Coming Full Circle: Reflections on Being a New Farmers Market Vendor from FMC’s Former Executive Director | Farmers Market Coalition

Stacy always chooses her words carefully, works deliberately and thinks about how her actions affect others, sometimes to a maddening degree for someone like me who does not employ those restraints most of the time. What is so clear from her post (that we all demanded that she write for the newsletter!) is that that is a good personality type to be a market vendor and even more so, to describe what it’s like to become one.
Lovely thoughts about work here that Wendell Berry himself would read and nod in appreciation:

No one complains because they know they are blessed with this utmost human privilege– to work way too many hours and earn way too little in the pursuit of what fulfills you, most of us lucky enough to be well fed, if nothing else. These are the colleagues and coworkers whose shared goods and inspiration will make or break any vendor’s market experience.

and I think this might be useful for her market to use as a lead in to the vendor application?

Nervous and bleary-eyed from two consecutive late nights baking, labeling, and scrambling to generate last minute signage, I found a parking space, chased down someone on market staff, and began unloading my boxes. I forgot to write down the space number I had been assigned: E42? F24? Something like that. I have no tent, and share one with another small start-up vendor. Holy expletive. I am actually doing this.

I wish very good luck to my pal in this endeavor and encourage every market manager to encourage one of these posts from a new vendor for their newsletter.

Source: Coming Full Circle: Reflections on Being a New Farmers Market Vendor from FMC’s Former Executive Director | Farmers Market Coalition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Respondents Requested from Markets

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


National Farmers Market Week: August 2-8, 2015

Isn’t it great that the best way to celebrate this is to visit a farmers market?
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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!

FMC’s SNAP EBT Equipment Program is Open

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

WHAT


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

WHEN

The application is now open. This is a first-come, first-serve opportunity, which will be over when all the funds have been allocated.

WHO

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

They do not currently possess functioning EBT equipment;
OR They currently possess functioning EBT equipment, but received that equipment before May 2, 2012.
Wondering what qualifies as ‘not currently possessing functioning EBT equipment?’ Markets and farmers do not currently possess functioning EBT equipment if:

They currently rely on manual/paper vouchers to accept SNAP,
They do not currently accept SNAP and have never possessed functioning SNAP EBT equipment,
-OR-

They do not currently accept SNAP because their EBT equipment is
:

Damaged beyond repair.
Non-operational because their SNAP EBT service provider no longer offers SNAP EBT processing in their state.
Stolen or lost.
For more information on the program, including frequently asked questions, an eligibility chart, background information and application instructions, visit HERE.

Grant season has begun

USDA announces grants

I wish everyone good luck with their proposals and hope that my readers know if I can be of assistance to markets to strategize their proposals or to help to embed metrics for evaluation, feel free to email me.

This report that Farmers Market Coalition did with Market Umbrella in 2013 may be very useful for markets to review to see what other markets have done with their funding and to extract grant writing language used successfully by other markets and food systems.

Also, I am linking the report that I assisted the Real Food Gulf Coast folks with last year. They wanted to collect some simple data on how eaters and producers perceive markets (both those that use markets and don’t use them); the recommendations and marketing strategies will be piloted this year in Mississippi.

Please don’t be afraid to attempt a small grant if you have an idea to build capacity for a market or many markets. The assortment of grant opportunities is wider than ever before and can be the difference between struggling to stay relevant and moving a local food system to the next level.
AND please create an account on grants.gov sooner rather than later; this is the site you use for any federal grant so it takes a step from your later work when uploading a proposal as it takes some time to be approved for an account on grants dot gov.

Odds and ends from the Washington State Farmers Market Association meeting

View from the conference dining room

View from the conference dining room

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

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

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

The Vancouver Farmers Market gorgeous literature and materials on display

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


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

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

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

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

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

Here are some:

The 2014 CSA Farming Report

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

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

WA Cottage Food Operations Permit

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

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

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