Low-Income Community Markets Initiative

Final Report for LNE02-174

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $133,813.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Federal Funds: $105,212.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $114,146.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Duane Perry
The Food Trust
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Project Information


The goal of our Community Farmers Market Initiative was to expand the aspects of the Farmers’ Market Program that include farmers, sales and market locations. The specific goals of the Initiative were to: (1) double the number of farmers at markets in Coatesville, Norristown, Chester, Philadelphia, PA, and Camden, NJ, while creating new markets in low and mixed income areas; (2) increase sales at existing markets by at least 100% over the next two years, while increasing total farmers’ markets sales to over $1 million; 3) field test incentive-based market development techniques to increase the number of farmers, customers and sales, while supporting long-term market sustainability.

Significant progress has been made in achieving all three goals during the grant’s two-year span. We now work with 37 additional farmers, who are making more money at five additional locations.

Number of Farmers: Working with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Penn State Cooperative Extension, and advertising in farming magazines has resulted in a 155% increase of farmers involved in our Farmers’ Market Program. The number of farmers vending at the markets has risen from 24 to 61 over the past two years. In our efforts to expand the program, The Food Trust also encouraged existing market farmers to participate in additional markets. We were successful in recruiting 14 farmers to participate in multiple markets, which enabled us to expand 8 farmers’ markets.

Sales: Regional sales are estimated to be over $1 million. Early data suggests the promotion of farmers’ markets and local produce with advertisements, press releases, flyers and points of promotion throughout the region have resulted in a significant increase in gross sales. Promotional efforts included (but were not limited to) regional and community newspaper articles, advertisements in community newspapers, and public transportation stations.

Data suggests that incentive based marketing is a useful tool for developing farmers’ markets. Total sales have increased substantially over the past two years. Additionally, data gathered from farmer opinion surveys rating market managers demonstrates many farmers were pleased with market management.

Final estimated sales show an increase of 33% between 2002 and 2003. Thirty-eight farmers were involved in the program and estimated sales reached $688,902. Between 2003 and 2004, sales increased by 35%. Between 2002 and 2004 total sales at markets increased by 86%. In 2004 sixty-one farmers were involved in the program and estimated sales reached $930,395. Among the farmers selling at markets in 2004, about 20% had little to no direct marketing experience and/or sold a limited range of products which were available for a short growing season. Farmers with experience and/or selling a range of product, increased sales by several hundred to several thousand dollars in 2004.

Five New Markets: A variety of regional community group partnerships led to the opening of five successful new markets over the past two years, as stipulated in the goals of the project.


Farmer Recruitment: Our combined efforts brought over 30 new farmers into the Community Farmers’ Market Initiative over the past two years. Multiple methods were used to recruit farmers for the Initiative. An advertising campaign was developed in coordination with Cooperative Extension that was displayed at farmer events. The display encouraged farmer participation in markets with messages like “Direct Marketing Your Crops Means More Cash for You” and “Sell Direct, Why Let the Middleman Take Part of Your Profits?” To ensure market information reached a region-wide audience, “Farmers Wanted” advertisements were placed in Lancaster Farming, the area’s largest farming publication with a weekly circulation of 52,000. Informal farmer-to-farmer relationships and networking with other agriculture-related agencies also brought farmers into the Community Farmers’ Market Initiative. Our recruitment efforts exceeded the 6,000 farmer grant-target for information outreach. The Initiative came into contact with approximately 60,000 people regarding direct marketing opportunities for farmers.

New Farmers’ Markets: Five new farmers’ markets were opened as part of the Community Farmers’ Market Initiative. Four Philadelphia markets were created in the Fitler Square, Oxford Circle, Fairmount, and West Oak Lane neighborhoods. One new market opened in Coatesville, a rural suburb of Philadelphia. Site selection involved analysis of communities not served by farmers’ markets, screening new market requests from numerous neighborhood groups and surveying 32 potential market sites. Locations were selected based on success-projection analysis that examined competition, visibility, pedestrian traffic, vehicle traffic, parking, shade, aesthetics, public transit access and synergy. Once a site was selected, a neighborhood demographic analysis looked at the household size, income, and age range of the prospective site area. It was determined that sites in five neighborhoods would be operated with a likelihood of market success and appropriate product diversity. Partnerships with a variety of community organizations in each selected neighborhood helped the markets reach their goal.

Sales: Our marketing and promotion efforts have yielded significant gains over the course of two seasons. Sales were up between 2002 and 2003 by over 30%, and sales between 2002 and 2004 increased by 86%. In 2002, Food Trust staff spent considerable time at the twelve farmers’ markets gathering ideas from both farmers and customers regarding market sales improvement. Farmers’ markets and local produce were promoted with press releases, print and broadcast advertisements, flyers, point of sale devices (e.g. magnets, recipes, and fact cards, banners- details to be described at length later in this report.) These methods were very successful in increasing sales. Evaluation results indicate that participating farmers were very pleased with the markets. 85% indicated that they found the efforts “Very Good” or “Excellent.”

