other vendors told the market casually that they would take try it and take orders over the phone not knowing how many people would call in the first few hours! I think part of this rush to order was that news of this drive-thru came to most through the local media- and only a few days before the actual market.  So that type of publicity made it much bigger than it might have been without. (I might suggest that small less-staffed or experienced markets try week one through just reaching out to their email list at first if possible. Maybe ask local writers to hold the story until after week 1 is in the books-that is if the market is confident enough in their list.)

As a result of the great publicity, and the deep attachment to this market with its 25 years of service, vendor voicemail mailboxes were immediately full. And when  vendors called folks back, I’m not sure that each figured out they needed to do it in order of earliest calls to the latest, so it may be that some of those who called earliest lost out. (I think that happened to me with one vendor. And no biggie. I’l get them next week).

Some vendors did texting which seemed to work pretty well but to work it needed to be confirmed and sent to payment immediately. I tried two that were listed as text orders and only one called back. The one who did, did it exactly right- texted me the total, told me their Venmo account and I paid immediately.

Clearly, this requires that there is one person handling orders for each vendor for the open window period.  And that is easier said than done. (I’ll do another post on vendors soon with some feedback I received. Let me just say that the few I had time to answer me were very positive on this as a short-term solution during this pandemic but clearly exhausted from the added work. One vendor told me on camera he came close to his usual Saturday market in terms of the number of sales. He had 92 preorders, and he estimated that he usually gets 120 or so transactions over 4 hours at the Saturday market  but thinks he didn’t meet or exceed his usual Saturday only because “his system wasn’t ready for this.” And he promised he will get better at it. I’d also suggest that the anecdotal data from markets across the US seems to indicate that the average sale is higher than the normal market in present circumstances. Likely because people buy more, and we are also hearing that meat vendors are doing tremendously well.)

Location

In terms of where to hold this market and when, the organization had some (I assume informal) help from City Hall. Most of their current locations were not going to work as a drive through; sadly, one of their best locations has had too many cases of Covid-19 at the assisted living place that is situated on the same property to hold this there.  City Hall employee and engineer Jennifer Ruley, who has been working on safe street programs for almost 20 years stepped up; she personifies what I wrote last month about finding partners for this moment. She and the Market Umbrella E.D. Kate Parker were well acquainted from neighborhood work that both have been doing for decades. The team chose the parking lot of the most popular and community-minded po-boy* shop in town, which has been closed for the duration and is right next to the new multi-use greenway that MU wanted to use but was not available because of other uses. Jen met with market staff and Parkway owners on Saturday to think through traffic design. See their map below.

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Lafitte Street is under construction as part of the Greenway, and has houses on only one side. It has 6-7 side streets that dead end into this street and two major avenues on either end.

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Orange was entrance, green was exit.

All in all, I’d say that it worked beautifully – up to a point. The early problem that I saw was that a few folks came down the side streets and poked in the line which, honestly, most of those already in line let go and didn’t get all screamy on them; after all, why? their order was already made. And really, most shoppers politely went to the end of the line without urging.

The other traffic issue that can be easily corrected next time was that the police should have closed the street off to all other traffic. Folks were turning on to the street unaware of the market, meaning to simply drive somewhere and often got caught up in the crawl. Additionally, the street should have been made only one way towards the market for these hours, and all shoppers directed to the far end avenue (Broad) to turn on to Lafitte. Again, all easily fixed for next time.

Yet this location seems like it is going to top out around 16-18 vendors and so the question becomes does CCFM add another location while keeping this one for the duration for that number of vendors, or just go find one big spot for all of their drive thru markets and vendors?  Seems like some of the vendors feel like 2 locations a week may max their ability to take orders and to take those, but they may feel differently as time goes on. If they add a second location what would the criteria be? My guess is easy access from main streets and from many parts of town, large parking lot with a fence or barricade around it to maintain safety and keep pedestrians out, in or near zip codes where there is density of drivers/shoppers, a well known location, vendor restroom access, and a partner/host to help.

Once in line, one CCFM staffer came down, said a cheerful hello and explained how it would work, and asked shoppers to get their trunks open before entering. Another staffer wrote the shoppers name on a piece of paper that was then stuck on the outside of the window so vendors could see the names and get their orders up.

 

The shopper drove in, made the circle with vendors checking your name and putting your orders in the truck. The last would close it.

