Strengthening Rural Communities Through Direct Marketing

Final Report for CS03-009

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2003: $9,941.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Gerry Alfano
Park and Recreation-Greensboro Farmers Curb Market
Susan Andreatta
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
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Project Information


The purpose of this project was to support and sustain healthy rural communities in the northern Piedmont of North Carolina by increasing farmers’ and consumers’ participation at a local farmers market. Small farmers increasingly encounter challenges and obstacles as they look for alternative growing and marketing strategies to sustain their livelihood. Many small farmers find themselves faced with limited capital, time, labor and resources. In addition, many small farmers produce in limited quantities so traditional wholesale market outlets are not a viable option. This project, therefore, was designed to bring the urban community more in touch with the farming community, increase farmer and consumer participation at a local market and encourage younger and new people to be involved in the market.


Increased support for small, diverse, multi-crop farmers can help mitigate the challenges of the industrial food system with its reliance on large-scale monoculture and its long-distance distribution system. It is desired that by increasing reliance on local farm products purchased at local farmers markets facilitates communities’ participation in moving towards a sustainable agricultural-food system. Farmers markets are a critical part of the system that brings local food to local tables and restaurants.
The number of farmers markets in the United States has increased. According to the National Farmers Market Directory, there are over 3,000 farmers markets operating in the United States. Farmers markets provide an opportunity for growers to sell directly to consumers, chefs, food purveyors and food designers. They are a place of business as well as a location for building community, allowing consumers and farmers to become more closely connected. Many small farmers rely on farmers markets as a valuable part of their total farm operation. For consumers, these markets are an ideal place to purchase fresh, locally grown farm products while being able to interact and learn from the people that grew or raised it.
For nearly a decade, few new farmers have come to sell at the Greensboro Farmer Curbside Market (GFCM), a trend found throughout North Carolina. Young people are not choosing farming as an occupation, whether they come from farming families or are new to the farming lifestyle. Moreover, the average age of farmers for North Carolina is 56 years, similar to the aging trend among farmers in the United States. As a first step, farmers and the farmers market coordinator for the GFCM were interested in having Project Green Leaf (PGL) develop a study to examine what farmers, vendors and the public like and dislike about this particularly long standing market. The data gathered are to be used to sustain and increase farmer’s, vendor’s and the public’s support of the farmers market.

Project Objectives:

The objectives of this project are to:
1. Provide younger generation and transitioning farmers (farmers looking for alternatives to tobacco and row crops) education on sustainable agriculture practices.
2. Provide younger generation and transitioning farmers the skills and opportunity to sell agricultural products at an established farmers market.
3. Provide participants education on marketing, nutrition, food preparation, preservation, and leadership skills.
4. Increase public access to local, sustainably produced food.


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  • Misty Rhyne


Materials and methods:

Three direct marketing presentations were made to farmers and vendors. In year one there were 30 people in attendance at the initial presentation. In the second year two presentations were made; 35 people were in attendance at the first and 60 people were in attendance for the second presentation.

In year one three surveys were conducted on farmers, vendors and consumers about their use of the local market and their suggestions for modifications, if any. The data from the surveys were compiled in a report form and mailed to all of the farmers and vendors registered as having sold at the market the previous year.

Farmers and Vendors
The Park and Recreation Market Coordinator consulted with the farmers market manager and the advisory board in assisting PGL in developing appropriate questions that would provide an understanding of the GFCM as it is used by farmers and vendors. A one page questionnaire was designed with twenty-five closed and open ended questions. To maintain anonymity, PGL staff mailed out the questionnaire with an enclosed stamped envelop addressed to PGL to the sixty-six households who sold at the GFCM the previous year (2003).
Consumers With respect to consumers, a one page questionnaire was developed in consort with farmer and vendor input, the farmers market advisory board, the farmers market coordinator and manager, and PGL staff. The questionnaire was designed to be administered while customers were visiting the GFCM. For four Saturdays, on the designated interview days, consumers were surveyed about their use of the GFCM as a source fresh farm products and homemade crafts. The first two interviews were conducted in April (n=109, n=110), a third in June (n=88) and the fourth in July (n=33) of 2004. Consumers could respond only once to the questionnaire. Varying when the questionnaires were administered was strategic to obtain a range of comments and insights during the summer market season. Interviewing commenced in the spring, as such biased the sample, for that is when two-thirds of the data were collected. A total of 341 one-on-one interviews were conducted.