Testing Incentive-Based Marketing Techniques: Incentive-Based Marketing Techniques met with mixed results. Our market developer was to be paid a bonus of 10% of his salary if sales over the project period increased by 100%. A bonus of $500 was to be awarded if farmer surveys recorded a 100% “Excellent” rating of the system. Sales did rise, but ultimately fell short of a 100% increase. 85% of farmers at market reported the management was “Good” or “Excellent.” These numbers indicated that the system had a positive impact on sales, and met with approval by farmers. The goals attained were not enough to provide the incentives to the market developer because they did not meet the ambitious goal laid out by the grant.

Performance Target:
  • Objective 1: Double the number of farmers at markets in Norristown, Chester, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Camden, New Jersey, while creating new markets in low and mixed income areas.

    Objective 2: Increase sales at existing markets by at least 100% over two years, while increasing total farmers’ market sales in the region to over $1 million.

    Objective 3: Field test incentive-based market operating techniques to increase sales, the number of farmers and customers, while supporting long-term market sustainability.


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  • Fred Davis
  • Joni Elliot
  • Lisa Kerschner
  • Linda Kilby
  • Brian Lang
  • Russell Redding


Materials and methods:

Researching Successful Farmers’ Markets

The project began in the fall of 2002 by conducting research into the components of a successful farmers’ market. Customers and farmers were consulted to determine their needs from farmers, markets, communities and market managers to create a successful market.

Finding the Right Communities

Research was conducted in the winter of 2002 to survey for new 2003 farmers’ market locations. We were able to determine which types of markets would work in a variety of communities. Mixed income neighborhoods afforded the possibility of beginning with three or four specialized-product farmers. In lower income neighborhoods, it was important to find one or two farmers who would be able to offer a more comprehensive line of farmers’ market goods.

Recruiting Farmers

Three copies of a farmer recruitment display were developed. Cooperative Extension used two copies, and the Food Trust used one. The display was shown to farmers at winter Extension meetings and the Future of our Food and Farms Summit, presented by the Food Trust in Philadelphia. The content was developed in coordination with marketing expert John Berry at Pennsylvania State Cooperative Extension.

Assigning Farmers to Markets

Once a market location was determined, the next important step was matching farmers with the right neighborhood. Based on applications and subsequent interviews with farmers, the best market match was selected for each farmer. Farmers with minimal product offering were best served by joining existing markets. Farmers with a large quantity of specialty items and sufficient produce variety started new markets in mixed income neighborhoods. Lower income neighborhood markets were started by farmers with a wider variety of produce.

Promoting the Markets

The market developer found numerous promotional opportunities for all of the markets. Promotions usually included spreading market awareness through informal community networks. In one case, a community newspaper article was largely responsible for developing a customer base of 100+ people in the neighborhood. Market shopper mailing addresses were collected and developed into a customer database. Shoppers were mailed market schedules at the beginning of each market season. A new set of recipes utilizing fresh, local produce was developed for market distribution. We worked with North, Inc., Philadelphia Corporation on Aging and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to create a colorful flyer listing sites where WIC and FMNP vouchers were redeemable. Seventy-thousand (70,000) site listings were distributed in Philadelphia during 2003 and 2004 to all FMNP voucher recipients. A publicity campaign was launched with the slogan “There’s no taste like home… grown.” As a result, 3 articles appeared in major newspapers (see appendix) about farmers’ markets and locally grown food. Smaller newspapers in the Philadelphia area published 7 articles concerning the same issues. The campaign was recognized by Philadelphia Mayor John Street’s declaration of Homegrown Food Day on July 24, 2003.

Two hundred twenty-four radio advertisements were aired on local radio stations to promote specific farmers’ market locations and locally grown food. Each advertisement reached an average of 12,000-37,000 listeners. Four stations aired the advertisements- Y100 (100.3fm), The Beat (103.9fm), WDAS (105.3fm) and Sunny (104.5fm). Each station was chosen according to the farmers’ market demographic being advertised. One hundred twenty two thousand (122,200) newspaper inserts promoting locally grown produce were placed in community newspapers. Each community newspaper was aimed at a specific farmers’ market. Print advertisements were placed in 7 community newspapers to promote market openings, reaching a total 171,108 readers. Over 1,000 flyers were mailed to market customers promoting the 2003 market season opening. Each mailing contained the schedule for all Food Trust farmers’ markets. We produced 30 banners to be displayed at market, each of which pictured colorful fruits and vegetables and listed market hours.

