Indicators (sick of them yet?)

(FYI- I have written a new, shorter version for FMC’s website.  Here is the link to it. )

 

2016-Congratulations to everyone who got their FMPP/LFPP grants in by the deadline yesterday. I talked or emailed with a few of you throughout that process and was impressed by the well-crafted strategies that I read and heard about.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is some real world experience on setting numbers: in one of my past careers, I was a staff director for a field canvass operation in Ohio and sent out a team of organizers Monday through Friday to seek support for the advocacy work we did on pocketbook and environmental issues that directly affected Ohioans (things like utility rates and knowing what toxics were stored in your neighborhood). My staff was made up of entry-level organizers trained over a few weeks to knock on doors to gather signatures, funds and letters from those who agreed with our strategy. One of the first things field managers were taught to do at the end of each evening was to check the data that the canvasser marked on the back of their clipboard to see how many actual doors were knocked on, how many people they actually talked to, how many signatures they got, how many of those that signed offered funds or a letter (sometimes a letter is harder to collect!) and so on. As a field manager and as a director, I used to pore over those to try to note patterns and efficiency. Well, surprise surprise; success did not always mean more doors were reached. As a matter of fact, the most successful canvassers were extremely efficient and usually talked to many fewer people (50% fewer than those who had a dispiriting night as a rule) and those they did talk to gave their signature, funds and other assistance at a higher rate. So I realized that higher efficiency in organizing was related to great communication techniques, planning and attitude and so focused my training on those rather than the number of contacts approached.

The other main point to share is that every staff person had to meet a quota (hated that word then and still do) and some nights some or all of them did not meet it. When the canvassers did not meet it, my field managers were trained to ask one question (in varying ways): “At what point did you realize you wouldn’t make it?” We asked that because we knew that it was the point when the canvasser mentally gave up and usually began to talk at people, rather than connecting directly. Or that they had  bias or assumptions against a certain group or type of person and that affected their night.

This little story is to say that with market projects, the same thing is probably true: Efficiency is a good plan for our tiny organizations in order to conserve ours and our vendors energy for the long haul and to be there for another day. And that how well we plan and how we address our assumptions about those we hope to reach has a lot to do with setting numbers and meeting or achieving them.

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

Outcome 1: Increase consumption and access.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outcome 2: To increase sales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The main point is we have to agree that we need some data and it should be as precise as possible without violating privacy or exposing weaknesses in one business over another- after all, this is a competitive place. And that until you have actual data, how you calculated your starting point for these indicators says a lot about your circle of advisors, your experience and your knowledge of the target population.

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

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.

 

 

 

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.

0111161855-00

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

0111161853-00

I counted 10 varieties of sweet potatoes

0111161847-00

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.

0111161928-00 (1)

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.

Visitor counts

Over the last few months (and years really), I have spent a great deal of time asking people for input into valid ways to count market visitors, and in researching how other sectors (festivals, fairs and city planning for example) conduct these counts. Most researchers working with markets recognize that asking them to do what is commonly called a full count is unlikely to happen at most markets. So they employ some version of a sample counting system where, for one time span everyone is counted and that is used as a representative total for the entire day.

The research team at University of Wisconsin-Madison led by Dr. Morales working with Farmers Market Coalition in their combined AFRI-funded Indicators for Impact three year project, is piloting a method of 20-minute intervals counts at entrances every hour for the 9 markets in the pilot. That method certainly has the potential for a more precise estimate than the method currently used by many markets of counting everyone within the market for one time slot each hour. By the way, here is an update on that project.

In all cases of market counts however, the labor required taxes the market leadership and the methods used have not been found to be entirely accurate or appropriate for the many types and layouts of markets that exist across the US.

Still, we keep trying and know that sooner or later, the technology will be available to make this easier for markets and other food system projects. Seems like it is closer than ever, based on the article I found recently about a study to analyze pedestrian and transportation uses in one city which mentions one company that provides counting tools and analyzes those counts, often using existing cameras. The cost is still uncomfortably high for markets, but when technology adapts, products often become more suitable to our odd little world of pop up tents and milling groups of people.

Stay tuned in other words; the possibility is very close for precise counts of visitors for markets, which in turn will allow for better data use and more support for our hard-working markets.

Qualitative Data

in case you think data collection is dreary, check out what this market did for National Farmers Market Week. These kinds of quotes can liven up reports to your funders, impress municipalities and rejuvenate vendors.
Think of how you might ask a specific question about a product (“what do you do with your creole tomatoes?”) or have visitors describe if and how they have ever brought market food to someone else (“I bring bread once a month to my neighbor who loves it”) as other ways you can use this method.
Visible collection and use of visual data can make the market seem proactive and engaged with their community.

Why do you love #comofarmersmarket? #moretomarket #farmmktwk

A photo posted by Columbia Farmer’s Market (@columbiafarmersmarket) on Aug 11, 2015 at 9:40am PDT

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

My new role

Since many people have written to me with congratulations on accepting a staff job with FMC (see below), while others emailed with surprise because they thought I was already on staff, I  thought I’d post something about the news, but really more about my feelings about FMC, as I have had a unique vantage point to observe its evolution.

But first the news here: after many years in an outside support role with FMC, I arrived at the conclusion that the opportunity to work daily on the Farmers Market Metrics and other resource development for markets could be best done as an employee when offered that opportunity by Jen Cheek, our able Executive Director.

I also felt that the organization was at a key moment in its growth and being included in that work was right for my skills to assist and to learn. And since I am going to keep my consulting for markets going, it becomes even simpler for me to share news and ideas and looming issues heard from markets with my FMC team and then even easier to dream up or seek solutions.