An attendance of market visitors was taken July 2004, March 2005 and May 2005. Three counters (people counting) were positioned to watch five doors. Two counters had clear sight of two doors each and were able to record those who entered the door, while one person was in position to count only those who entered through the one door. Attendance was monitored from 6:00am to 12:00pm the hours of operation on Saturday market day. Counters were asked to click on a manual counter those who passed through the doors and manually record the hour in which they entered. After three hours of head counting two counters changed and two new counters took over. One counter remained in position the entire time

Funding was made available to the market director for advertising. It was recognized that consumer support at the market was crucial to maintaining the market’s success. Weekly advertising on the radio, some newspaper ads and other promotional activities were carried out to increase consumer and farmer attendance at GFCM.

Research results and discussion:

The surveys received from farmers, vendors and the public revealed long term commitment to the market. The market has been in operation for more than 125 years. It has been in its present location for over forty. The farmers reported farming on average nearly 30 years, again ranging from 4 years to 74 years of experience. These farmers have maintained a strong loyalty to the GFCM. The average number of years for farmers selling at this market was 22 years.
The GFCM also has loyal long-time market supporters (consumers). On average consumers have been coming nearly 16 years, ranging from first timers to nearly 80 years back when the market was located on Commerce Street in Downtown Greensboro. Approximately 27% report coming to the market for 5 years or less and 10% have been coming for over thirty years. Anecdotally, a number of third generation market shoppers of this market were self-identified.
Supporting a Local Economy It is clear from the data that the GFCM supports a local economy. Approximately 94% of the respondents reside in Guilford County and of those 89% were from Greensboro. Approximately 67% travel on average five miles or less to the market, while 22% travel between 6-10 miles and 11% travel more than 11 miles to come to the market. When comparing length of time coming to the market and how far consumers travel, the data indicate that those coming to the market for less than five years (n=116) travel less than five miles to the market (68%). Among those traveling between six and ten miles to the market (n=70), 28% have been coming to the market for six to ten years.

Amount Spent at Market
Of the 340 who responded to this question on average 26% reported they spend between $16-$20. Among the eighty-nine consumers who reported spending between$16-$20, 56% have been supporting the market for six or more years, and of those fifty-five (18%) come at least twice a month to purchase from the market. There were six respondents who said they spend $100 or more when they come to the market.

Lastly, the data obtained from the attendance count focused on the hours in which the public visited the market and the doors they passed through to enter the market. There were three Saturday market days when visitor attendance was recorded: July 17, 2004 (Tomato Day), March 19, 2005 and May 7, 2005 (Strawberry Day and the day before Mother’s Day). A UNCG student was posted at one of the open doors. A student counted at the Homeland Ave Bridge Door, the Yanceyville Street Door, the side door also near to the Yanceyville Street Door, and Lindsay Street where a number of the farmers park. During the July 17th count, the garage door along side the Lindsay Street entrance was opened enabling people to enter from other the Lindsay door or garage door. Students used a counter to keep a continuous count of how many people entered each door they observed. In addition, assistants recorded the hour in which people entered the market. The attendance count began at 6:00 am and was completed at 12:00 pm on each of the three Saturdays a count was obtained. On July 17th 1854 people visited the market, while on March 19th the attendance was 534 and on May 7th it was 2237 visitors.

These data provide insight into when the market is most frequently visited. It appears the hours from 7:00 am – 10:00 am the market gets a high level of traffic.