I understand they figured out how to do some SNAP sales, but as I didn’t bother them any longer than I had to so I’ll have to get more info later. One way this may work is for those shoppers to have their pre-orders total written out, separated by  vendor and swipe their card for the total as they arrive and attach the paid receipt on the window for each vendor to see it was paid. Or have them place the orders as everyone else does, and the vendors to pack those and hand them to the market org before the bell rings to process on the machine in another line.

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CCFM tent at entrance/exit which (maybe) could still process SNAP?

a few issues:

Long market

Took longer than the 4 hours it was scheduled. There were timespans with long lines and then timespans with very short ones, so staggering the arrival next time may help.

There were too many vendors without PPE at all, no gloves or masks. All CCFM staff were equipped and had their market t-shirt on to make clear who they were, led by their E.D. who again, was out there at the entrance checking on everything. I am SURE that CCFM strongly suggested that vendors equip themselves but clearly too many had not paid much attention or could not find any.  One idea that I will float via my own social media  is for fervent CCFM shoppers to purchase cloth masks made by locals for their favorite vendors, and maybe get them a pair or cleaning gloves to wear if nothing else.  Since no money is changing hands, there is little need for dexterity.  I am sure that many of your shoppers would be happy to help get masks made and could possibly get gloves and sanitizer for your vendors too. (Update: within 15 minutes of me posting it, local people are getting masks made for these vendors! Update #2: NOLa folks made almost 200 masks for farmers which I have given to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Covington farmers markets.)

Big purchasers versus small. Some cars were stopping at every vendor and some only were picking up one or two items.  (It may work to stagger those by the number of vendor pickups one has, so that those with fewer transactions come later. Still to do that would require a LOT more work for the organization and it simply may not matter when vendors get better at this.)

How to check orders. Vendors were madly looking through page after page of orders, which didn’t seem to be in alphabetical order. (It might be helpful for the market organization to offer a simple spreadsheet that they can use for their orders and/or then print them out for everyone in order.It might also help for the organization to also have shoppers – when they arrive – list the market location number of each vendors who they had an order with, so if vendor #4 isn’t marked, vendor #4 doesn’t need to look through their list.)

Impact on the neighborhood. This needs to part of the measurement for any market: the positive and the negative impact on that area. Too often, markets only measure economic impact- which should always be measured – but also should also view the effect of noise, cars, trash, and other impacts on that area. These neighbors, without warning, had a line of cars belching exhaust into their houses for a few hours at a time when the weather is so beautiful that every window is probably open. It may help to stagger shoppers by time, to add another market day in another area, or to simply ask folks to turn their car off and let the police move clusters of cars at a time. I’ll find out more about how many cars came through but it sounded like the line was down to only a block long after an hour or so.

CCFM line in first hourDrive Thru

Costs. The design did require more staff than a regular market day and clearly a lot more planning was required. It did require police which I would assume will have to be reimbursed.  And the fees per vendor are assessed at a flat rate in this organization;  as the numbers of vendors were lower than they would normally be during this extremely busy market season**, they will have less income there. I will say that the partnership with Parkway Bakery’s free lot was inspired because they also came and helped, AND gave each car a free bag with a roast beef po-boy, local chips and water. And they have a very well-tended lot.

ParkwayGift

local chips, roast beef po-boy, branded memo pad, paper hat,  and a water bottle.

 

All in all, I hope these vendors and this staff sleep well tonight, knowing they have pulled off an extremely delicate and complicated market day. And that we deeply thank them.

I’ll let a shopper give the last word with what he told me after he picked up his items:

“It is a blessing, no matter how long it takes.”

AngelinaCCFM

Director of Markets Angelina Harrison watching it all.

 

 

**We’re in the middle of berry, lettuce, and just beginning tomato season and the weather is great in March and April here, usually low humidity and little rain which is holding true this year.

 

 

Trader Joes shoppers and farmers markets: will they come?

As my colleagues wished me a happy birthday last week, they asked me what fun thing I had to do on my birthday: I told them that one of them was to go to the opening of the first Trader Joe’s in the area, which opened in the suburbs of New Orleans that very day. I am sure some that the choice of viewing a retail store was odd, but not only is grocery store obsession a very New Orleans thing, it is most certainly one of my favorite “busman’s holidays.” (I also went to the inaugural fried chicken festival on Sunday so don’t worry about me too much.)

Now, speaking as a farmers market consultant…

I think knowing who the core shoppers are for the stores around a market is very helpful. In many cases, research is available on the chains or a visit to the local store (at both its peak and at its slow time) can usually tell you about that store’s demographic.

