Target: Hunger farmers' markets (Springfield and North Berkshire)

Final Report for CNE08-042

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2008: $7,457.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Lori-Anne Russo
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
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Project Information

Summary:

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts’ Target:Hunger initiative, in partnership with dozens of community organizations and residents in Springfield and northern Berkshire County, is helping to increase the size, scope, and audience of two farmers’ markets in these communities: the Mason Square Farmers’ Market and the North Adams Farmers’ Market. Our project has supported local farmers through marketing, recruitment, and additional income sources; improved effectiveness of market infrastructure; and provided locally grown produce as well as education about local food products, to low- and mixed-income households. Our work is helping show that direct farm-to-consumer efforts in low-income areas – coordinated and grounded in the community – not only support local farmers, but also connect residents to farming and the benefits of Massachusetts-grown products; bring affordable fresh produce to people who are suffering from hunger and food insecurity; and create a vibrant social gathering place that instills pride in, and generates widespread support for, our farming community.

Project Objectives:

At the Mason Square Farmers’ Market, some of our expected and measurable results included:
20% increase in Farmers’ Market sales;
Two new growers and a 20% increase in the diversity of farm produce offerings;
15% of market sales conducted via an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) machine;
Undergo an analysis of best-known practices and marketing strategies, such as identification of local Springfield backyard growers whose produce would diversify the market’s offerings, creating effective public service announcements, signage and flyers with incentive coupons;
One training conducted for farmers in Food Stamp reimbursement and EBT machine usage;
Partnerships, contract, plan, evaluation systems, and materials created for cooking demos, taste-tests, “quick-hit” nutrition tips, and recipes, to be offered twice each month during the 2008 summer season;
Open the market to at least two, non-produce (i.e., bread, dairy, meat) vendors;
Analyze the first season of the Mason Square Farmers’ Market (2007) using data collected throughout the summer by market volunteers and summarized by Smith College interns (currently underway).

In North Adams, our expected and measurable results included:
Establish a plan for increased promotion of the North Adams Farmers’ Market to low-income and other households. Development of a targeted marketing plan in partnership with local agencies that includes incentive coupons, a promotion event during the summer 2008 season, and a system for reimbursing farmers for Food Stamp purchases;
At least a 5% increase in market sales;
At least 5% of market sales through Food Stamps;
Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT)/credit/debit machine secured;
One training conducted for farmers in Food Stamp reimbursement and EBT machine usage;
A weekly van loop from low-income neighborhoods and senior housing to the North Adams Farmers’ Market established and used by the community;
Partnerships, contract, plan, evaluation systems, and materials created for cooking demos, taste-tests, “quick-hit” nutrition tips, and recipes, to be offered during six of the 12 market days in the North Adams Farmers’ Market 2008 summer season;
Summer intern secured to aid in managing EBT acceptance and marketing plan.

Introduction:

In 2007, Target:Hunger launched a brand new farmers’ market in Mason Square (Springfield), in partnership with the Northeast Organic Farming Association/Gardening the Community, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, and Concerned Citizens of Mason Square. In the months prior to the market’s opening, we conducted a needs and cost survey to determine what products would be most popular in the community and to analyze levels of pricing in grocery stores, to ensure that farmers would have a competitve advantage over other sources of produce. The survey helped guide the four founding farmers’ crop plans and enabled the market to respond to the needs/wants of the community for culturally appropriate produce. The market was a major success, with more than 500 community members patronizing it over a three-month season. In addition, the market provided leadership opportunities for local youth, and supported four small, mostly start-up, farmers. In its second year, the market obtained an EBT machine for food stamps and distributed discount coupons to the community (farmers were reimbursed through grant funding). Several new farmers joined in 2008, and the market grew in renown across the neighborhood.

At the same time, Target:Hunger has been working to expand the reach of the existing North Adams Farmers’ Market, with a focus on rural low- and moderate-income households. The market has been in existence for years, but desperately needs an influx of new customers. Last year, Target:Hunger helped expand the market by securing an EBT machine for SNAP/Food Stamps, and other coupons that brought new customers to the market; and providing food and nutrition demonstrations – all with the goal of increasing access for and attendance of low-income residents while raising farmer profits.

