The Community Market Project

Final Report for CNE12-093

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,369.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Erin Buckwalter
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont
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Project Information

Summary:

Farmers’ markets are an indispensable part of maintaining and enhancing Vermont’s farms, local food systems and agricultural knowledge. This project seeks to bolster the stability and sustainable growth of farmers’ markets in Vermont by providing much needed professional development and networking opportunities for farmers’ market organizers. By developing the strength and stability of farmers’ markets, this project has the potential to improve direct to consumer sales for hundreds of Vermont agricultural producers.

Project Objectives:

The performance targets, as proposed, are as follows.  Progress towards meeting the performance targets are detailed below under Outcomes and Impacts.   Market Learning Community Performance Targets:  All participating markets will be required to complete a project verification survey at the end of their participation in the first phase of professional development trainings and workshops.  The survey will allow us to analyze changes to knowledge in four core areas identified by Vermont farmers’ markets as key to enhancing professional development efforts: board development and governance, evaluating promotions and outreach, market regulations and safety, and building sustainable market budgets.       *All participating markets will have identified the appropriate management and governance structure to fit their market size and needs.  If they are not already operating within that structure, they will have created a strategic plan of how to get there.   *All markets will have adopted bylaws and created guidelines.   *All markets will have a Board of Directors or advisory committee, depending on market size and needs.   *All markets will have developed a market budget.   *60% of participating markets believe they have increased their profitability and viability as a result of their participation in this project.   *60% of the participating markets will have increased their agricultural sales by 10% from the market season prior to starting the program (2011) to the season after completing the program (2013).

Introduction:

In the fall of 2012, NOFA-VT piloted a Market Learning Community with the goals of 1) providing professional development opportunities for farmers markets to enhance profitability and long term viability of markets, and 2) building a highly functional farmers’ market learning community.  This program has consisted of four regional roundtables in November and December of 2012; six meetings with the Vermont Farmers’ Market Association during their 2012-2013 session focusing on the development of best practices, statewide Direct Marketing Conference (DMC) on January 13, 2013; five regional roundtables in October-December 2013; four meetings with the Vermont Farmers’ Market Association during their 2013-2014 session (prior to 2/28 grant end date), and the statewide DMC on January 12, 2014.  In 2014, the DMC was redesigned as a more interactive gathering for markets to network both by region and statewide by piloting a new intensive farmers’ market organizer track.  This track featured longer, small-group working sessions where participants worked through a workbook or other materials to simultaneously find solutions and build resources for their farmers’ market.

Research

Materials and methods:

