Reducing Tensions on Market Day: Training Farmers' Market Organizers and Service Providers on Conflict Resolution and De-escalation Strategies

Progress report for ENE22-176

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2022: $149,407.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
James DeBiasi
Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets
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Project Information



Well-designed farmers’ markets are essential to the success of the New England agricultural community. They support the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and small business owners in Maine and Vermont, and they serve as a low-barrier market access point for new farmers. Farmers’ markets offer space for farmers to set up and sell under a managed operation, and they offer resources and training that benefit farming businesses beyond market day.

More than 95% of farmers’ markets in Maine and Vermont are governed by an elected advisory board composed of market vendors. That group oversees the annual budget, manages the bylaws, and supervises the person(s) who manage the market day. Market organizers are often untrained and under-resourced as they conduct the necessary work to make farmers’ markets happen.

This project sees an opportunity to better support farmers’ market organizers, often farmers themselves, who work countless unpaid hours every year to keep their markets running.

A thriving, resilient farmers’ market depends upon vendor harmony and cooperation. This does not come naturally. There are skills to be learned and best practices to share. Through our project, market service providers will be trained with conflict resolution strategies and resources specifically tailored for market management, organizing, and planning.

Service providers will be supported as they bring their new skills back to their farmers’ markets to train farmers and take actions that will address and prevent conflicts at markets. Farmers will benefit from reduced market tensions, better cooperation, and increased sales at farmers’ markets due to improved vendor and customer retention.

Solution and Approach:

This project recognizes that farmers’ market organizers are service providers. Our project gives professional development training to 72 market organizers, market members, volunteers, and other direct-to-consumer support staff (e.g., Extension educators working with farmers focused on farmers’ markets, farm stands, agritourism farms). Our focus is on conflict resolution strategies and resources specifically tailored for farmers’ market management and farmer development.

The training will be a workshop series, both in person and online, with curriculum that is informed by farmers’ market organizers in Maine and Vermont. Professional mediators, conflict educators, and farmers’ market organizers will lead lessons and facilitate discussions with participants. Over the course of the 3 years, the lessons will be finetuned with feedback from participants. Recorded lessons and workshop materials will be made available online for anyone to access.

Farmers’ market organizers will be tasked with taking their learnings back to their market to implement structural changes and new practices to address conflict and prevent it from happening in the first place. Overall, this training and resources will lead to 60 actions and interventions at 30 farmers’ markets benefiting 200 farmers in Maine and Vermont.




Performance Target:

72 Maine and Vermont service providers (24 each year) who gain knowledge and skills in market organizing and conflict resolution will work with at least 30 farmers’ markets to ensure that 60 actions/interventions (2 per market, at least) are taken to address and reduce common instances of conflict.

This will require service providers to use their new skills in leadership, negotiation, and mediation to facilitate conversations and actions among market organizers and vendors about best practices and common challenges in conflict resolution at farmers’ markets.

Actions and interventions from service providers may include: assisting farmers in identifying and updating problematic market rules and bylaws; supporting farmers in addressing interpersonal conflicts among vendors and/or shoppers; hosting mediated conversations with outside support; and creating dispute resolution procedures for markets. We anticipate many interventions to involve the service providers leading difficult discussions to create new systems of accountability for market organizers and managers.



A 2021 survey of 12 market organizers across New England reported that an average of 6 conflicts a year arise at each of their markets with the potential to negatively impact business. Of the conflicts reported, Conflicts fall into three categories: vendor-vendor, vendor-manager, or manager-customer. Some examples include: members violating rules and not listening to market managers; market organizers not fulfilling duties; prospective vendors threatening legal retaliation for being denied acceptance into a market; and upset customers due to mask mandates.

Every year, the MFFM is contacted at least 5 times by market managers who face serious conflicts among market membership, with customers, or with local community partners. MFFM’s 2020 strategic plan input survey found that 60 percent (14 of 23) of participants identified conflict resolution as a priority and 20 of 24 interested in market management training. From the Harvest New England farmers’ market manager conference feedback form, 90 percent (25 of 28) indicated that conflict resolution was of importance to them and 73 percent (20 of 28) claim they want to learn more. According to anecdotes from NOFA-VT, almost 10% (4 out of 55) of farmers markets in Vermont experienced some sort of conflict in the past year, with several vendors being banned from markets that comprise an important part of their sales.

This project creates an experiential learning workshop series focused on the best strategies for addressing common conflicts at farmers’ markets. For the first cohort, the workshops (6 each winter) are taking place online. Participants will take interventions at their markets this winter to address existing conflicts and to update systems (rules & processes) to better handle and/or prevent conflicts from happening in the future. 