Table 1. July 17, 2004 Tomato Day
Yanceyville St./Lindsay Side Small Door Lindsay St and Garage Homeland Ave/Bridge Total
6:00- 7:00 56 91 186
7:00-8:00 83 105 241
8:00-9:00 97 80 225
9:00- 10:00 63 75 195
10:00-11:00 47 38 191
11:00-12:00 8 21 52
Total 354 410 1090

Table 2. March 19, 2005
Yanceyville St. Door Yanceyville St./Lindsay Side Small Door Lindsay Door* Homeland Ave Bridge Door Total
6:00- 7:00 1 2 14 14
7:00-8:00 5 3 32 40
8:00-9:00 8 6 81 82
9:00- 10:00 7 2 54 55
10:00-11:00 1 1 44 25
11:00-12:00 31 26
Total 22 14 256 242
*Garage door was closed on this day

Table 3. May 7, 2005 – Strawberry Day
Yanceyville St. Door Yanceyville St./Lindsay Small Door Lindsay Door* Homeland Ave Bridge Door Total
6:00- 7:00 15 11 41 119
7:00-8:00 51 48 104 225
8:00-9:00 73 47 103 335
9:00- 10:00 63 68 116 315
10:00-11:00 32 17 110 192
11:00-12:00 7 12 57 76
Total 241 203 531 1262
*Garage door was closed on this day

While participating in the attendance count it was observed that some drivers would drive through the garage door side of the parking area, if they did not find a spot they left, not bothering to look elsewhere for a parking place. Access to parking for customers, farmers and vendors is central to making this market a success.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

At present there are two publications under review. There are two reports for the market and a copy of each is being sent to the Southern Reginal SARE Office with this report. In addition, I will be presenting the material at future conferences.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

All of the information obtained from the surveys and the attendance counts have been given to the farmers, vendors, the market manager and coordinator at the market.

From the consumer questionnaire it is apparent that farmers and vendors are selling to predominantly two person households. Although many of these people have been coming to the market for fifteen years or more, it is clear they are not purchasing in vast quantities, suggesting they might not be eating or cooking at home as often. This information was provided to the farmers to help with packaging and unit size for selling purposes.

Source for Fresh Produce
Respondents were asked where they obtain their fresh produce in the summer months. Clearly from the purposive sampling technique used, it is not surprising to learn from this selective group that 92% rely on farmers markets for their fresh produce. When consumers ranked the advantages of this particular market as a place to purchase their fresh produce their first preference was for freshness (33%), supporting a local economy (26%), and the quality of the product (24%).

Advertising came up in a number places on all three questionnaires. Consumers reported overwhelmingly that they learned of the farmers market by word of mouth. This suggested that placing ads in local papers, radio, t.v. and having stories on the market farmers and vendors would go a long way in increasing the awareness of this farmers market. Ads were put on the radio, t.v. and local farm and farmers markets stories made it into the paper with the goal of increasing consumer attendance. As noted above attendance increased substantially during this project.

Education is another area in which the market could become more pro-active. Educational activities could be designed on a monthly or bi-weekly basis. For example, a disadvantage consumers noted of the market was the seasonality of products. Why did so many people see “limited to what is in season” as a disadvantage at a farmers market? If consumers were made more aware of the seasonality or growing cycles of food, they might not see seasonality as a limitation but an exciting opportunity to eat fresh, local produce. While attending Veggie Fest 2004 and observing those who sampled local tomatoes and homemade gazpacho, it was interesting to note all the questions on cooking. Although recipes were available more people were interested in purchasing the pre-made gazpacho than making their own. Could more cooking demonstrations with seasonal products get more people to eat and cook seasonally? Could a demonstration kitchen aid in this effort?

Making the reports available to farmer family members and friends of the market has been helpful in maintaining support for this farmers market. Strategies for modifying the market have emerged from increased communication with farmers, vendors, market visitors and farmers market managers.

There have been several key accomplishments from this project. The farmers market board members have been active and have helped to make significant changes in the market. Increased communication among the farmers, vendors and board members has helped to identify the needs of the market. They have succeeded in getting electricity available to all of the booths. They have been able to make most of the farmers stay until closing 6:00 am-12:00 for the Saturday market day. They have changed their weekday market hours from Tuesday and Thursdays 2:00pm-6:00pm to Wednesdays 7:00 am to 1:00 pm. The new Wednesday morning market started with ten farmers and is now up to 32 vendors. Consumer attendance needs to increase some, but farmers claim to be making enough thus far to warrant staying there for a while longer.