We had initially proposed to collaborate with the Vermont Farmers Market Association (VTFMA) to develop and pilot a professional development training program for 10 market manager/board member teams. Those 10 managers would attend 4 trainings over the course of the first year of the program, and then would become market mentors, pairing with one or more markets from their region in the second year of the project.  In addition, we had the support of the Castanea Foundation, so the trainings would be coupled with resources for the markets selected to pilot this program. The Castanea Foundation had pledged $25,000, which we had hoped could be used to provide a $2,500 grant for each market participating in the professional development program for expenses associated with attending trainings and a need identified by that market (i.e. consultant to work with market board on board development, regional promotion plan with other neighboring markets). The markets that received training would become the trainers to other markets in year 2 of the project by presenting at the annual Direct Marketing Conference, and facilitating a regional learning group.       Since we first proposed this grant, we revised our strategy for implementing the professional development-training program in order to make the trainings available to more markets.  In the fall of 2012, NOFA-VT piloted a Market Learning Community with the goals of 1) providing professional development opportunities for farmers markets to enhance profitability and long term viability of markets, and 2) building a highly functional farmers’ market learning community.  The components of this learning community were as follows:   1. Held four regional roundtables in November and December of 2012;   2. Held six meetings with the Vermont Farmers’ Market Association during 2012-2013 to develop best practices for farmers market governance, safety and marketing,   3.  Organized a statewide Direct Marketing Conference (DMC), held on January 13, 2013;   4.  Held five regional roundtables in October-December 2013;   5.  Held four meetings with the Vermont Farmers’ Market Association during 2013-2014 (prior to 2/28 grant end date), and   6.  Organized a statewide Direct Marketing Confrerence, held on January 12, 2014.  In 2014, the DMC was redesigned as a more interactive gathering for markets to network both by region and statewide by piloting a day-long farmers’ market organizer track.  This track featured longer, small-group working sessions where participants worked through handouts and other materials to simultaneously find solutions and build resources for their farmers’ market while benefitting from sharing knowledge and resources with other markets in attendance.       As noted above, the Castanea Foundation pledged $25,000 to this project but not for the mini-grants, as we originally proposed, but to support the broader market learning community goals of this project.  Because of this, we were not able to secure funding for markets to apply for $2,500 mini-grants to support their individual professional development needs. Since we did not receive funds for these mini-grants, we have been looking into alternative ways to support markets advanced professional development training.  To this end, we have worked with the New England Grassroots Environment Fund (NEGEF) and the Vermont Farm Viability program to fund professional development for markets.  NEGEF has provided a GROW grant to the West River Farmers’ Market to do board development work and is interested in funding other farmers’ markets (GROW grants provide funding between $1,000 and $3,500).  The Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program is expanding their focus from providing technical assistance in business planning to farms to other agricultural related businesses and is in process of piloting working with farmers’ markets this 2013-2014 year with the Middlebury Farmers’ Market.  We are working closely with them on this pilot and, if successful, we hope the Farm Viability Program will offer 1-2 other markets business planning, strategic planning, and/or marketing planning support in 2014/2015.

Research results and discussion:

