from Part 1
For the last few years,I have worked on an FMPP-funded project under the supervision of NOFA-VT’s Direct Marketing Coordinator, Erin Buckwalter. This project will aid in building a culture of data collection at Vermont’s farmers markets and has included resource development, evaluation strategies for all market types, and direct technical assistance and training. Because of this, I added a second annual trip besides my usual winter conference attendance. And lucky for me, it was scheduled for the summer rather than the usual winter trip, which, although very lovely, is somewhat limiting for this Southerner and means I see few markets.
Erin suggested that we create a team of market managers, agency leaders, and market volunteers to gather data for markets in August. The goals were multiple:
1. model good data collection habits
2. network markets interested in data collection
3. test out some methods for different types of markets
4. look for opportunities for needed resource development on evaluation
5. see more markets and make a direct connection with market leaders
6. collect some data!
She sent out an email to a few markets to nominate themselves. Obviously we needed to be able to do them in a short span of days, the successful applicants needed to have a use for the data, and they would have to have some capacity to assist the team.
We ended up with 2 excellent choices: Champlain Islands Farmers Market – South Hero, held Wednesday afternoons 3-6 pm, and Capitol City Farmers Market (Montpelier) held 9-1 pm Saturdays.
They were wonderful choices because they were so very different, and they have enthusiastic leadership that are very interested in the data.
Jennie Porter, NOFA-VT’s Food Security Coordinator
Dave Kaczynski , Montpelier FM board member, VTFMA board member
Sherry Maher, Brattleboro Winter mkt leader, and NOFA-VT’s lead for in-state data collection strategies on this project
Alissa Matthews, VT Agency of Ag, Food and Food Systems (VAAFM)
NOFA-VT alumni Jean Hamilton and Libby MacDonald
Elizabeth Parker from Sustainable Montpelier Coalition who offered to stay and help when we approached her as a shopper that morning.
Dave and his fellow board member Hannah Blackmer were our leads for the this farmers market collection. This required a very different plan than South Hero, as the Montpelier market is much larger and is situated on a busy shopping district street. As most Vermonters know, this beloved market has been around for 40 years, but has already had to move locations more than once, and will have to do that again after this year. So questions about location had to be added to this survey which meant a flurry of emails and even some refinements to the survey on Saturday morning- thankfully, there is a copy/print company right down the street that was open.
And because this market was on a Saturday morning, market leaders who were interested in doing team data collection could not help, as most were either running their own market or working another job.
So because we had a smaller than necessary team, and the survey would take longer, we decided on a different and relatively new method for collecting the visitor count. We used a method that works better for small teams and for less busy markets: the Sticker Count.
The idea is to give each adult who enters the market a sticker to wear, telling them that we are counting the attendance that day, and then count how many stickers were given out to assess the number. And by wearing the sticker, we won’t double count them.
This method can be fun and less taxing to counters than clicking entries, but it has its own issues, such as:
1. The community has to be aware of this activity beforehand and know to take a sticker but only one.
2. Since counts are estimating potential shoppers, kids are not usually counted. That can be difficult when kids cannot take one of these stickers as they are often the only ones who want to wear a sticker. (Our solution was to stick those stickers to the back of our paper that someone had refused to take to be able to give kids one of those. That way the child’s sticker was not adding to our count. Another way to solve this will be to have kids-only stickers to hand out.)
3. Complex layouts can also make this hard (although complex layouts make ALL counting hard!) and CCFM has ONE fascinating and complicated layout:
In terms of the survey, we decided to have more ways to complete them as we had a goal to get over 260 completed surveys:
• “intercept” surveys, which means a surveyor asked questions and wrote the answers on their form
• self-reported surveys under a tent, where people could fill out the forms on their own on paper, or on one of our laptops set up for that;
The tent was ably staffed by Alissa Matthews, who we decided to have there because she has been involved with this relocation process and could better answer questions about the possible locations and is always calm and cheerful . Dave set the tent up beautifully, both by adding eye-catching signs and table coverings. He also knows how to make tables comfortable for those reading or writing by adding leg extensions which helped as well. His survey work is also stellar; he is a natural at it.
The tent was constantly bustling, Alissa aided by me or by nearby Sticker Queen, Libby McDonald.
One issue at the tent was that the online form was designed to require an email address, which is helpful to ensure only one response per email, but it seemed to freak out those at the computer. The reason the online survey was also included was partly to gather more responses next week after market day, because the location issue is significant for the entire market community to be able to weigh in. Oddly, those doing the self-reporting paper surveys at the same tent were less concerned about the email request on their form and even when we told people they didn’t have to fill out their email on those forms, they often did, saying they would be happy to learn more about the market or the relocation process. (And those doing intercept surveys don’t ask for emails at all.) Another issue was that the printed self survey had a few areas that confused people (the frequency of visit choices were too close together so many people circled more than one choice, and lots of folks missed the other side!) One last issue that I noted a few times were both members of a couple were filling out surveys, which means their economic contribution that day would be doubled. I don’t think any of these damaged the day’s data in a major way, but these are the issues that can arise with allowing self-reported survey completion.
The sticker counting started off extremely well, with aforementioned volunteer Libby taking the entrance near to our tent as her stickering responsibility. We worked out language around that, as brandishing a sticker at someone entering a market could seem off-putting, and the market had less time to let folks know beforehand that we’d be doing this.
Instead of “Can I offer you a sticker? The market is counting everyone attending..” which offers an easy chance for a NO.
we settled on:
“here’s a sticker for you (putting it gently on a shoulder or handing to the person) ; the market is counting everyone attending by giving each adult a sticker. The good news is if you wear it, we’ll not bother you again!”
3-5 of us were constantly handing out stickers (and the surveyors also had stickers if someone they stopped had gotten past us), all strategically placed near entrances or busy areas. We also had signs at all of the vendor booths and also explained what was happening and asked them to steer anyone without a sticker to one of us.
Our estimate was that maybe 20% were not stickered, especially later on when larger groups started to show up and we couldn’t get to them all. That part is still a very rough guess, but with more trials, we may get better at it.
Still, it was a cheerful, participatory way to do counting and many people were intrigued by the idea and one person even said enthusiastically to one of our team when asked if she had taken a sticker: “Yes, I was counted today!” Honestly, that made my day.
Overall, the numbers of surveys far exceeded our goal (we even had to go print more surveys for people to fill out!), our count felt as if was a good test and the team felt relatively confident about the numbers.