To give an illustration, I have included some global demographic info from Whole Foods and Trader Joes as well as a few market shopper personas. Forgive the errors and the oversimplifications. The data on the stores comes from retail research available online. The market data comes from the many surveys and data collection reports I have either participated on or read. Do be aware that there are many subgroups within each of these to be explored.

Grocery store shoppers

Whole Foods:”Decentralized” systems: regional management, store team approach and “localized” inventory management

  • Whole Foods focuses on the per capita population that has college degrees. The key customer for the average Whole Foods location is a working parent that is between the age of 30 and 50.
  • From the Yougov site: The typical Whole Foods customer is a female between the ages of 25 and 39 with more than $1,000 in discretionary monthly income. She likely works in architecture or interior design. She doesn’t mind paying more for organic food and she tries to buy fair-trade products where available. Her interests include writing, exercising, and cooking. She would describe herself as ethical, sensitive, and communicative, but also admits to occasionally acting like a self-absorbed and demanding daydreamer. Her favorite foods are sushi and tea and she probably drives a Mercedes-Benz.

Trader Joe’s: Centralized, secretive inventory management, mostly direct from manufacturers and a detailed screening process for hiring.

  • Most research shows that the TJ shopper is the most likely chain in the U.S.  to be brand loyal and to recommend the store to others.
  • TJ Culture dips into the health food movement, the gourmet food, wine and booze craze, and the ever-popular discount ideal. But all in moderation. “Our favorite customers are out-of-work college professors,” says Tony Hales, captain of the store in Silver Lake. “Well-read, well-traveled, appreciates a good value.” The chain focuses on singles, small families looking for small package sizes.
  • 50% have college degrees. Almost half havean household income of 100,000.
  • Stores carry 2-3,000 SKUS versus 30,000 -50,000 in a normal supermarket. 80% of their items are private label.

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Louisiana Update #9: A post-flood visit with a market farmer

Spent Wednesday morning tagging along with Copper Alvarez on her BREADA Small Farm Fund site visit to Lucy Capdeboscq’s home and farm near Amite. Copper has been crisscrossing the state seeing farmers who are reporting losses from this month’s floods. It’s important to note that BREADA is not focused only on their market farmers needs, but doing their best to get funds to any market farmer across the state.  Although one of Lucy’s daughters had been one of Red Stick market vendors in the past, Lucy sells only at the Saturday Crescent City Farmers Markets down in New Orleans. As a result, she was surprised when Copper contacted her by phone, asked if she had damage and then offered an evaluation visit in case BREADA’s fund might be able to help.

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Of course, no decisions or promises are made during the visits about any support, but as Lucy commented, the contact and visit were very welcome. Crescent City Farmers Market is also reactivating their Crescent Fund and has already had Lucy fill out their short form to receive assistance. The Crescent Fund is hoping to raise enough money to handle the 8 or so CCFM market farmers who have indicated losses, by quickly offering up to $1,500 for their farm needs.

To get to Lucy’s place, one turns off the main road at the permanent sign indicating it is also the direction to the legendary Liuzza strawberry farm. Although their famous berries are still a few weeks from being planted, other products like cucumbers could be seen in some of their fields. When you know that Lucy is a Liuzza by birth , it is clear why she lives amid those fields, (just off Jack Liuzza Lane) on the land deeded her by her parents. She and her late husband Allen raised their children here and kept their land productive even when they took on other professional occupations.

Allen and Lucy joined the Crescent City Farmers Market shortly after it opened. The Caps (as their farm name is known) were a huge hit immediately due to  Lucy’s charming customer service and Allen’s practical sense for growing their traditional yet innovative items. Lucy’s arrangements of zinnias and lilies with her decorative okra, hibiscus buds and her legendary sunflowers have remained market favorites since those early days.  As Poppy Tooker wrote in the 2009 Crescent City Farmers Market cookbook: “Lucy and Al have built a reputation for forward thinking innovation. They were the first to try early harvested rapini and green garlic made so popular in California.”

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Lucy’s okra, used for her bouquets.

To me, the Caps are a quintessential market vendor type: growing traditional and newer South Louisiana products on a small piece of land behind their home within sight of other family members also still farming. As a matter of fact, on one of my visits to the farm years ago, Lucy told me how much she was looking forward to letting a shopper know that next Saturday that their favorite item had been planted that week and would soon be back at market. That deep awareness of specific customer likes seemed to me then (and still) to be the best illustration of the personal touch of direct marketing farming that I have come across in my site visits.