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Annual Report (January 2023): 

All activities listed below are underway. Our first annual cohort has 18 participating members, rather than the 24 we suggest in the initial proposal. Our team finds this lower number to be much more manageable in the first year, as we work to build out and improve the curriculum based on feedback from the participants. 

Annual Report (January 2024): 

We are in the midst of our 2nd year running this training series. This year, we have 18 participants representing 9 markets in Maine & Vermont. 

New this year, we recruited a farmer-educator, Hanne Tierney, to join our education team. Hanne has over 20 years of experience selling at farmers' markets in Maine. She's served as the president or Board Chair of the Portland Farmers' Market, the Downtown Waterville Farmers' Market, and on MFFM's Board of Directors. Hanne is the owner/operator of Cornerstone Farm, where she sells organic vegetables and pork almost entirely at farmers' markets.




MFFM and NOFA-VT will use their existing communications channels, including e-newsletter, direct email, social media, and press releases, to promote the project and recruit participants. The project team will create landing pages on their websites for service providers to learn more details and submit their contact information to apply for the course. The project team will target a variety of market types, including flagship markets, food security/campus markets, and Main Street styled markets (Wolnik 2019) to ensure that the training is widely useful.


Each year, a cohort of 20 market leaders and 4 other direct-to-consumer support staff will be selected. The number of service providers who will be trained will total 72. Those trained will then be expected to create an implementation plan for their markets and to participate in the Community of Practice (CoP) throughout the life of the project. Service providers will receive stipends to support their learning and implementation at their farmers’ markets.


With each new cohort, we will capture baseline data via an intake form to learn of the participants’ current market conflicts and skill deficits. These data will help inform our curriculum and understanding of market organizers’ experiences.


To support participants after their training, all cohorts are expected to participate in the CoP, sharing their own experience in implementation of these resources and practices. The Community of Practice groups will have quarterly facilitated calls for participants to share updates, challenges, and successes in their work of providing training and enacting changes to their farmers’ markets. Mediators with the agricultural mediation programs in VT and ME will be available to support service providers in overcoming complex challenges they face in bringing their new skills and knowledge to their farmers’ markets.


A small group of service providers in the direct-to-consumer sector beyond market leaders including CSA leaders, agritourism resource providers, and new farmer trainers will be recruited. This will amplify the reach of the training to reach more direct-to-consumer farmers and involve parts of the sector that likely face the same types of conflicts that are reported by market communities.



The educational content for this project will bring in peers and experts in farmers’ market leadership, conflict theory, de-escalation and mediation. The lessons will include a mix of in-person workshops, online webinars, facilitated group conversations, and Community of Practice facilitated online group meetings.


The training will feature online classes led by Ag Mediation experts with supportive resources such as checklists and required reading from materials available through the Farmers Market Legal Toolkit and National Young Farmers Coalition online resource (NYFC 2020 NE SARE).


The training will focus on implementation of practices for the successful management of market day activities involving conflicts between vendors, with customers, and while acting as manager. Each market will be asked to have 2 people participate in this professional development: a board member, advisor, market vendor and/or the paid market manager. This is so the knowledge gained from this opportunity will be embedded into the organization itself and not only with a single person who may not continue as part of the management of the market.


Service Providers will learn about best practices in farmers’ market organizing and management from fellow farmers’ market leaders and experts from the Farmers Market Coalition. They will learn about conflict theory, negotiation, leadership, and de-escalation strategies through role-play, facilitated conversations, and lessons from mediation experts.



Project organizers will provide a survey form for participants to fill out after every learning session. The form will ask participants to quantify their knowledge gained and to provide feedback for future improvement of the lessons.


Accompanying the survey forms, MFFM will send a yearly feedback form to all participants from all cohorts. This form will allow us to understand, quantitatively and qualitatively, what actions and changes our service providers are bringing to their markets.


Within the Community of Practice, project leaders will track and document discussion topics, successes, challenges, opportunities, and insights that service providers share among the group. The information documented from these calls will help validate what aspects of our lessons and resources are working and what can use improvement or change.


This data collection will document our progress, allow us to monitor and adjust as needed, and ultimately verify that our performance targets are being met.





Engagement - Q1 and Q2, 2022  

Milestone: Awareness of the project is shared across VT and Maine via existing listservs, direct emails, and newsletters (Extension, statewide market channels).

Project Team Involved: MFFM/NOFA-VT/FMC/Project Advisory Committee

Completion date: 5/31/2022

Expected changes resulting from activity:

Entities that support direct-to-consumer in the states are made aware of the project and the potential for being involved. 300 service providers learn about Ag Mediation and the role of their state and national associations to provide dynamic, contextual support and training.