A significant component of our promotional plan also involved outreach to organizations already working in neighborhoods where The Food Trust operated a market. These groups include the Fitler Square Improvement Association, the Ogontz Avenue Reconstruction Corporation, the Fairmount Civic Association, the Friends of Eastern State Penitentiary, the Office of State Representative Dwight Evans, Oxford Circle Mennonite Church and the City of Coatesville Main Street Office. Community organizations were able to help spread the word about new local farmers’ markets through informal communication networks and publications sent to their members and constituents.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1: Since beginning the Community Farmers Market Initiative, we increased our market locations to 17. The number of farmers participating in those markets grew from 24 to 61, and we opened five new markets in two years.

Farmer participation in our Farmers’ Market Program increased from 24 to 61 farmers. The following methods were employed to recruit farmers:

1) In conjunction with Penn State Cooperative Extension, we have developed a display to be taken to winter farmer meetings in an effort to promote farmers’ markets. The display contained take-away brochures promoting market opportunities. Extensive discussions about the content of the piece took place prior to production. The marketing tool has been developed and is being displayed at farmer meetings.

2) Ads were placed in Lancaster Farming in January-April of 2003 and 2004. A letter to the editor was published in Lancaster farming encouraging farmers to attend markets in 2004.

3) Farmers were encouraged to enroll other farmers in markets with cash incentive finder fees in 2003 and 2004. 1 farmer was awarded an incentive of $250.

4) Farmers were solicited through articles published in county Extension newsletters promoting farmers’ markets in 2003 and 2004.

5) Farmers were recruited through informal community networks in 2003 and 2004.

Work with a variety of community groups led to the opening of five new farmers’ markets.

1) Our work with the Fitler Square Improvement Association precipitated the successful opening of the Fitler Square Farmers’ Market in May of 2003. As of 2004, five farmers sold at market. Annual sales for the market’s first year topped $65,000. Approximately 250 customers shop at the market each week.

2) Our work with the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation led to the successful opening of the West Oak Lane Farmers’ Market in May of 2003. Sales for the first season were almost $16,000, with a projected sales increase in 2004. Approximately 200 customers shop at the market each week during the peak season.

3) Our work with the Fairmount Civic Association and the Friends of Eastern State Penitentiary (a Philadelphia historical site neighborhood group) led to the successful opening of the Fairmount Farmers’ Market in July of 2004. In the markets first season, four farmers sold at market. Sales for the first season are still being tallied. Approximately 150 customers shopped at the market each week.

4) Our work with the Coatesville Main Street Office and City of Coatesville fostered the successful opening of the Coatesville Farmers’ Market in May of 2004. Sales for the first season are still being tallied. Approximately 100 customers shopped at the market each week.

5) Our work with the Oxford Circle Mennonite Church led to the successful opening of the Oxford Circle Farmers’ Market in May of 2004. First season sales are still being tallied. Approximately 100 customers shopped at the market each week.

Work with the Friends of Carroll Park organization (affiliated with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society), led to the opening of the Carroll Park Farmers’ Market. Unfortunately, this site closed early due to insufficient sales.

Objective 2: We developed a targeted promotional strategy for our farmers’ markets.

1) We worked with North, Inc. and the Philadelphia Corporation on Aging, as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to create a colorful flyer that listed sites where WIC and FMNP vouchers were redeemable. 70,000 were distributed in the southeastern Pennsylvania region.

2) A publicity campaign was developed using the slogan “There’s no taste like home… grown.” Press releases were sent to over 50 local media outlets, including regional newspapers, websites, magazines, radio and television stations and small community newspapers. Over 10 articles have been published in a variety of these outlets.

3) Outdoor advertisements were placed at train stations near farmers’ markets that promoted the market locations and hours.

4) In 2003, print advertisements were placed in 6 community newspapers twice during the season to promote markets, and reached a total of 145,100 readers. In 2004, print advertisements were placed in 9 community newspapers, and reached a total of 217,600 readers.

5) Flyers were mailed to over 1000 market customers promoting the opening of the 2003 market season. The mailing included the schedule for all The Food Trust farmers’ markets.

6) We produced 30 banners that were displayed at markets. Each banner pictured colorful fruits, vegetables and market hours.

7) A permanent banner was mounted at one market location.

8) Wireless EBT machine availability was publicized through press releases and 5 market advertisements.

Between 2002 and 2004, sales at our markets rose by 86%, which means that sales at our existing markets are over $500,000. As our organization manages over 35% of the total farmers’ markets in Philadelphia, we have achieved our goal of increasing total farmers’ market sales in the Philadelphia area to over $1 million dollars.

Objective 3: An incentive-based marketing system was established, whereby the market manager (defined as the market developer in the grant) was to receive a bonus if sales reached a consensus target. The manager was also to receive a bonus if market farmers expressed complete satisfaction with market management. The market manager was to receive a bonus equivalent to 10% of his salary if farmers reported sales increases of 50% over the 2002 season. If the farmers and customers unanimously reported that the market manager did an excellent job, he was to receive an additional bonus of $500.