Status of reaching performance target:  Although the proposal, as written, was designed so that 10 markets would participate in an in-depth program, we adjusted the format to allow any markets in the state to participate.  This change was made to provide the opportunity for more markets to participate and to provide a more robust learning community among markets statewide. In addition, without funding for individual market mini-grants, we adjusted the deliverables to reflect work that was completed in-group settings, instead of one-on-one.       In the first phase of this project, instead of releasing an RFP for market participation in the market learning community, we contacted all of the farmers’ market managers to confirm their professional development needs, and to assess their interest and availability to attend regional trainings.  In our grant proposal, we proposed the following four trainings, which were confirmed as priority professional development topics when we surveyed the market managers:   1. Evaluating Effective Promotions and Making Strategic Marketing Investments   2. Safe Food Handling and Implementing Market Regulations   3. Developing an Effective Board   4 Building Budgets of a Sustainable Market       We developed these trainings in consultation with the Vermont Farmers Market Association board, and Darlene Wolnik, a farmers’ market consultant and current Market Programs Advisor for the Farmers Market Coalition. Four professional development regional roundtables were held in November and December 2012, on two of the training topics:  Building Sustainable Market Budgets and Evaluating Effective Promotions and Making Strategic Marketing Investments.       Markets were invited to attend any of the roundtables and could attend more than one, but were encouraged to attend the one in their region to provide networking opportunities with their neighbor markets.  The dates of the 2013 trainings, and number of attendees were as follows:   –       November 28th in St. Johnsbury focused on Building Sustainable Budgets, 8 participants   –       December 3rd in Winooski focused on Building Sustainable Budgets, 10 participants   –       December 4th in White River Junction focused on Marketing/Promotions, 18 participants   –       December 6th in Middlebury focused on Marketing/Promotions, 8 participants   –       Two other roundtables were planned, one for Bennington and another for Brattleboro, but not enough RSVPs were received and they were canceled.       A total of 44 participants attended the four roundtables. The Vermont Farmers’ Market Association (VTFMA) collaborated with NOFA-VT to provide outreach to VTFMA members about these events.  Four VTFMA board members also attended – providing meaningful feedback about how the VTFMA can support their member markets and partner with NOFA-VT to provide further professional development trainings and support.       At the January 2013 Direct Marketing Conference, two trainings were held:  Food Safety at Farmers’ Markets and Farmers’ Market Governance.  With their matching grant, the Castanea Foundation provided sponsored a registration for each market to send a representative to the January 2013 DMC and 36 market organizers attended.   In addition, the Vermont Farmers’ Market Association held their annual meeting at the Direct Marketing Conference.  The key focus at the meeting was to gather input on the needs for the development of best practices for markets. Based on this feedback, the VTFMA and NOFA-VT staff created a series of best practices documents to guide the work of Vermont farmers’ markets. These documents are intended as guides, not standards.  The intention of these guides is to promote ideas for marketing, governance, and safety practices that, if followed, will help markets thrive. The VTFMA focused on three of the four key issues identified in the grant proposal:  governance, market safety (including food safety), and marketing.  These guides can be found here: http://vtfma.org/index.php/membership/best-practices-for-farmers-markets. It has been identified that a best practice guide is needed for budgeting/accounting/record keeping and the VTFMA is will develop that in the future.       During the summer 2013 season, NOFA-VT staff visited 9 markets across the state to observe and consult with markets on topics ranging from marketing, governance issues, and supporting  the market’s food access programs.  NOFA-VT staff also consulted on the phone frequently with many market organizers from across the state requesting support.       Five regional roundtables were held in October – December 2013. Based on feedback from participants at the 2012 roundtables that they wanted time primarily for networking, and due to the fact that there were intensive working sessions scheduled for the 2014 DMC, we took out the training component from the roundtables and held 3 hour meetings that were primarily networking sessions. These sessions were very well received. Markets were invited to attend any of the roundtables and could attend more than one, but were encouraged to attend the one in their region to provide networking opportunities with their neighboring markets. The dates of the 2013 roundtable networking sessions and attendance were as follows:   –       October 28th in Essex Jct, 12 market representatives   –       November 5th in Rutland, 8 market representatives   –       November 11th in St. Johnsbury, 5 market representatives   –       December 4th in Brattleboro, 2 market representatives (due to illness and conflicts, multiple folks who had pre-registered missed the meeting)   –       December 10th in Norwich, 9 market representatives   –       One other roundtable was planned for Bennington but all of the interested Bennington Co. folks ended up coming to the meeting in Rutland.       A total of 36 participants attended the 2013 roundtables.  The Vermont Farmers’ Market Association (VTFMA) collaborated with NOFA-VT to provide outreach to VTFMA members about these events. Four VTFMA board members also attended – providing meaningful feedback about how the VTFMA can support their member markets and partner with NOFA-VT to provide further professional development trainings and support.       On January 12, 2014, we held an intensive farmers’ market professional development track at the 2014 DMC. The trainings making up this intensive track were:   –       Building High Impact Board Teams:  Leadership Skills that Make the Difference   –       Marketing Tools, Best Practices, & Guidelines for Better Organizing & Promoting Farmers’ Markets   –       Making the Case for Your Market in Your Community   –       Flagship Market Roundtable.   