Both the Mason Square and North Adams markets are at a turning point, with a growing customer base that has the potential to expand significantly through mixed-income audiences. To make this happen, the markets need improved marketing, promotion, infrastructure, and coordination to attract more low-income households and increase professionalism. At the same time, more farmers and vendors need to be recruited to improve variety in response to the interests and needs of the two diverse communities.

The Northeast SARE grant helped move the two markets forward over the past year and accomplish important steps to grow both customer base and farmer involvement.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Kristen Brennan
  • Rod Bunt
  • Kelly Coleman
  • John Osborne
  • Everett Randall

Research

Materials and methods:
  • Recruit new farmers for each market, including new products. Attend outreach events and conduct individual outreach to local farmers.

    Increase market income through use of SNAP, WIC-FMNP, and SFMNP. Promote EBT acceptance at markets.

    Distribute discount coupons to low-income households to encourage use of market.

    Provide educational activities and entertainment at the markets that introduce consumers to increase variety of food and local products. Hold special events at both markets, cooking demos, and taste tests. Print nutrition education booklets.

    Improve marketing and publicity for market. Obtain advertising highlighting EBT acceptance, distribute flyers, air PSAs and issue press releases.

    Improve market infrastructure and signage to attract people to the market.

Research results and discussion:
  • MASON SQUARE MARKET

    Sales were not measured for the 2007 season, the first year of the market. In 2008, total sales at the market were $14,104.

    In the 2008 season, we added five new farmers/vendors: Milton Finkes, Green Acres Farm, Nuestras Raices, Sullivan Brothers Farm, and Family Kitchen. We also increased diversity of farm produce offerings by adding callalo and pinto beans in response to community demand. In 2009, we have added two additional farmers for a total of eleven.

    About 40% of customers used EBT, WIC, or Senior Farmers’ Market Coupons at the market in 2008. About 2% of total market sales were conducted using EBT.

    We printed advertisements and aired PSAs about the market in key local media outlets. These helped keep the market visible, but we also found out through market surveys that the two primary things that get people to the market are walking by and word of mouth. For this season, we focused outreach efforts on increasing visibility at the market itself to attract more “drive by” or “walk by” traffic. We’ve added better signage, banners, and tents to improve market infrastructure.

    Farmers were trained in how to accept Food Stamps and use EBT tokens. The EBT machine is operated by the market manager to streamline the process. All vendors currently accept EBT, WIC, and Senior Farmers’ Market Coupons.

    We held four special events in 2008: for the opening and closing of the market; in celebration of farmers’ market week; and in honor of Hunger Awareness Month. These events included taste tests, cooking demonstrations, recipe sharing, and nutrition education. At all markets, we had flyers with nutrition tips and recipe ideas available.

    In 2008, Springfield’s Family Kitchen sold homemade bread and baked goods. We have investigated the options for adding dairy and meat vendors, but have run up against regulations around food safety. We are looking into ways to make these sales possible.

    Student volunteers through Smith College surveyed all market vendors as well as market customers at the end of the season in 2008. The surveys collected information about how well the market was meeting clients’ needs as well as how each farmers’ profits broke down between cash, EBT, WIC, and Senior coupons. Using this information, the students also prepared a marketing and sustainability plan to help determine areas for expansion and focus over the next year. These included: continue to increase number of vendors; increase market visibility; develop a delivery service for elders; investigate the possibility of a community kitchen, or neighborhood grocery store; hold community forums about the market’s future; and create a customer contact list to announce events and updates.

    NORTH ADAMS MARKET

    To help publicize the market, we issued press releases and PSAs as well as flyers and advertisements with incentive coupons. Combined with word of mouth, these approaches have brought more new people to the market. We also brought farmers and other partners on a field trip to a nearby successful market to gather ideas for making the market a tourist attraction, through entertainment, activities for children, etc. These ideas led to some significant changes for the 2009 season, including a children’s craft station and live entertainment for several weeks of the market. Also, this year we are handing out freebies with stickers listing information about the market hours and EBT. The market manager is actively conducting outreach to farmers and vendors to increase the diversity of crops offered and bring more vendors to the market.