Saturday Day events were highlighted for the seasonality of fresh produce. For example:

Veggie Fest
A vegetable festival was held celebrating the vegetables that were available for that particular Saturday. Many hundreds of pounds of tomatoes were sold on this day. Moreover the public learned of many heritage varieties that were unfamiliar to them before. A successful tasting day enjoyed by all the farmers who contributed tomatoes and the sampling public.

Tomato Fest
A tomato tasting day was held for the public to sample tomatoes that were at market. A wide range of tomatoes were donated by the farmers that day. The market coordinator was able to tell the consumer where they could locate the particular tomato the taster wanted to purchase.

Farmer Appreciation Day
The Third Annual Farmer Appreciation Day was held to honor farmers and vendors attending the market. Farmers and vendors received a free breakfast made from North Carolina grits, local Reese’s sausage, and a fresh biscuit from a local bakery Simple Kneads Bakery. In addition, farmers brought in displays of tobacco leaves, the local dairy sold fresh ice cream, and a number of local organizations set up display tables. The planning for the fourth Annual Farmer Appreciation Day is underway and will be guided by an emerging group from the market.

Actually two groups have formed. One is comprised of loyal supporters of the market. They call their group, “Friends of the Market.” The group is made of farmers, vendors, and the public. They help in generating ideas for market promotion, advertising and a range of other things in support of the market. One of the exciting things has been the irregular “farmers breakfasts” held at the market. One Saturday one of the vendors made a free breakfast for all the farmers and vendors (scrambled eggs, biscuits, sausage and gravy). The customers were a bit envious thus another breakfast day was created on “Strawberry Day.” Fresh pancakes were made and garnished with local strawberries and whipped cream. This breakfast morning was a huge success. Over 500 people were served! A third successful breakfast day was held on “Blueberry Day” where again, pancakes were served. Both Strawberry Day Breakfast and the Blueberry Day Breakfast were advertised in the local paper resulting in an increased number of visitors to the market which has been sustained in the weeks that followed. The Friends of the Market will be organizing the fourth Annual Farmer Appreciation Day for 2005.

Another group also developed from this market and others in the area. Greensboro now has its own Slow Food Convivium. Farmers and market supports are very active in this program. They have linked several farmers markets to restaurants, provided on farm demonstrations, and are gearing up for an Autumn Slow Food Symposium. The community spirit and attendance in these activities has been incredible.

One of the suggestions from the consumers has been for picnic tables to be made available for use in the summer time. It looks like the City is going to assist the market by providing several tables for the rest of the summer. Market voices are being heard.

Lastly, new farmers have come to the market. In 2005 there have been six new farmers attend the Saturday market. Four of them are diversified and have been able to attend weekly for the last 20 weeks while other two have been limited by the products they raise and bring (blueberries and peaches).

Overall, the farmers and vendors who have been there more than the last two years are excited with the increase in number of new consumers. The farmers are selling out, going home with empty trucks and fuller pockets. One Saturday two farmers in their late seventies nearly skipped out of the market because they sold out of what they brought. One of them said, “me, me, I sold out, and all we brought was onions!” I had never seen this farmer and his sister so happy and light footed.


Potential Contributions

Both the survey report and the market attendance report have been used by the market advisory board, the friends of the market group and the market director for market planning. It is hoped that the documents can be used for strategic planning for the market to help farmers and consumers sustain their local agriculture and food system.

Future Recommendations

I plan to continue working with the farmers, vendors, farmers market director, “Friends of the Market”, and the Piedmont/Triad Slow Food Convivium. This Community Innovation project clearly made for increasing community awareness of farmers, local agriculture, farmers markets, and the use of local produce in eating among friends and family. Having an active market advisory board and community support groups are interesting outcomes towards making this particular market more sustainable in their effort to supporting local agriculture and a food system. It is an exciting time in our community. I am not sure what direction the future holds for the Greensboro Farmers Curbside Market, but with new farmers and many new consumers I welcome many more years of market/farmer and community success.

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.