Status: Complete

Accomplishments: MFFM and NOFA-VT shared news of the training series widely among our networks, e-newsletters, and direct market contacts. This recruiting document was shared in Maine & Vermont: 2022 Recruitment Message for MFFM (2)


Engagement and Learning -Q2: 2022, 2023, 2024

Milestone: 24 service providers accept the invitation as participants, share baseline data, and participate in introductory webinar for project orientation.

Project Team Involved: FMC/MFFM/NOFA-VT/Ag Mediation

Completion Date: 5/15 of each year: 2022, 2023, 2024

Expected changes resulting from activity: The annual cohort builds trust and agreements on implementation. Agreements are signed by each participant which helps secure their commitment to the project. Data on the level of knowledge and comfort among markets is shared with project team in each year’s cohort.

Status: Complete


In 2022 - 20 farmers' market operators enrolled in the 2022-23 inaugural cohort. The participants have joined in pairs, with at least 2 people joining from a market. An intake form was developed to capture baseline information on their market organization. PDF of intake form: Official 1st Cohort Participants - intake form - Google Forms

In 2023 - 18 farmers' market operators enrolled in the 2023-2024 cohort. The participants have joined in pairs, with at least 2 people joining from a market. An intake form was developed to capture baseline information on their market organization


Learning - Q2 and Q3 of 2022

Milestone: Initial Project Curriculum and Lesson Plans are Completed

Activities: Draft curriculum and instructor guide is developed, refined, and reviewed drawing from participant input, advisory committee feedback, and from existing conflict materials in use by Ag Mediation, FMC, MFFM, NOFA-VT, and those collected through project literature review. Zoom lecture-style presentations, step-by-step written PDFs on de-escalation strategies, facilitated discussions, and role-playing will be the main delivery mechanisms for the training.

Project Team Involved: FMC/Ag Mediation/ Karen & Leah/ Advisory Committee/ MFFM/ NOFA-VT

Completion Date: 9/30/2022

Expected changes resulting from activity: Project team has fully established curriculum and lesson plans for the first cohort.

Status:  Completed*

Accomplishments: The education team is taking a more gradual approach with initial curriculum development. We continue to meet regularly after each Community of Practice (CoP) call to refine our next CoP based on participant feedback and emerging issues and ideas. New resources have been created and/or are in development. A new resource that we generated and are finding useful is a document highlighting power dynamics at farmers' markets:  Power Dynamics (4)

Another resources we created is a Market Day Roles Chart to help market organizations delegate Market Day responsibilities in a transparent manner: Market Day Roles Chart - Sheet1 

*(2024 update) The initial project curriculum and lesson plans were completed for the first year cohort. For the 2nd year cohort, with a new educator on our team and input received from 1st year participants, we are constantly editing and refining our approach to each Community of Practice call. 


Learning and Engagement - Q2 of 2022, 2023, and 2024

Milestone: Community of Practice (CoP) is established for each year’s cohort during training (24 service providers). Email listserv and standing online Zoom meetings are established.

Project Team Involved: FMC/MFFM/NOFA-VT/Project Advisory Committee

Completion Date: 5/31 of each year: 2022,2023, 2024

Expected changes resulting from activity: 72 service providers gain a focused networking and peer-to-peer opportunity to continue after the project ends. The CoP serves as the platform to ensure that service providers implement these practices with their farmers once training is completed.

Status: Completed

Accomplishments: We've established a google group email listserv for our first cohort. Zoom meetings are currently facilitated with instructional content by education team through February of 2023 for the first cohort. After February, there will be optional standing Zoom CoP meetings scheduled on a monthly basis for this cohort to continue networking and supporting one another in navigating conflicts at their markets. 


Learning - November through February of each year, starting in 2022

Milestone: Training for 24 service providers via Zoom, in person, and at state farmers’ market conferences.

Project Team Involved: Ag Mediation/FMC/MFFM/NOFA-VT/Project Advisory Team

Completion Date: 2/28 of each year: 2023, 2024, 2025

Expected changes resulting from activity:

72 service providers each take 3 to 5 courses focusing on customer, vendor, and management conflicts and gain skills, knowledge, awareness, and new attitudes to address and prevent conflicts at farmers’ markets.

Status: In Progress


2023 update: As of 1/16/2023, we have conducted 3 "courses" (what we now just refer to as "Community of Practice" calls). We have 3 more already scheduled through February 2023. 18 participants have been fully attending each session and completing homework assignments between them.  Our educational program strategy is divided into 2 focus areas, with 3 CoP calls in each. One area focuses on individual skill development for overcoming conflicts. The 2nd area focuses on examining and improving market structures to better handle, prevent, and process conflicts when they arise. Thus, we're focusing on the individual and the system (the markets). After each session, we encourage participants to fill out a feedback form to inform and improve the curriculum we're designing. We have yet to capture any data on changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills, and/or awareness or actions taken by participants, since we're only half way through our learning journey with them. Many resources are in development, including slides and 1-page handouts, and a concept map for understanding conflict at farmers' markets with links to resources and best practices for addressing them. They are not complete yet. 