We again had funds, this time from a USDA Farmers’ Market Promotion Grant, to enable one market organizer from each VTFMA member market to attend the DMC for free – a great way to increase participation in this professional development opportunity.  Thirty-four market representatives attended the conference.       Now that this project is over, we will continue to build upon the strong relationships that market managers have developed.  We will pair markets that are looking for mentorship with markets that have experience.  We believe that these mentorships will strengthen the connections between markets and contribute to stronger markets.       To evaluate progress towards meeting our performance targets, participants in the regional roundtables and Direct Marketing Conferences completed surveys. These surveys allowed us to analyze changes in knowledge in the professional development area discussed at the event as well as other performance targets.  The results of the survey are noted below.       Performance Target 1: All participating markets will have identified the appropriate management and governance structure to fit their market size and needs. If they are not already operating within that structure, they will have created a strategic plan of how to get there.       Performance Target 2:All markets will have adopted bylaws and created guidelines.       Performance Target 3: All markets will have a Board of Directors or advisory committee, depending on market size and needs.       Status of Performance Target 1, 2, and 3:   All of the markets participating in the 2013 roundtables reported having bylaws and a board or steering committee (or are incorporated under an organization that does).  Many of the markets indicate that they would like to revise/update their bylaws and/or that their board is not as active as they would like.  Although we do not have funding to work individually with markets, we can address this need by pairing a market needing support with a mentor market, hosting workshops at our Direct Marketing Conference, and developing best practices documents that address these needs.       Performance Target 4:All markets will have developed a market budget.       Status of Performance Target 4:   The VTFMA has determined that a best practice document on farmers market financials is important and is looking into the resources it would take to develop one. In addition, NOFA-VT has determined that while best practices like those that the VTFMA will develop will help markets, markets will need individual support to make these changes at their markets.  We believe that with the support of organizations like NEGEF and Vermont Farm Viability, we will make progress in 2014 on this issue.       Performance Target 5: 60% of participating market representatives believe they have increased their profitability and viability as a result of their participation in this project.       Status of Performance Target 5:   –       Participants in the Farmers Market Governance Workshop at the 2013 DMC were asked, ‘As a market, do you feel like you are better prepared to maintain and increase the success of your market management due to your participation in this program?’ 93% (14 of 15 market representatives) who responded to the written survey said yes.   –       Participants in the Food Safety at Farmers’ Markets Workshop at the 2013 DMC, were asked,‘As a market, do you feel like you are better prepared to maintain and increase the success of your market management due to your participation in this program?’ 93% (13 of 14 market representatives) who responded to the written survey said yes.   –       When asked at the 2013 Regional Roundtables participant survey, “On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = Not at all and 5 = Yes!), do you feel like you got ideas that will help you increase the profitability of your market due to your participation in this roundtable?”, the responses were: 1 – 0 votes; 2 – 3 votes; 3 – 4 votes; 4 – 9 votes; 5 – 8 votes.  This equates to 71% of responding markets choosing 4 or 5.   –       When surveyed after attending the 2014 DMC intensive farmers’ market track, “On a scale of 1 to 5 (1=Not at all and 5=Yes!) do you feel like you got ideas that will help you increase the profitability of your market due to your participation in this conference?”, the responses were: 1 – 1 vote; 2 – 0 votes; 3 – 4 votes; 4 – 4 votes, 5 – 10 votes.  This equates to 74% of responding markets choosing 4 or 5.       Performance Target 6: 60% of the participating markets will have increased their agricultural sales by 10% from the market season prior to starting the program (2011) to the season after completing the program (2013).       Status of Performance Target 6: We were only able to evaluate the market that participated in both the 2011 and 2013 annual surveys.  Eighteen participating markets completed both the 2011 and 2013 annual surveys. Of those markets, 14 markets self-reported an increase or stayed level (78%) while 10 markets self-reported an increase of 10% or more (56%).  This performance measure was problematic due to the fact that many markets reported for one year, but not the other so it was challenging to get comparable data.  In addition, there were occasionally errors found in the math of some of the markets and additional errors may have not been found.  In general, the majority of markets reported that their gross sales were increasing.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Our outreach used existing resources for information sharing including the annual Direct Marketing Conference, the existing networks of the VTFMA (such as the VTFMA listserv), and the NOFA-VT email lists for market organizers.  We developed the training session resources to ensure that the training materials are accessible to other markets and market associations around the country. Furthermore, the burgeoning market mentorship component of the project will encourage members of the Learning Community to share critical lessons learned with markets throughout their region and the VTFMA is exploring hosting more peer-to-peer learning opportunities such as webinars and conference calls for VT markets.       The three best practices documents that the VTFMA created are attached.       Below are resources developed for the regional roundtables and the Direct Marketing Conferences.  

