The Neighborhood Market has been successful as an innovative way to connect local farms with low-income consumers. In the 2011 season 78 participants and 6 farms participated in two Neighborhood Market sites in Brattleboro, VT. $12,523.96 was generated for farmers, a 60% increase in revenue from 2010. Income from EBT (food stamps) doubled from 2010, with EBT dollars bringing in $2,243, or 18% of total 2011 income.
Participants learned about local farms and foods through weekly newsletters, weekly taste tests, on site cooking classes, and farm visits. Six area organizations partnered with the market to provide outreach and volunteer support: VT Department of Health, Brattleboro Food Co-op, AIDS Project of Southern VT, Windham Child Care Association, VT Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, and Early Education Services. A Tip Sheet was created to share with other organizations and farms that includes best practices and lessons learned. We are developing potential new markets for the 2012 season.
Leading up to the opening of the market we met with over 20 organizations, schools and community groups and disseminated more than 1000 flyers, advertised on radio, and attended community events to let people know about the Neighborhood Market.
At the beginning, middle and end of the project we planned to administer surveys to assess the knowledge, attitudes and skills of the participants. We decided to administer a survey only at the end of the market for various reasons, including staffing limitations and a sense that there was too much going on with cooking classes and farm visit recruitment. We were also getting feedback informally through interactions at the market about the set-up of market and the quality and variety of produce. In September we received surveys from 50% of participants. Over 60% of those responding reported an increase in knowledge, skills, and attitudes about local food and farming. At the end of the market we planned to conduct two participant focus groups with five people in each group. We ended up having one focus group with four participants. These participants shared openly about their problems with the market and what they learned because of the market. A couple of highlights were that people noticed that they ate a lot more vegetables because of their participation in the market, and that the educational activities at the market were helpful for their families. One suggestion was to send out the recipes for the cooking classes the week before to get more people to sign up. We also conducted a survey of 30 people in the neighborhood where the market is located who did not participate in the market. While there wasn’t anything too surprising from these results it was a chance to get out and talk to people who live in the neighborhood and to listen to what people have to say. Who knows…maybe they’ll sign up next year because of the conversation!
Our goal for the season was to provide a successful new market for up to 5 new farmers; this goal was accomplished. Our goal was that by the end of the season there would be at least 65 full market baskets involved for total revenue of $19,700. While we had 78 total participants there were only 38 full baskets for total revenue of $12,523.96. We fell short of our goal, but we feel more prepared to plan accurately for next year. One of the reasons for not meeting our goal is that since so many participants in 2010 indicated they would be returning in 2011 we thought we would be starting with more participants. As it turned out only 15 returned from 2010. So we had a lot more recruiting to do than we thought.
At the end of the project we conducted a focus group with 7 farmers representing 4 farms to evaluate the project from their perspective. Many ideas, concerns, and issues were raised, and we are working with the farmers this winter to come up with solutions. One example is finding new ways of connecting participants with farms by having photos of farmers with their farm signs up at market every week. Another example is finding ways of improving communication between the Market Manager and farmers about what produce will be offered at market every week. Farmers would also like more clarification on the prices they are receiving for the produce they are supplying. We met our goal for 5 farmers to continue to sell produce in the Neighborhood Market project. One farm of the 6 involved this year will not continue because the time of the market doesn’t work for them.
There is a strong local food movement in the Brattleboro, Vermont area, as well as throughout New England. Unfortunately, people of low-income are often left out of conversations about how best to improve the local food system. A good example would be in deciding where to host a Farmers Market. In the work of Post Oil Solutions leading up to this SARE grant, we listened to low-income consumers and learned of the barriers for them to consume local food. The Neighborhood Market is a result of these conversations. In addition, our area is rich with small diversified farms, and it is difficult for a new farm to find new markets and not compete with existing and successful farms. We were able to work with new farmers to support the development of a small new market outlet for them. Finally, we worked hard to engage a wide variety of community partners to support a market that successfully bridges the gap between low-income consumers, who want to keep prices low, and famers, who need a fair price to survive.
The Neighborhood Market brought together new farmers and participants, who committed to participate for a 15 week season. The participants self-identified as low-income, defined as qualifying for food stamps. The farmers joined together to sell their produce at a wholesale price (roughly 25% less than their retail price). The vegetables were delivered weekly to the market, where participants assembled their own baskets. The market is located in a convenient downtown location with close access to low-income housing sites in a generally low-income residential area. Consumers can pay with EBT foodstamps, cash, and check. They can pay for the year upfront or on a monthly or weekly basis.
This model integrates education and community building with marketing produce. Each week there was a newsletter giving information about the market and highlighting a vegetable, including recipes for how to cook and preserve that vegetable. Every week there was a special activity including community meals, farm visit, food preservation demonstrations, and taste tests. These activities were aimed at helping people to reconnect with their food: where it comes from, how to prepare it, and providing opportunities to enjoy food together as a community.
The Neighborhood Market model provides increased market opportunities for farmers who are getting started and at the same time increases the affordability and accessibility of local produce for low-income consumers. Since the farmers want to continue being a part of the market in the 2012 season and we were able to increase the revenue that they brought in during 2011, we can assume that the market is a beneficial arrangement for them. And since we increased the numbers of participants in the market from the 2010 season, and also the number of EBT dollars used at the market, we can also assume that the market is a good model for low-income consumers. There were many people who participated in 2010 who did not participate again in 2011 because they had started their own garden, or were joining a full season CSA, which is also a sign of the effectiveness of getting more low-income consumers knowledgeable about healthy eating and involved in the local food economy.