What made the personal decision become an employee relatively easy was that I know first hand how thoughtfully and carefully FMC has been built by its two Executive Directors, first Stacy Miller and then Jen, supported and led by its talented and committed volunteer board. To illustrate how committed, I remember how the early versions of the board (made up of market leaders) were so vigilant about designing it in such a way to ensure its continued stability and relevancy for serving the independent market community that they even jettisoned a few early passes at it until it seemed right.

Back in the first days of being the first staff hired, Stacy asked a lot of questions (well she still does that), and I observed her as she gladly checked in with anyone and everyone who was open to talking or working with FMC on farmers market advocacy. That sort of openness to building relationships is crucial for an organization, especially one that hopes to represent a wide range of members. Out of those informal one-on-one conversations and early collaborations, she (later with membership and outreach coordinator Liz Comiskey) slowly built a respected young organization, one with some discipline and good relationships.

(I wonder how many remember those early days when the necessity of having a national organization for markets was not shared by everyone and how, when many of us would discuss the idea with outside stakeholders, we would often be politely rebuffed. How (in some circles) markets were often seen as an anachronism or at least as having found their highest level already and therefore any talk of ongoing support to expand them was largely met with indifference. That tide was turned by the valiant push to expand EBT and access to underserved populations and by constantly stretching the reach of markets as fulcrums of food systems and civic engagement. That work was done by the markets themselves with tiny funds and with a whole bunch of sharing between those early leaders and continues to this day.)

One of Stacy’s regular activities was working closely with the state and network leaders who were building resources, analyzing trends and expanding pilots within markets. It was in that part of her work that I got to know her as we both crisscrossed the US appearing at conferences or working in groups like the Wallace Center Farmers Market Working Group or supporting efforts like Projects For Public Spaces’ Farmers Market Mini-Grant program. Back then, my job at Market Umbrella was to pilot the imaginative set of regional ideas our founder had written into grants and to strategize with him and our advisors how to build the field of markets through replicating those ideas or extracting lessons or analysis.  And after I became a consultant, she stayed in touch, hired me and  was one of the few people back then who agreed that the Farmers Market Metrics work was necessary, letting me talk incessantly about it (well I still do that), relentlessly questioning me when needed.

When she told me of her decision to step down in preparation for the birth of her son, I was a bit deflated, knowing how hard it would be to maintain the supportive energy that FMC was beginning to take advantage of to grow its funded activities. Lucky for us, the right person found FMC next and kept the momentum going, and expanding its reach and depth rather quickly. Whether the timing was just right or Jen visualized it all, she did a speedy job adding the right components while listening to those with opinions or ideas about markets and now, with opinions about FMC itself. And that is a crucial point to make: each ED had a very different primary challenge to overcome and Jen’s was to exponentially grow the income and programs at the same pace as the number of members and partners, while managing the expectations of an emerging organization with its own personality and inertia. All of which is harder to do than it may seem. Far too often, organizations have too many programs at once and members can feel left out, or not enough money for non-project staff and therefore calls and issues are not handled in real time. Having served more than three decades in non-profits, I have seen more entities fail than succeed at being true membership organizations, not guarding against duplicating what is better done by the members or partners, or losing sight as of the issues and remaining barriers that must be addressed at the grassroots level.

Well long story short (although, as my friend Roger would say, it’s too late for that), FMC has ably managed its core purpose without failing its membership on any critical tasks and has important long-term programs in place to support partners and ideas big and small, all the while tirelessly advocating from the seat next to, not in front of markets. Jen also grasped the potential of the Farmers Market Metrics and asked clear questions of Stacy and I (and our early measurement advisors like Paul Freedman of University of Virginia and Alfonso Morales at University of Wisconsin-Madison) and led us in thinking through our plan and kept fundraising to get the ball truly rolling.

Add to that, she had a plan and the skills for staffing with first-rate minds and caring individuals in order to manage its work while asking everyone to remain available for a call or email from a market in need of a reality check or a solution. She also had the maturity and tact to keep Stacy on to assist with analysis and resource writing and Stacy reciprocated with the same and so FMC has had the benefit of her continued presence in crucial ways.

So, when I tell you that I am grateful and honored to be on staff at FMC, I think you can see why. Market Umbrella under Richard McCarthy’s leadership was a tough act to follow and I think somewhere in my mind, I always suspected that FMC might welcome me sooner or later for a spell. Of course, I will remain a roving and critical eye in the market field, offering comfort and strategy to any market or food system that needs my help, but for now, expect that the FMC resource and capacity building work that I gladly get to do these days for (at least) half of my time will continue without interruption for the foreseeable future.

And welcome to my fellow FMC newbie, Honesta.



FMC’s Team is Enjoying Spring Growth!

FMC’s long time consultant, Darlene Wolnik, is now officially an FMC staffer. As Senior Research Associate, Darlene is busily working on the FMC Farmers Market Metrics Project, assisting the Vermont Law School in creating a legal toolkit forfarmers markets, and she is also maintaining her private consulting practice. You can read the full bio for Darlene here.

New to FMC with strong roots in agriculture and nonprofits, Honesta Romberger is our new Communications Associate. Prior to joining the FMC team, Honesta was a member of consulting staff at The Food Trust, a non-profit located in Philadelphia, PA, where she provided expertise and capacity for multiple projects surrounding healthy food access to schools and homeless shelters. Read more about Honesta.

Welcome to FMC!