  • Sustainable Budgeting – Jane VanBuren (attached)  
  • Marketing & Promotions – Rachel Carter (attached)
  • Marketing Farmers’ Markets – Calley Hastings (attached)
  • Food Safety at Farmers’ Markets (attached)
  • Making the Case for Your Market – Darlene Wolnik (attached)
  • Marketing Tools, Best Practices & Guidelines for Better Organizing and Promoting Farmers’ Markets – Pam Knights (attached)
  • Building High-Impact Board Teams: Leadership Skills that Make a Difference – Lizann Peyton (attached)
  • Governance & Policy Best Practices final

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Quotes from participants of the 2012 Regional Roundtables are below in response to the question:  What did you like about this networking session?:   –       “I love hearing about other markets and having someone to bounce ideas off.”   –       “Open, people were speaking freely.”   –       “We identified similar challenges and brainstormed solutions.”   –       “A chance to hear ideas on fundraising.  Learn about the variety of structures.”       At the 2012 Regional Roundtables, when asked ‘As a market, do you feel like you are better prepared to maintain and increase profitability of your market due to your participation in this program?’, 21 of 22 people who responded said yes.       Quotes from the 2013 DMC Farmers Market Governance Workshop market participants are below:   –       “I have been managing this market for 7 years.  Still keeping up with changing times is important to me.  I feel attending workshops such as this helps me stay informed and aware of new ideas.”   –       “Yes better informed. Can bring ideas to the board.”   –       “Keep the workshops like this coming!”       Quote from a 2013 DMC Farmers Market Food Safety Workshop market participant is below:   –       “This is the second time I have participated in this workshop.  Each time I have obtained valuable information.”       Quotes from 2013 Roundtables market participants are below:   –       “It is always good to have discussions with market management – new ideas always emerge”   –       “I never have an opportunity to connect with other managers and this was perfect”   –       “I have felt very isolated in this job – it was great talking to others with experience”   –       “I had a chance to really hash out some issues around manager vs. board responsibilities with people with different kinds of markets, but who knew what I was dealing with.”       When asked if key issues discussed at the 2013 roundtables increased their level of understanding on the issues, 91% (21 of 23 market participants) who responded rated their level of understanding as greater after the roundtable than before.       One hundred percent of 2013 roundtable survey respondents when asked “Do you think NOFA-VT should do roundtables again in 2014?” said yes!       Quote from the 2014 Direct Marketing Conference farmers’ market intensive track participants are below:   –       “Can’t wait to use some of the tools I learned to promote our markets.”   –       “So glad you all keep doing this conference – gets better each year – seriously!!!”   –       “This track revved me up for a new season and has turned my thoughts toward developing the future of the market.”   –       “Got ideas flowing, looking at farmers’ market decision in a new way; refreshing.”

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

This project made a significant contribution at a time when consumers in Vermont are seeking to source more of their food locally, farmers are scaling up to meet that demand, and markets need to be highly functional and well managed to serve as a reliable market outlet for farmers.   The increase in high-quality professional development and networking opportunities made available through this grant contributed to farmers market organizers in Vermont who have the tools to increase the profitability and viability of their markets. As a result, this project was able to directly impact the viability of farmers markets as a vital direct marketing link for farmers in Vermont.

Future Recommendations

This project has helped markets identify areas where they need more intensive support, yet as we have developed this Market Learning Community markets have stated loud and clear that in order to participate in an in-depth training program (such as was initially proposed) they need financial resources.  Therefore, NOFA-VT is partnering with other organizations such as the VTFMA, NEGEF and the Vermont Farm Viability Program to find resources for markets to access and afford this intensive support, in addition to developing a market mentor program.  Many of these issues need in-depth one-on-one technical assistance for which funding is challenging to find – supporting this one-on-one technical assistance in addition to collective technical assistance is imperative to markets being able to put into action the changes they see as necessary by attending roundtables and conferences.    

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.