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“What Works, and Doesn’t, About Farmers Markets? “

The article from the title of this post is linked at the end and focuses on Vermont’s market “saturation” from someone who has been a vendor at some of these markets. There is no question that these very real concerns from vendors must be addressed and addressed soon. However, I think that more attention could be paid to the details and challenges of building new food systems by this author in this piece. The market idea works best when it is designed and actively managed as a community activity that reactivates the town square vibe and rewards its ecological mindset and cannot just be judged for its increase or decrease in sales. And that means everyone must honor the town square role, including competing market vendors.  Let me elaborate:

First, I hope most of us really don’t think we have reached saturation and cannot find a way to bring the 99%-95% of those who don’t yet shop for local food regularly.  I also hope most of us don’t think we can’t encourage more producers to provide it even if it means some different organizing tactics and infrastructure choices. I say let’s dig a little deeper. This includes longtime vendors of markets, many of whom have become comfortable in their spot and with their regular shoppers and as a result, spend less time than they should thinking about newer visitors to markets (notice the lack of prices or details on the farm’s story at many booths as possible indicators) or in assisting in the growth of the market organization once market sales arrive at a sustained level.

A few years back,  I did some early analysis of the VT SNAP token system  and found that the less-than-robust numbers for SNAP use at markets at that point seemed closely related to the extreme low capacity of their market organizations (people are always surprised to hear how there are no year-round full-time market managers in the state and low, LOW pay for seasonal managers), and a need for a suite of market technology and scrip set ups and outreach strategies, depending on the market situation.

Included in that is the necessary redesign of the market manager job, which in the last decade has seen the need for a whole bunch of new skills and to-dos for the market day that keeps them from the deep customer service and the spot analysis that previous generations could do. Yet:

 * In 2011, Vermont market operators reported an average budget line item of less than $1500.00 to pay for market management with most markets reporting between $3,000- $5,000 as a stipend for the manager and no Vermont market reported having a full-time market manager on staff in 2011. In 2010, 59% (37) of reporting markets paid their manager/coordinator, with amounts ranging from $348 to $14,600, with the funds coming primarily from vendors’ stall fees. Of the 37 reporting markets, only 16 markets paid managers/coordinators more than $2,000 for the year.

 The added work of permanent programs requires training and relationship-building with a kaleidoscope of agencies and entities around the market; that training should be invested in both the organization and in the person of the manager. In other words, systems to strategically build these and other programs must be created at the market level and at the network level.

Once established, those systems would free  managers and overworked vendor board members from the stressful work of recreating the same market structure each season and instead, encourage them to plan mid and long term and spend more time with their community which will lead to better outreach and more intuitive interactions.

One of the most obvious indicators of this lack of planning time is the reduction in time in working with or visiting farms or farm leaders. I believe that the move away from markets by some farmers is directly related to their suspicion that some now see them only as a tent and a table,  unable or unwilling to assist them with the development of their business. Another indicator to me of the need for more professional development is the lack of alignment between food hubs and farmers markets that should share the development of vendors businesses even as they have different goals for them.

The capacity of current market vendors has certainly become a storm cloud looming: to understand this issue, data on the number of competing outlets that market vendors now use should be gathered and analyzed. It may be that the issue is not too many markets but too many other outlet types that tax the current vendors. Really, just knowing what each vendor is about and who and how they sell is the goal.

An example of the type of information that could help a market manager is a discussion I once had with a vendor who had stopped selling to chefs after being a favorite for many years. When I came behind the table and sat down at a quiet moment to have him tell me what was up, this is what he said:

You see, what happens is at the Saturday market, Chef (from fancy restaurant; supportive guy) comes by and asks me if I can sell him some of my crop this week; he wants to do a big dinner and give me some publicity. So he tells me to call him first thing Monday morning. I go out to harvest, come in around 10 and call him. They answer and tell me he is running late, but to call back in an hour. In the meantime, the deadline for the Tuesday market is coming and so I call you and tell you I am not sure if I am coming tomorrow but will confirm before the afternoon. (As you know, that market has been a little slow lately as it is this time of year so if I can sell it all to one place quickly I’d prefer it this week.)  I wait an hour and call the chef back; they tell me I just missed him and he is in a waiters meeting but told them to tell me he will call me immediately after. You call me back, I have no answer so I don’t answer when you call. Finally, he calls me, still enthusiastic about the crop but tells me regretfully the numbers for the dinner are lower than expected so he can only buy 1/2 of what he thought. That means I have to drop off 1/2 and could bring a little to the market now. Or should I  call another chef to sell the rest? I still haven’t called you to confirm one way or another, so I finally decide to call you to tell you I am not coming even though I’d have a little to sell; you are not pleased of course.