2024 update: 

Our year 1 cohort wrapped up in February 2023. Our year 2 cohort is 3/6 of the way through their sessions. The trainings continue to be exclusively on ZOOM for our cohort. However in-person sessions, open to a broader audience, are planned for this February and March at the Maine & Vermont Farmers' Market Conferences. We are following a similar approach as last year, where we have 2 focus areas: "systems building" and "skill building". 


Learning and Evaluation - January to February of each year, starting in 2023

Milestone: Service providers (24 each year) work with project team and Community of Practice to design and produce their own custom strategy to share with market farmers (70 each year) on conflict resolution and de-escalation skills, improved strategies, and market updates that will lead to addressing and preventing conflicts.

Project Team Involved: FMC/MFFM/NOFA-VT/Project Advisory Team

Completion Date: 2/28 of each year: 2023, 2024, 2025

Expected changes resulting from activity: Strategies and resources are implemented in a wide variety of markets and among direct-to-consumer farming businesses in both states. Conflicts are reduced or mitigated during market days.

Status: In progress


2023 update: The 3 CoP calls we've organized so far are the foundation for our service provider participants to accomplish this milestone. 

2024 update: Cohort 1 completed the course. 9 of 10 markets have engaged in strategies to support their markets in addressing and preventing conflicts. More results are shared below. 



Evaluation - April of each year, starting in 2023

Milestone: Service providers (24 each year) gather feedback from market farmers on their use of the project materials and behavior change. Data is gathered from all service providers.

Project Team Involved: FMC/MFFM/NOFA-VT/Project Advisory Team

Completion Date: 4/30 of each year: 2023, 2024, 2025

Expected changes resulting from activity: Service providers learn of their impact at the market. Project is evaluated and data used for final report and dissemination to other state’s market leaders.

Status: In Progress

2024 update: Cohort 1 completed the course. All markets that are reporting (9 out of 10, we are seeking info from the last market) have shared positive outcomes from our training. 

The evaluation captured 34 instances of positive outcomes, including updating rules and by-laws, adding new market protocols, updating membership types, adopting procedures for resolving conflicts, direct market organizer interventions (taking direct action on unresolved issues among people), communication systems improvements, and updating role descriptions. 


Learning - October 2024 to March 2025 

Milestone: 10-page Toolkit document is drafted and completed. This resource is one of the outputs of this project. It will include case-studies, highlights, templates and reference documents helpful for market organizers within our project and beyond. 

Project Team Involved: MFFM/FMC/NOFA-VT/Ag Mediation/ Advisory Team

Completion Date: March 31, 2025

Expected changes: Toolkit is a resource for markets across the country to reference and use in improving their capacity for conflict management. Using this tool, markets across Maine, Vermont and the US will experience less conflict and its adverse effects on farm businesses.

Status: Not Begun


September 2024 to April 2025

Milestone: Dissemination of materials and teacher’s guide to other state leaders and support staff beyond farmers’ markets in NE through presentations at regional conferences and on webinars (goal of 30).

Project Team Involved: FMC/MFFM/NOFA-VT/Project Advisory Team

Completion Date: April 1, 2025

Expected changes resulting from activity: Project is shared with other food system sectors, Resources and approach are used by other direct marketing channel leaders (CSA networks, agritourism). More food system leaders and farmers gain knowledge on these resources and strategies.

Status: Not Begun


Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:

5 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
9 Online trainings

Participants in the project’s educational activities:

1 Extension
25 Nonprofit
16 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

12 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills and/or attitudes as a result of their participation.
7 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
22 Ag service providers intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned through this project in their educational activities and services for farmers

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Target #1

Target: number of service providers who will take action to educate/advise farmers:


Target: actions the service providers will take:

will work with at least 30 farmers’ markets to ensure that 60 actions/interventions (2 per market, at least) are taken to address and reduce common instances of conflict.

Target: number of farmers the service providers will educate/advise:


Activities for farmers conducted by service providers:
  • 34 Farmers' market meetings and support activities that led to the following:
    Market rule changes: 6
    New Market Protocols: 6
    Market By-law changes: 5
    Market Membership Definition Updates: 3
    Conflict Procedures Adopted: 2
    Direct interventions among market members or stakeholders in conflict: 4
    Communication systems improvements (website updates, new approaches to sharing information): 4
    Market role updates & clarification: 4
Performance target outcome narrative:

2024 Update: 

This information was gathered via an end of year survey to our Year 1 participants. 

17 Total number of agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
112 Farmers reached through participant's programs

Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers

Information Products

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.