Slow Food People

I wrote a post on FMC’s website about my duties while attending Slow Food Nations in July, so I thought for my own blog I’d write something about a few of the people who I hung out with or heard speak, in the hope that it might offer some different context.

As for the event itself, it was definitely more focused than the previous year, with fewer locations and maybe even fewer listed events which was pleasant logistically. However in doing so, lost its pairing with the Union Station Farmers Market, which was too bad, as having the opportunity to see the actual transactions of a larger food system is rewarding for any good conference. Related to that, I’d like to see SFNations figure out a way (and they would like to as well, I am sure) to include more market leaders and small family farmers into the agenda, although the time of year is not the best for those folks to leave home. And I hope for the day when funders and partners offer support to market managers and interested farmers to attend more events like this one. It ain’t all about market day skills after all.

Those that were there were able to commune with those doing similar work around the world and to see and taste some regional products from across the U.S. in the SF Marketplace. I try to get through the Marketplace a few times during SFN because the businesses that SFUSA brings together are always impressive and great at explaining their approach and products. I’d like to have more direct marketing farmers in the US be able to see how well these businesses work as well when educating as when selling.

Now on to the peops:
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Sofia Unanue from La Marana. During the Disaster Strikes panel, Sofia offered a powerful, real-time reality check on recovery, beginning with her sobering and yet uplifting video:

I imagined I felt her stress level and exhaustion even as she stood there calmly and pleasantly in Denver in front of a group of people who care deeply but cannot truly know what she and her community are going through over what is being lost with every passing day in the absence of a well-organized and empathetic public and philanthropic aid process. Not even those of us who have been through our own version truly know her reality, but what I do know is that recovery depends on people exactly like her being there and coming to these events to share that reality. And that her video made Richard McCarthy and I standing in the back of this room both weep and as we did, we knew we were remembering New Orleans 2005.
-Most importantly, don’t forget Puerto Rico.

Brian Coppom, Boulder County Farmers Market CEO. I first met Brian at last year’s Slow Food Nations event as I was tasked to help SFUSA with events that were scheduled at BCFM’s Union Station Farmers Market. As helpful as he was, the best thing he did was to give me access to his lead staffer, Elyse Wood, who can make good decisions lightning fast about the market space and in doing so, smoothed the events out so that featured speakers like author Deborah Madison and legendary MS farmer Ben Burkett were primed to lead lively and informative talks. If I would say that to Elyse, she’d likely shrug and smile, because in her list of things to do, it had been a simple task. I know because that’s how I would have reacted while doing very similar work in New Orleans for a guy very much like Brian (see last profile). But it isn’t so easy and the knowledge accrued by market organizers managing multiple sites, staff, programming, a network of colleagues and so on is impressive and yet few funders support this part of food work with professional development opportunities and other rewards. And I know that market directors like Brian (and Michael below) feel the same way.
Brian has quickly become a good pal and a strong voice in my list of go-to people when I search for input. He is a board member of FMC so even though he is constantly working on food and farming in Colorado, his goals are at a national level in intention and in impact. Look for those people in your travels and keep them on your speed dial.

-Most importantly, he is hilarious and comfortable at a mic talking markets and in wearing hats:
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Raj Patel. Well I do not share a long or rich history with Raj, but I appreciated his thoughts during this SFN so much I wanted to include him. Of course, his writing has always been illuminating as he takes on the dominant thinking around “value” which, of course, actually devalues everything worth saving. He’s included in this list for the moment he took a general question about local and elevated it to the question of justice:

“Almost all of the food that is grown and eaten in the United States today, that is bought and paid for, involves the hands of people of color…What’s important about local is you also need a robust sense of history…

-Most importantly:
You don’t fix the past with a certain type of tokenism; you fix it with a reckoning. And that reckoning is something the food movement has yet to have.”

Richard McCarthy, Slow Food USA Executive Director. It’s probably no surprise that I include Richard, as he is my former boss as well as my friend. Going through building and rebuilding farmers markets, disaster recovery, staff hires and fires, funding gaps and much more as his Deputy Director for almost a decade gave me as solid of a start in my national work as I could have wished for. Even so, I added him to this list on the strength of his enthusiasm for front line organizers and his skill in exploring how the people who are around him at an event can be connected. He throws a helluva event because he is obsessed with maximizing the results for the attendees by packing in as many informative and appealing touches as possible. It was the same back when he was the market director.
-Most importantly, I think Richard weaves a story around food and farming that is practical and aspirational to even those yet unfamiliar with what we do. Here is a podcast that I happened across that I think is a great example of that.

Poppy Tooker, Writer, host of public radio show Louisiana Eats. Like Richard, my relationship to Poppy is long and so full of amazing and sweet stories. Suffice it to say, Poppy has taught me how to share the stories of food producers with the larger world. During this SFN, I walked out to the festival area and heard my old pal’s mic’d voice doing a cooking demonstration and since her educational, wickedly funny, and precise demos are the stuff of legend in New Orleans, I immediately made a beeline in that direction. I got there just as she was wrapping up but did snag the last bean calas that she was offering. I shared it with the California couple next to me, explaining what this was and its importance to New Orleanians because that is exactly what she’d expect me to do.
Her panel introduction for the disaster panel was extraordinary. I say that as someone who stood in the back of the room and watched every chair’s occupant lean forward and the quiet descend on the room as she spoke with humor and pathos about the trivial and tragic memories Gulf Coasters carry from 2005.