I finally decided the stress compared to the sales were not worth it.

Now this is only one vendor’s story and there are differing situations of every hue to uncover about each market. The point is to know exactly how each of your small businesses are doing, with which shoppers and with which outlets. And to know the demographics of your area to know how you can add shoppers to that group. That takes time and support from your board and vendors.

Data on number of visitors per market, average sale, length of time the average shopper remains at market, # of vendors they visit, and the number of shoppers per anchor vendor for example should be examined by each established market suffering with a slowdown in sales. Some tendency may be revealed, such as an abundance of longtime shoppers who purchase from a small number of vendors first thing in the morning with too few newer shoppers who roam the market later trying an abundance of items. Or, it may be that events that look robust and fun are actually not helping sales but impairing them and should be curtailed during the busy season. Or, products are not displayed with prices and details in all cases, driving away those uncertain about the protocol at a market to find out the information that shoppers need. And in some cases, the number of products has decreased, especially in number of new products offered each year. Like it or not, shoppers grow tired of making the same items every night and look for inspiration.

At the state level, the passive approach to the design of direct marketing outlets from some states’ leaders seems an issue. (This seems to be more prevalent in states with a strong farmer/activist core but limited state associations). To increase the chance of success, it seems necessary for leaders to become more involved in exploring and understanding the typology of markets and programs in order to help markets use limited resources extremely efficiently. By doing that work,  they will develop a spectrum of interventions that offer local organizers realistic outcomes for those market types and allow for appropriate and attainable growth to be likely.

Of course, I have great faith in the wisdom and earnestness of the Vermont folks and expect that articles like the one below will keep the conversation going on how to strengthen the fabric of their esteemed direct marketing tapestry.

An excerpt from the story:

What would make things easier? How can we improve? These are questions that farmers market boards and individual vendors grapple with as they reconsider nearly every aspect of the market model. Although many farmers are resigned to markets being less moneymaker and more marketing tool, it would be better if they were both. For the farmers markets of Vermont to be sustainable, and lucrative, most of them will need to change.

Overall, it is the consumers — those who have the least at stake and so much to gain — who have the most power over the fate of farmers markets. Consumers decide whether to show up with cash in hand, ready to shell out for their weekly supply of local goods, or merely hang out eating dumplings or cookies made with nonlocal ingredients. They’re the ones who may not show up when it’s raining … unless there’s a Pokémon to find.

Source: What Works, and Doesn’t, About Farmers Markets? | Food + Drink Features | Seven Days | Vermont’s Independent Voice

 

Update your market

Hopefully, all market leaders know that the USDA directory is the go-to list for farmers markets for those within the department, for market advocates and for researchers and funders. Most media stories about markets use this link to direct shoppers to us. Additionally, all of the evaluation about markets is calculated from this directory and so if your market is not listed, the true impacts of your producers hard work and of your organizational projects cannot be measured.

Do yourself and all of us a favor: take a breather from outside for a few minutes this week and sit down with a cup of coffee or a glass of tea to update the directory for your market. Market vendors: ask your market manager or lead volunteer if they have updated the list recently.

 

Dear Farmers Market Colleagues, 

Get ready, get listed! National Farmers Market week is coming (Aug 7-13) and you want people to find your market! USDA’s Local Food Directories can help you promote your farmers market. This tool will allow shoppers to quickly identify you as a supplier of the local food. It takes less than 10 minutes to add or update your listing.

 

USDA will share the number of farmers markets listed in the directory with media and stakeholders across the country during National Farmers Market Week. We want you to be counted! Time is running out!  New listings or updated information must be entered by July 15, 2016, to be included in the national numbers, so don’t delay.

 

It’s easier than ever to register!  If this is your first time listing your market in the Directory, go towww.usdadirectoryupdate.com to add your market. In less than 10 minutes you’re done.  That’s all it takes.

 

If you do not know if your farmers market is listed, then you can search the National Farmers Market Directory database to find out. If your market was in the Directory last year, we sent an e-mail during the week of June 27th that has a direct link to update your market listing.

 

Even if you listed your market last year, you should check the directory again to make sure all your information is still correct.

 

Here is how the Directory can help you

The USDA National Farmers Market Directory helps you tell customers what they want to know about your market:

  • Where and when your market opens
  • Second and third market locations that you operate
  • What products your market sells
  • If your market  accepts:
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    • Women, Infants and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program (WIC-FMNP)
    • Women, Infant and Children, Cash Value Vouchers (WIC-CVV)
    • Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)
  • Whether or not the market acceptances debit/credit cards
  • Consumers can even get:
    • Driving directions to the market they choose to visit
    • Map markets within a radius of their current location
    • Get a state or national map of farmers markets

 

The USDA National Farmers Market Directory used by mobile application developers to help consumers find you or other markets across the nation.

