The Amazing Bureaucracy of Burning Man

Any and all pop-up community efforts interest me and the Burning Man phenomenon is certainly an excellent example. As a long-time “Deadhead”, I learned to embrace outsider culture, bartering, the gift economy, open-source technology, and more in that community. All market leaders would do well to examine these pop-up efforts too.
What was amazing about the DH culture (especially before MTV began) was the level of self-organization and civic energy contained and managed at these massive events. This was possible because of simple and clear rules that somehow everyone knew about. That is how it ties into markets then and now; to learn how we can maintain some informality and innovation while still offering a standardized approach to make it easier for vendors and for shoppers to know what is what.

One example of their system approach was the Grateful Dead’s ticketing system, long done by mailing a request to the band’s office through the little San Rafael CA post office. The system was called Grateful Dead Ticketing Service (GDTS) and was begun in order to diversify their audience to those who could not camp out overnight for tickets or were not near to a ticket office. Mailers often decorated their envelopes in the hopes that their artwork would make their request more appealing; the band maintains a fabulous archive of many of the best of those envelopes that they received. The mail-in process was still agonizing as most of the tour dates had more requests than tickets and so a random selection was used to select who received tickets. And in order to be eligible, the details for mailing in your request had to be followed EXACTLY.  Remember this was long before the days of internet and its easily found instructions. my memory was that other Deadheads sat down and taught me how to mail in for tickets.

The second area where the Dead innovated was a system for allowing concert-goers to tape their shows. From a Rolling Stone story about the band and its embrace of technology:

Since the band started officially sanctioning the practice in 1984, the tapers built a worldwide music distribution system that sustained the Dead and helped launch bands like Phish, Widespread Panic, and dozens more. This network (and modern service-oriented variations like NYC Taper) presaged Napster by a generation, survived the radical remaking of the recording industry and laid the foundation for open online file trading.

That is exactly the kind of crowdsourced approach to rules that many markets maintain with humor and tact which keep them out of tense situations and keep them as lively as these communities are decades after their origin.

Maybe we can also learn from these communities by figuring out how we can maintain an online archive of market stories, recipes and unique cultural moments somewhere too.

BM is another example of organization, this time by a later generation with a different aim that should also be studied. This article is a great example of their planning for the site, even if the author took a slightly cynical view of it, even calling the give and take he and his friends have to answer  “bureaucracy”. I’d argue that word is not accurate as the planning and management is led by the community,  is quite flexible in the design stages and anyone with a clipboard can explain why the rules exist: The Amazing Bureaucracy of Burning Man – CityLab

By the way, inclusive planning, flexibility, and transparency are also rules that well-run many markets abide by and yet some are still accused of bureaucracy by those who do not want to engage during planning or understand how the community safety can sometimes need to limit personal expression.

Here is an example of how members of these pop-up feel-good events can step up to reduce the waste of these massive events and make an impact elsewhere.







The Wrong Kind of Entrepreneurs Flourish in America – Bloomberg

Crony capitalism is an extremely important topic for the community food system to ponder. This is how I define what has happened a few times when online aggregators or other techies spend all of their money building fancy software and no money or time investing in distribution systems or training staff and then throw up their hands when the farmers  don’t immediately flock to their door to sell their items below retail or the weekly market shopper doesn’t become enamored of their online tool. This may also best describe the situation when new, poorly-planned farmers markets open without adequate time to plan or to talk to the community it wants to serve or build relationships with producers a season or two before opening day. (Sometimes these folks call me a few weeks before they plan to open a new market and are dumbfounded when I tell them they should have begun planning 18-24 month before!)

I want to be clear that I am NOT talking about the majority of markets, but those thrown together (often by a developer or another outside interest) that simply see the market as visual dressing to sell their apartments or product without any effort made to whether there is a need and if the vendors will make any money.

This is why I believe farmers market managers roles should be financially supported by other food system initiatives, and experienced market managers should be brought in as consultants or facilitators to use their expertise in curating other relationships between buyers and sellers for new market ideas, for intermediate sales (specialty stores and restaurants), and even when building value chains for institutional buying.


But Robert Litan and Ian Hathaway, writing in Harvard Business Review, have a more dire hypothesis. They surmised that many American entrepreneurs are no longer looking for ways to produce more useful stuff, and are instead looking for new techniques for extracting money from each other and from the government. In other words, crony capitalism may be slowly cannibalizing productive capitalism.

The Wrong Kind of Entrepreneurs Flourish in America – Bloomberg

HTTPS upgrade for non-profits

Mozilla recently announced its intention to “phase out” Firefox support for HTTP in favor of the secure HTTPS protocol. So what does this mean for nonprofits whose websites don’t have security certificates installed to allow for a secure HTTPS connection?

  • Find online security tips in TechSoup’s Safer Internet Guide for nonprofits.
  • Bitdefender now has two options for helping your organization stay secure: cloud and on-premises security software.

Responsive Web Design for Non-Profits’ Customers

The average person worldwide has five social media accounts and spends an average of 1 hour and 40 minutes browsing these networks every day on any number of devices. Therefore using what is termed “responsive web design” is vital. It means that the information is optimized for whatever device it is being seen on with a minimum of scrolling or resizing.
The site Non-Profit Tech picked three sites offered by non-profits that they think are especially good at this and I think additionally that one of the three,, is just a very useful site for markets to view. Simply designed and easily navigated, it offers a lot for those new to the site and yet has easy-to-find shortcuts to get into the site if you are a return visitor.
Nice to hear in the original story that non-profits were the pioneers of the use of social media, adding content and varied ways for their community to see and reach them long before businesses bought into the idea.

FMC’s Free SNAP EBT Equipment Program is Open

As you may have heard, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) 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.


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.


The application period will open at 9:00am EST Tuesday, February 17th, 2015. This is a first-come, first-serve opportunity, which will be over when all the funds have been allocated. Don’t wait!


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:

A. They do not currently possess functioning EBT equipment; OR

B. 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 them at
found here.