-Most importantly, really truly because of Poppy (and Slow Food) we rebuilt our farmers market in two months in 2005 and saved a lot of farms and family businesses. And learned that we have others to call in across the globe in these times.

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Poppy and Miss Linda (the Yaka Mein queen of New Orleans) talking at SFN about love and loss. New Orleanians can always veer from the chatty to the profound in a blink of an eye. This story Poppy was telling (as Miss Linda and I sat rapt) involved a vengeful, murderous jaguar and poor alpacas at our local zoo and then segued into a lovely story about husbands and high school sweethearts. A typical wide-ranging Poppy story with a message.

 

Michael Hurwitz, Greenmarket Director. As Michael tells people whenever we both show up somewhere, he and I met when he is was just two months into his job, 11 years ago. That time was at Kellogg’s Food and Society meeting and we both spent much of the down time discussing (debating) the functions and potential of markets. Even then, he had a solid grasp of the potential for greater impact and the possible pitfalls of operating what are the most well-known markets in the most competitive retail area in the U.S. That conversation has continued since. Through talking with him, I am reminded what a flagship organization can do, especially if the director trusts in his excellent staff and his vendors. What may not be evident is that the success of Greenmarket’s sites don’t happen automatically – like every other market organization, it requires constant calibration and some luck and Michael is so very honest about those facts when asked to share his lessons learned.

-Most importantly, he asks great questions of everyone, constantly learning more about the field he is in.

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Michael and Richard meeting up at SFN

 

 

And with that, I’ll close the curtain on SFN 2018.

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The Importance of National Farmers Market Week August 5-11, 2018

First, let me share the link to the excellent campaign materials that we at FMC have been creating and amassing for the last year:
https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/national-farmers-market-week/

In a nutshell, the job of NFMW is to spotlight the importance of farmers markets to policymakers, to consumers and to farmers. It’s a campaign and it lasts one week per year.
With more than 8,600 farmers markets operating in the U.S., many among us may think we have made our work visible to most people.I’d beg to differ. With visitor attendance at those markets ranging from around a hundred to thousands, I’d bet that we attract around 2, maybe 3 million regular visitors each year. That sounds impressive but remember the population of the US is around 326 million. So 0.6134969325153374 of 1 percent. Or maybe 0.9202453987730062 of 1 percent.
Less than 1 percent.
Look, I’m not trying to rain on our parade. I think we do mighty things with that less than 1% with impacts that clearly stretch to the corporate food sector to making resilient places, and to meaningful citizen engagement. Local and organic and place-based foods are a HOT trend, mostly due to the work we all do and the farms that battle development and industrialization. Please congratulate yourself and your vendors, and volunteers and board.
And then, lets’ set a goal to expand that number. Maybe to 2% by 2020. That’d be 6.5 million regular visitors. Imagine doubling your attendance in 18 months.

So how to do that? for one, remember my phrases from this blog for this year:
Don’t Hide the Hard Work
Function like a Network Whenever Possible

Tell the world about your market organization, not just about individual vendors.
Talk about the history of markets in your area, acknowledging the long line of organizers.
Make your website appealing and full on information for longtime shoppers and vendors and for new ones too.
Ask shoppers to make it to more than one market this week, even if one of those markets is not managed by your organization.
Drop off some materials to your community foundation or to your local elected officials.
Ask your municipality to use our template to designate NFMW officially.
Send out tweets and instagram photos of your market using the images and people and feel free to use whatever details FMC has that work for you.
Connect with other markets and write a letter to the editor together, inviting newbies to your market.
Create a “bring a friend” incentive for this week.
Ask your loyal shoppers to tweet and post on FB about the market.
Have a postcard campaign to your legislators about how the Farm Bill needs to protect farmers markets.

This campaign week is our best chance to share those impacts and to ask for partners to increase our capacity and viability to support farmers and other artisanal producers.
One last thing to do:
On market day this week, call your team together and give yourself a round of applause from all of us at FMC. We deeply admire our innovative and enthusiastic market leaders and try to do our best to tell you that often.
Now go ring that bell.

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Updated Information Regarding Novo Dia Group Shutdown 

I have a lot to tell you about my trip to Denver for the Slow Food Nations event, and to share ideas and research about vendor development at markets, and talk about the upcoming Direct Marketing Ag Summit in mid September, but instead of that, this post will focus on the immediate crisis in front of us: the recent news about the shutdown of the Novo Dia Group, which effectively will cease card processing for 1700 farmers markets and farmers during (most of the) country’s busiest market season. Since the news broke, my FMC colleagues have worked day and night listening to market leaders, asking questions of all of the players involved, explaining the problem to media and to our elected officials and strategizing with markets, farmers and partners about solutions. Now there is a single place to find all of the information and FMC will continue to update that page with the latest information.

Source: Information Regarding Novo Dia Group Shutdown – Farmers Market Coalition

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!