    While we tried to get farmers to share their market sales data with us, the farmers have been resistant to sharing that information. We do not have oversight over how the farmers operate and cannot require them to provide sales data. Unfortunately, we will not be able to track changes in total market sales in North Adams.

    In 2008, total sales through the EBT machine were $141. We can’t provide a percentage of sales because we are unable to track total market sales.

    We did secure an EBT machine for the 2008 season, and trained a paid intern in using the machine. A total of six farmers (out of eight total) accepted Food Stamps in the first year of the EBT. This year we expect more to participate.

    To streamline the EBT process, as in Mason Square, we trained one central person in operating the EBT machine. All farmers were given information about how EBT works and the benefits of accepting Food Stamps. The two farmers that didn’t participate in 2008 were able to see that it worked smoothly for other vendors.

    We were disappointed by the community response to the free rides to the farmers’ market, which we provided through a partnership with the Berkshire Rides program. The free rides made a loop between outlying towns and the North Adams Farmers’ Market. While some people used the rides to travel home from the market with their groceries – saving them the difficulty of doing that on public transportation – the people being served were already using the market. Our intention for the rides was to help bring new people to the market from outlying towns. The free rides were not highly successful in making that happen. We are now working with local partners to determine what type of solution will best fit the needs of the people in rural towns where there clearly is a transportation problem.

    We held four special events in 2008: for the opening and closing of the market; in celebration of farmers’ market week; and in honor of Hunger Awareness Month. These events included taste tests, cooking demonstrations, recipe sharing, and nutrition education. At all markets, we had flyers with nutrition tips and recipe ideas available.

    The intern who ran the EBT machine in the 2008 season has become a regular, long-term volunteer with us, contributing to other Target:Hunger programs. She will be continuing to oversee EBT transactions this season.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

As discussed elsewhere in activities for this grant, we produced flyers, advertisements, PSAs, and signage for both markets to help draw customers and spread the word. In North Adams, the farmers also decided to produce a booklet with market regulations and rules that is being distributed and used in recruitment of new farmers.

The 2008 markets were covered in local newspapers and already in 2009, local TV stations and media have done stories on how the two markets are supporting local farmers as well as disadvantaged communities.

Also with SARE funding, we produced a nutrition education booklet to be distributed at the farmers' markets. Called CHOP, or Choosing Healthy Options Program, the booklet describes information about nutrition labels, healthy food choices, and diet. The booklet is also used by Food Bank member agencies to help them select products in the Food Bank warehouse that are healthy and nutritious.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

While the North Adams Farmers’ Market existed previous to Target:Hunger, it was not focused on accessibility or affordability for low-income households. This past season, through extensive work with the market manager, the town of North Adams, and the farmers, we successfully secured an EBT machine to process food stamps at the market, and conducted outreach to encourage residents to use food stamps, WIC coupons, and senior farmers’ market coupons at the market. While this may not seem like a major accomplishment, it was truly a gargantuan task requiring the navigation of political, financial, and cultural barriers. Just setting up the account to make the EBT machine operational took an enormous amount of time and work. In the end, however, it was worth it. We hired an intern for the farmers’ market who provided training to farmers about how and why to accept food stamps, and who also managed all the EBT transactions. We conducted a lot of outreach and awareness among market patrons, as well as in local food assistance sites, food stamp offices, and WIC offices, to encourage residents to use food stamps at the market. While only about half of the vendors at the 2008 market agreed to accept food stamps, we consider that a pretty good turnout for the first year. Other farmers, after seeing how the EBT transactions worked last year, have agreed to do it in 2009. On a larger level, there is more overall acceptance of the idea of food stamps and the role the market can play in reducing hunger in North Adams.