 

The Directory attracted over 400,000 page views from users last year.  It’s the “go-to” resource for consumers, researchers, community planners and more to better understand the size of farmers markets across the nation.

 

Don’t delay, please be counted by including your market by July 15.

 

Thank you.

USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory Team

Vt Farmers Market Conference

 

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Up next: New Orleans, Vermont, Massachusetts

Over the last ten years, my travel schedule has remained pretty constant in the late winter and spring: a.k.a. farmers market/agricultural conference season. Sometimes it means that I am leaving New Orleans during Carnival season, (or my fav festival event) the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival or just at the loveliest time of year. Still, I am honored to be invited to participate in so many market development workshops and say yes to as many as I can manage.

This year my conference travel has taken me to North Carolina, Atlanta and Illinois and next up are three meetings, two in places I know and love, and one new to me:

New Orleans: AFRI-funded “Indicators for Impact” project team/market pilot sites meeting.

Vermont: NOFA-VT Farmers Market meeting

Massachusetts: Mass Farmers Markets meeting

• In New Orleans, I will serve as the host team member and support the FMC team in presentations, facilitating open discussion among participating markets and in absorbing those markets feedback on their first year of gathering and compiling data. This University of Wisconsin-led research is informing the development of Farmers Market Metrics.

• In Vermont, I return for the 5th or 6th year to support my colleague Erin Buckwalter in her work at NOFA-VT to build capacity for direct marketing outlets and to support VFMA. I’ll be presenting some retail anthropology techniques for markets to consider when refreshing their markets. Sounds like I’ll also be called on to facilitate a open session on EBT issues, which should be helpful to the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at the Vermont Law School (CAFS). The students are leading the design of a Legal Market Toolkit along with project partners NOFA-VT and FMC. Exciting stuff coming out of this project, I promise.

• Final stop of the season is to one of the most established state associations and to work with one of the longest serving state leaders, Jeff Cole. I remember well that in the formation days of Farmers Market Coalition, our Market Umbrella E.D. always came back from those meetings with great respect for Jeff’s input. Since then, I have called on him to offer analysis in some of my projects (shout out to some of my other informal advisor mainstays: Stacy Miller, Amy Crone, Sarah Blacklin, Ben Burkett, Colleen Donovan, Copper Alvarez, Kelly Verel, Suzanne Briggs, Helena St. Jacques, Richard McCarthy, Beth Knorr, Leslie Schaller, Jean Hamilton, Paul Freedman, Devona Sherwood  along with a whole bunch of others..)   Jeff has asked me to do an overview on market measurement history (RMA, SEED, PPS audits) and recent evolutions like FM Tracks, Demonstrating Value, and of course Farmers Market Metrics.

So, keep yourself busy on other blogs while I sit in meetings, learning and sharing for the next few weeks. And if you are attending any of these meetings, please say hello and share your news or ideas with me. Maybe it’ll be the next best practice that I post on my return to these pages.

 

 

 

The Seasons on Henry’s Farm

The first full morning back in town after my trip to the IFMA conference was satisfyingly spent on actual labor: helping my pals at Crescent City Books get the store moved to the new location by shelving their cooking and gardening sections. Afterwards, I came back to the Quarter to make a pizza with as many farmers market ingredients as could be crammed on, sided by local ale and all to be enjoyed in the sunny and warm courtyard. As background music from the drums and horns of the pickup band always working for tourists dollars in Jackson Square wafted over the wall, I continued to read a wonderful farming book authored by Terra Brockman, founder of The Land Connection, Illinois family farmhand, and clearly, top-notch writer.

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I met Terra a few years back at the first IFMA-led Illinois farmers market conference and found her to be one of those doers who think with absolute clarity about the ecological and human impacts of the industrial agricultural age. That type of intellect,  paired with that determined pioneer spirit for building logical new systems, is always encouraging to find in one’s colleagues. I knew that since that conference she had put TLC in other capable hands (as I saw through their presentations and available materials at this year’s conference) and had herself gone back to working with her family farm and written this highly regarded book. So, I was pleased to see it available for purchase at the TLC table this year.