The Neighborhood Market model resonates with many people, even if they are not actively participating. Just sharing the idea of the market widely at network and regional meetings gets a conversation started about access and affordability of local food and helps to increase the awareness of how our local food system is not meeting the needs of everyone. So hopefully this idea will also generate other innovative projects and keep the conversation going about how local food needs to be for everybody if it is going to work.
In 2011 Post Oil Solutions, with the support of the NESARE grant, worked to expand the Neighborhood Market model to new locations. There was a start up in Townsend and there was a market in West Brattleboro at a mixed-income housing site. These two sites were not successful for a variety of reasons. This led us to the conclusion that the Neighborhood Market model is not as easy to replicate as we had hoped. However, there are lessons learned which can be applied in a variety of ways according to various situations (see potential contributions and the tip sheet).
One outcome of this project is the development of the potential of using the Windham Farm and Food Network (WFFN) to create new Neighborhood Markets and to supplement existing Neighborhood Markets with wholesale produce. The Windham Farm and Food Network (WFFN) is a not-for-profit delivery service for wholesale food producers and buyers in the Windham County Region. The WFFN is now coordinated by Post Oil Solutions with development support from UVM Extension. One of the main goals is to expand Neighborhood Markets. UVM Extension is using the WFFN as a model for regional use, and therefore any Neighborhood Market development will be shared as a component of the model.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
The Neighborhood Market is one of the primary projects that Post Oil Solutions is working on to build a community-based food system. On the regional level, outreach is happening that encourages communities to think about low-income food access issues and potential solutions. The Neighborhood Market model has been shared with a wide range of community organizations, as well as at conferences including the NOFA-VT Direct Marketing and Winter Conferences.
Feedback from outreach efforts convinced us that publishing a How-To Guide for developing Neighborhood Markets was not the best use of our time. From conversations we learned that many interested groups didn’t have the time or resources to replicate our model. Indeed, a high level of time and resources is needed to develop a Neighborhood Market and there are very few places where this exact style of market is applicable. So, instead of a guide we have put together a “Tip Sheet” with the more general theme of bridging the gap between low-income consumers and local farms. It includes our best practices and lessons learned. We continue our outreach with specific offers to support any efforts to build the bridge between low-income consumers and local farmers.
Six farmers and 78 people (not including family members – we estimate total # impacted at around 156) participated in a 15-week season. 78 participants and 6 farms participated in two Neighborhood Market sites in Brattleboro, VT. $12,523.96 was generated for farmers, a 60% increase in revenue from 2010. Income from EBT (food stamps) doubled from 2010, with EBT dollars bringing in $2,243, or 18% of total 2011 income.
There were 38 low-income participants, 24 full-price participants, and 6 organizational participants. One result of the market make-up is that participants, farmers and organizers all agree the market is an opportunity to reduce stigmas and bring people together from all incomes, as well as increase the money going to farmers. The steering committee decided that next year the market will be open for 50% low-income and 50% full-price, while the marketing will still be primarily focused on getting low-income participants involved.
The market is very much about education and building community, especially between consumers and farmers. Each week there was a newsletter giving information about the market and highlighting a vegetable, including recipes for how to cook and preserve that vegetable. There were weekly taste tests organized by the Brattleboro Food Co-op and the Boys and Girls Club. There were farm visits to each farm. And there were free cooking classes offered. These educational offerings added so much to the market that there is increased energy to offer them again next year. Although the attendance for the cooking classes (30 people) and farm visits (9 people) was not what we had hoped, the people who did attend had an overwhelmingly positive experience that contributed to their increased knowledge, attitude and skills. Some ideas for increasing involvement in these two offerings include alternating cooking demonstrations at the market with classes in an adjoining kitchen, and starting farm visit sign ups far in advance and combining visits with special activities on the farm.
Evaluating the project is an important part of making it work. We conducted a written survey of market participants at the end of the market. We conducted a survey of 30 people who live in the neighborhood who were not a part of the market. See the attached survey templates below. We had small group discussions with organizers, farmers, and participants. All of this feedback is helping us to better understand how to make the market work for people, for farmers, and for the community. Some results of these evaluations are included under section Objectives/Performance Targets.
- It is possible to develop convenient and affordable infrastructure that meets the demand by low-income consumers for local food.
Growing food for low-income community members is a potential new market for new farmers.
Adding an educational component to a market is an important way to bring about the change in knowledge, skills and attitude that needs to happen to build a community-based food system. It is also a boost to building community.
Farm to School programs would benefit from options to continue learning throughout the summer. Creating a food access project, such as the Neighborhood Market, connects the classroom learning to the growing season.
A wide variety of non-profit organizations, service agencies, government agencies, businesses, and individuals can successfully work together to address a common goal of increased nutrition and health for low-income consumers as well as economic development and sustainable food production.
For any project to be successful it is important to have funding for competent staff that are coordinating and ensuring project sustainability. The Neighborhood Market model does not provide for a coordinator salary, and we feel that since one of the main goals of the market is education and behavior change, it is possible to develop a sustainable, community-based funding source to cover the costs of the market.
- We recommend developing fall and winter options using the Neighborhood Market model.
We recommend connecting Farm to School programs with low-income access projects year-round.
We recommend developing markets that can lower costs of produce and market coordination by using efficiencies of scale of production, aggregation, distribution, and accounting. The Windham Farm and Food Network is now piloting a new model based on this idea.