While the system increased sales significantly, sale increases fell short of the amount required to meet the terms of the incentive.

Initial farmer opinion surveys regarding Food Trust market managers conclude that farmers were very pleased with market management. Surveys asked farmers to rate market management as being Poor, Fair, Average, Good, or Excellent in the categories of Courtesy, Responsiveness, Knowledge, Accessibility, and Overall Satisfaction. 85% of responses were very positive, with all categories rating either “Good” or “Excellent.” This figure likewise did not meet the goal for the incentive based reward, which required a 100% “Excellent” market manager rating from farmers.

Participation Summary


Educational approach:

Farmer Advertisements – Advertisements were placed in farming journals encouraging farmers to attend markets operated by the Food Trust. Many farmers called the Food Trust to request more information about farmers’ markets. This strategy was an effective tool that brought new farmers into the program. The initial positive response was somewhat tempered by the low percentage (under 10%) of interested farmers that actually took the next step of attending markets.

Tabletop Display – The tabletop display was designed to be taken to farmer meetings and conferences. This tool was an effective method of information awareness about the farmers’ market program. Its primary drawback was one of logistics. Persuading busy cooperative extension staff to use the display was difficult. Furthermore, the Food Trust’s Philadelphia locale proved display transport to the meetings impractical, since the assemblies were often held 60+ miles from our offices.

Farmer Mailing – In 2003, the 300+ farmers that participated in the Pennsylvania FMNP program received market information through a mass mailing campaign. The Food Trust also reached farmers via listings obtained from the New Jersey Farm Bureau and the Delaware Department of Agriculture. The comprehensive mailing targeted a total of 500 farmers. This method resulted in numerous inquiries into the farmers’ market program. The downside of the campaign was the labor-intensive expedition of 500+ mailings. In the future, use of a mailing house might alleviate this problem.

Newspaper Advertising (to consumers) – While advertising in many larger newspapers was considered cost-prohibitive, more inexpensive advertising for markets was placed in weekly community-based newspapers. Some weeklies maintain a circulation of 37,000+ readers. While few survey respondents report discovering the market from a newspaper ad, anecdotal evidence from farmers’ market managers suggests that these ads encourage new customers to shop at markets. They also remind existing customers about a market’s start-up date. It’s also worth noting that market managers conclude that farmers’ market customers are likely readers of community newspapers, since these shoppers/readers are interested in local events.

Community Meetings – Food Trust staff members attended meetings with a variety of neighborhood groups representing residents and community businesses to discuss new market interest and feasibility. The meetings with such organizations served as indicators to determine whether or not a neighborhood would be receptive to a farmers’ market. Food Trust at the meetings often helped secure a viable space for a farmers’ market.

Press Releases and Resulting Media Coverage – Farmers’ market press releases were sent to a variety of media outlets throughout the project’s duration. Press topics included market opening dates, seasonal product offerings and the importance of eating fresh fruit and vegetables. The press releases were frequently picked up by a variety of newspapers, and were an integral part of educating consumers about area farmers’ markets.

No milestones

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

The major outcome of this grant was the two-year expansion of the Food Trust Farmers’ Market Program. We have increased the number of farmers attending our markets by 155% (from 24 to 61), while sales between 2002 and 2004 grew by 86%, to an estimated $930,395.

We expanded our farmers’ market program by increasing sales, working with more farmers and opening new successful markets in the region. Work is underway to continue the expansion in the future. New farmers have already expressed interest in participating, while existing farmers are requesting to vend additional markets. A number of prospective sites have been identified as potential markets for the 2005 season. Our promotional strategy is to generate publicity through articles published about farmers’ markets and local produce in a variety of media. We’ve had excellent success with this method during the grant period, including three pieces in major area newspapers, one editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News (circulation 150,734) and two feature pieces in the Philadelphia Inquirer, (circulation 386,890).

Economic Analysis

Sales have significantly increased at the farmers’ markets, with total revenues from two years of sales being an estimated $1,616,193 million dollars. $12.06 of sales was generated for every grant dollar.

Project Sustainability: This initiative will continue beyond the grant in three key ways.

1. The Food Trust will continue to operate the new farmers’ markets started as a result of the Community Farmers’ Market Initiative.

2. Many of these new markets have significant expansion opportunities, because many people living in the region still do not shop at area farmers’ markets. These consumer markets will continue to be targeted.

3. New markets will be created.

Farmer Adoption

Farmers who attended direct marketing training sessions were able to visibly improve their market stands. The ability to display at market was improved, and sales rose as a result.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Incentive-based marketing may be an interesting tool to develop farmers’ markets. Evidence suggests that such a practice increased sales however not to the desired goal.

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.