If you want to know what it it means for a direct-marketing family farm in a commodity state to live and work in service to their land and its seasons, as well as to their ancestors and their present community, I suggest you pick up her book, “The Seasons on Henry’s Farm.” It is absorbing, beautifully written and organized to give you a snapshot of the life of a farm, season by season, plant by plant, decision by decision. Like any good farmer, any talk of the food being grown also includes recipes and the ones in the book are so good that I dogeared almost every page with one. I think it should be required reading for every grower, marketgoer, market manager and every municipal and regional leader. In other words, everyone interested in food sovereignty and those influencing its future.

http://www.brockmanfamilyfarming.com/terras-writings

Atlanta

Like any market leader worth her salt, my North Carolina pal Salem told me on the first day of the Wholesome Wave Summit in Atlanta that she was going to check out two of the public market projects around town, the Dekalb Market and the Ponce City Market. Of course, I invited myself along immediately. Once done with the days sessions and networking, and with her smartphone barking directions at us, we finally found our way to the first without too many wrong turns as the twilight became evening.

The Dekalb market is actually titled “Your Dekalb Farmers Market” and is in its 39th year of operation. Still managed by the same husband and wife that started it as a produce stand, it is more than 100,000 square feet of sales space of produce, meat, seafood, herbs, cheese, beer and wine and even a recycling center. Whether farmers have much if any relationship with it is not clear, but certainly, it serves a respectable amount of diverse needs, including offering meat prepared for multiple religious and cultural requirements and a wide selection of herbs and oils for varied ethnic meals.

It’s only a few miles outside of Atlanta and easily accessible for the 7 days per week that it is open. The parking lot is large and well lit, with the lot and the market set off from the road by itself. Once inside, the signs are many and include warnings for no photography being allowed. So do note that the photos that I include here were taken inadvertently by er…someone else.

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Lots of nice tomatoes available and they do sell by box too, although the price didn’t seem like any break at that amount.

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I counted 10 varieties of sweet potatoes

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Nice signage at the Dekalb Market

We bought a few items at YDFM,  with Salem noting as we left that each staff person had which languages that they were fluent in on their nametag. Shoppers were diverse and buying large amounts.

The second market isn’t far from the first, although this one is within the city of Atlanta proper. This “market” is brand new and clearly designed as a festival marketplace and situated within a larger (fancy) retail and housing development in an old Sears headquarters building. Parking was complicated, as some of the closer spaces were marked as 30 minutes or less (with signs firmly promising that towing strictly enforced, even after 7 p.m.) and others were allowed with paid parking from the parking station. Interestingly, the development had staff positioned at each pay station to assist and even though it was near freezing outside, they were extremely helpful and polite!

Once inside, we found that the space was still under construction, with small restaurants or prepared food stalls  lined up along the perimeter. The middle of the space looks to be on its way to becoming an office tower. Pictures wouldn’t do much, as the space was large and any picture would have shown lots of still under construction areas so I took no interior shots.

Those eating in the Ponce City Market were mostly of a type: young, white and informally dressed. We perused some of the eating places quickly, but as we were hungry, we found a warm and cheerful taco place with cocktails. Good staff, food excellent.

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2nd market: the Ponce City Market in Atlanta

 

Story about the amusement park opening on the roof in 2016 inspired by the original that was replaced by Sears.

Sweeping study of US farm data shows loss of crop diversity the past 34 years

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.

Source: Sweeping study of US farm data shows loss of crop diversity the past 34 years

From 0 to 35 in MS

I have worked with markets and farmers in Mississippi for a dozen years and have found more barriers to getting regional food accepted than in most other areas of the US, yet also have met some of the most optimistic and capable people  working on it there.
What’s interesting is that in going from a deeply (still) entrenched commodity/plantation culture of farming directly to a new economy of small family farming for markets and restaurants can mean that some of the middle steps can be skipped, which is beneficial to innovative growers.

In other words, the situations is similar to what has happened in many non-industrialized or colonized countries in regards to technology; having skipped the landline era, the new users adapt much more quickly to the technology of mobility*.
I can see this leapfrogging in play for sustainable farming in the Gulf States with new farmers pushing the envelope with pesticide-free and heirloom varieties at markets and in CSAs, rather than  being influenced by the less inspiring midcentury distribution system that hardened growers’ experience into growing the hardiest and tasteless products to ship.
The area around Oxford MS is one that is ready for takeoff. The small farmer markets offer organic products at a higher rate than the New Orleans farmers markets for example, and the average age of the vendors seems markedly less than the US average, to my unscientific eye. The chef quoted in the article below is a pal of mine and had been the Board President of the New Orleans-based Market Umbrella before Katrina, and now is a leader in the regional food movement in Oxford. He offers his knowledge to the markets and farmers around the area as well supporting the leading agricultural advocates, Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network (MSAN), which was founded with Wallace Center support a few years back. Corbin and MSAN are good example of the quiet revolution happening up there.