The Mason Square Farmers’ Market went from a dream of the community before Target:Hunger came along, to reality in 2007, to now forming its own 501c3 for sustainability. For the past two summers, the market made fresh, affordable, culturally appropriate foods available to residents who have very few other options for produce. The Concerned Citizens of Mason Square, a grassroots organization formed by residents out of Target:Hunger’s efforts, is very dedicated to sustaining the market. There have been many partners in addition to the Citizens of Mason Square who have come together to create a unique caring community atmosphere. The farmers, who are the heart of the market, have responded to the needs of the community by providing culturally appropriate foods that were formally unavailable to the community. A few of the farmers even grew crops that had been specifically requested by the community. Farmers also provided taste testing, encouraging residents to try new fruits and vegetables.
This past year, Smith College students, in conjunction with local high school students from the Renaissance school, conducted a market study of what people wanted from the market and the farmers did their best to make those items available. All of the farmers participating in the market were also trained in accepting food stamps, WIC coupons and Senior Coupons; again making the market more affordable and accessing for residents. The WIC Department told us that as a result of the Farmers’ Market in Mason Square, they have seen their WIC Farmers’ Market Coupon redemption rates skyrocket.

The Farmers’ Market was a community endeavor involving many partners. The Food Bank Farm donated produce to be sold at the Farmers’ Market in order to help generate revenue to sustain the market beyond the DPH grant. Students who worked with Gardening in the Community through Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) helped to sell produce at The Food Bank booth as well as assisted other farmers sell their produce. The remaining produce not sold at the market was donated to local food pantries and meal sites. There was food and nutrition information at each market as well as recipe and taste testing with the produce available at the market. There was information on WIC, Food Stamps, and other food and nutrition resources in the community at each market. In addition, other organizations held booths at the market to inform the community of resources available to them. Smith College students created a video of the Farmers’ Market as well developed a document that captured interviews of all those involved in planning and running the market.

In the interest of long-term sustainability, the Citizens of Mason Square are currently soliciting sponsorship dollars from local businesses. They are also looking at other ways to generate revenue for the market, such as value-added products. Finally, the Farmers’ Market may act as a springboard for other community activities -- such as generating interest in a community kitchen to preserve produce abundantly available at the market for either personal use or to sell for income. There has also been discussion with other community organizations around creating small business opportunities for resident to sell baked goods at the market such as breads. But most importantly, the Farmers’ Market got the residents of Mason Square out talking to one another again, creating a supportive, vibrant and healthy community.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Secured contributions for Target:Hunger farmers' markets include:
Roberta Thall Charitable Trust, $20,000
MA Department of Public Health, $50,000

Additional potential contributions include:
Green Pastures Fund, $3,000
Community Foundation of Western Mass., $8,000
Frances Fund, $10,000

Future Recommendations

We are already well into an active farmers’ market season in 2009. We now have eleven farmers/vendors on board to sell at the Mason Square market, and eight in North Adams. We are continuing to conduct active recruitment to bring more farmers to the market. One area we are focusing on is bringing more fruit vendors, since customers specifically requested this following the 2008 season. This year, we are planning to build infrastructure and equipment for the markets to accommodate more farmers and customers, such as tables and chairs, tents, permanent signage, etc. We will also continue to conduct publicity and marketing outreach to attract customers and increase EBT use at the market.

Another important next step for the markets is building the capacity of farmers and managers. We plan to support the market manager and farmers in attending a Project for Public Spaces workshop and Northeast Organic Farming Association conference, to bring back best practices and ideas. We are also planning to work closely with Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) in developing a market sustainability plan that draws on best practices for successful mixed- and low-income markets.

The Northeast SARE grant allowed the Mason Square Farmers’ Market and North Adams Farmers' Market to grow significantly in 2008 and head into the 2009 season with a lot of community support, energy, and involvement. In Mason Square, there is even talk of developing a year-round market or community kitchen using local produce from the market’s farmers. Meanwhile, the North Adams market is planning to expand its offerings through entertainment and activities that will make it a tourist destination. Thanks to your support, residents now have a reliable source of affordable fresh produce that is getting bigger each year.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.