Additionally, the folks in Hernando MS (north of Oxford, closer to Memphis TN) are leading the state in innovative healthy living strategies and thinking deeply about how to expand regional farming to support those strategies. Their weekly market is large enough to attract serious attention from regional funders and even policy makers, and I have hopes that they might soon attempt to create a year round market.

Continue reading

Big data doesn’t have to be Big Brother

This article easily says what I attempted to do in my 3-part Big Data, Little Farmers Markets posts earlier in the year.

The same data and algorithms that wreak havoc on workers’ lives could just as easily be repurposed to improve them. Worker cooperatives or strong, radical unions could use the same algorithms to maximize workers’ well being…

…Big data, like all technology, is imbued within social relations. Despite the rhetoric of its boosters and detractors, there is nothing inherently progressive or draconian about big data. Like all technology, its uses reflect the values of the society we live in.

Under our present system, the military and government use big data to suppress populations and spy on civilians. Corporations use it to boost profits, increase productivity, and extend the process of commodification ever deeper into our lives. But data and statistical algorithms don’t produce these outcomes — capitalism does. To realize the potentially amazing benefits of big data, we must fight against the undemocratic forces that seek to turn it into a tool of commodification and oppression.

Big Data article

Welcome Janie Maxwell to the market world

Although I will miss working regularly with my funny, indefatigable and razor-sharp pal Pat Stieran, I know some of the IFMA board well enough to know that they picked a worthy successor to her. Looking forward to working with Janie and seeing this great association continue to grow.

The Illinois Farmers Market Association Board of Directors is pleased to announce Jane Maxwell, as its new executive director.  Janie, as she prefers to be called, started on October 26 and is excited to be a part of the IFMA. She is very passionate about expanding local food opportunities and promoting Illinois farmers markets.

As a Registered Dietitian Janie believes strongly in the health value of local food and advocates for local food by building systems that highlight the economic value of markets to communities and farmers.

In her most recent work with Making Kane County Fit for Kids, as a part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Healthy Kids Healthy Communities Grant, Fit for Kids became a nationally recognized leader in creating a culture of health in part by improving access to healthy food.

Janie brings a background in managing grants and in nonprofit management having managed non-profit initiatives and programs.  She is also a nutrition instructor at Northern Illinois University, Department of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences.

Board President Natalie Kenny-Marquez stated “We are so excited to have Janie at the helm, she is hard at work already with her grant management skills due to the USDA grants that IFMA recently received.” Please join me in welcoming Janie and you can contact her atjmaxwell.ifma@gmail.com.

Locally grown coffee

In the years since I joined the farmers market community, many things have changed about my life because of that connection. One of those changes is how I get my news and what kind of news that I now find interesting. An example of this is RFD-TV, which I often catch on a sleepy Sunday morning as I cook up items from my Saturday market. RFD-TV is full of state agricultural updates, national farm reports and even some old-timey music shows like the Porter Wagoner Show. Exciting right?

This week the California Bountiful show featured a farmers market grower from the Santa Barbara area, Jay Ruskey of Good Land Organics and the locally grown coffee beans he is selling at farmers markets. Yes, that’s right – coffee beans. This farmer has also experimented with other unusual crops like the caviar lime and the cherimoya; his never-ending enthusiasm for new trials and offering those products to his shoppers is a great example of how innovation and farmers markets are intrinsically connected.

If your market has a vendor who regularly offers new varieties or talks about his or her dreams of adding crops currently unavailable in your region, it may be worthwhile for the market organization to seek funding in partnership with that farmer and local Extension in order to get that item in full production and to promote it once available. It’s important that Extension or an agricultural advocate is involved to ensure that the production snafus that are inevitable to this type of project can be addressed. One of my favorite examples of this work was done in Toronto for their World Crops Project which I wrote about a few years back for Growing For Markets. What was so impressive were the depth of the partnerships assisting in every step of the process and that they focused on involving new citizens who had some experience as farmers in other world regions to introduce culturally appropriate products to Ontario.

Also, I always recommend that markets keep an ongoing list of crops that they’d like to see added to their market and to circulate that list every once in a while to the vendors. Who knows…you might just spark an idea…

http://www.californiabountiful.com