Managing Markets: Assessing the Relationship Between Farmers Market Management and Farmers' Economic Viability and Quality of Life

Progress report for LS22-368

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $300,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipients: Emory University; Louisiana State University
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Hilary King, PhD
Emory University
Emily Burchfield
Emory University
Marcus Coleman
Tulane University
Dr. Sarah Franzen
Louisiana State University
Dr. Andrea Rissing
School of Sustainability, Arizona State University
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Project Information


This research explores how farmers market management in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi shapes the economic viability and quality of life of urban and rural farmers across the Southeast region. As a direct marketing agricultural (DMA) strategy, selling at farmers markets is a key livelihood strategy for many diversified, limited resource, and niche farmers. However, these outlets vary widely in regulations, outreach, and organization. We hypothesize that differences in farmers market management represent a key but under-recognized factor in farmers’ economic viability and quality of life. In this project, we utilize mixed methods, including interviews, focus groups, participant observation and financial surveys with farmers and market managers to identify, synthesize and disseminate best practices that increase the ability of farmers markets to enhance farmers’ economic viability and quality of life.

Benefits of selling at farmers markets include higher returns by capturing retail prices, low overhead, and control over prices. Many markets are located in urban areas, where both rural and urban farmers increase earnings by accessing larger numbers of customers. However, financial returns are often unpredictable and market schedules can be demanding and inconvenient.

Many programs have sought to address these challenges by training farmers in entrepreneurial skills such as branding, social media for business, financial planning, and managing personnel. These approaches focus on individual farmers’ business practices as primary areas of interventions. In doing so, they miss the differences in farmers markets’ organizational approaches and the ways in which this variance fosters more or less supportive conditions for farmers’ economic viability and quality of life. Non-profit organizations, part-time market managers, city offices, or vendor associations manage many direct markets. These managers are understudied “gatekeepers” whose decisions and capacities have profound impacts on farmers’ experiences. Managers shape the institutional structures, policies, and practices of farmers markets in ways that impact growers’ financial outcomes and quality of life.

This project investigates the relationship between farmers market management and farmer outcomes by 1) documenting and assessing the varied structures of DMA across the Southeast through interviews with market managers, participant observation, and review of primary market materials to creat a market management typology; and 2) investigating the direct market experiences of rural and urban farmers through interviews with farmers who participate in managed markets and those who do not. The farmer sample will be purposefully drawn to maximize diversity of farm scale, enterprise types, production practices, geographic locations, and farmer backgrounds. The market sample will include markets in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi located in eight diverse metropolitan areas selected to maximize demographic diversity.

This research will determine the characteristics of farmers market management approaches that correlate with positive and negative outcomes of farmer economic viability and quality of life. Pairing farmer experience with market management data will provide new information on the roles of farmers markets within food systems. This information will produce concrete, actionable recommendations for farmers market managers. The results of this research will be significant for farmers and for direct market organizations in the southeast and more broadly.

Project Objectives:

The project will contribute to the economic viability and quality of life of farmers in the SSARE region by:    

  1. Documenting the diverse management approaches that currently govern farmers markets in the southeastern US;
  2. Ascertaining the benefits of and barriers to participation in these markets for diverse rural and urban producers;
  3. Exploring how: a) diverse farmers understand, operationalize and evaluate the concepts of “quality of life” (QoL) and “economic viability; and b) these concepts, in turn, relate to diverse farmers’ participation in or abstention from farmers market participation;
  4. Identifying farmers market management practices associated with positive farmer-defined quality of life and economic viability outcomes for farmers, and from these; 
  5. Developing and disseminating practical and actionable recommendations that enable farmers market managers and other organizations to respond to farmer needs related to economic viability and quality of life associated with farmers market participation.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Brennan Washington - Producer
  • Billy Mitchell - Technical Advisor
  • Annie Moore - Technical Advisor - Producer
  • Maurice Small - Technical Advisor - Producer
  • Madeline Yost - Technical Advisor - Producer
  • E'licia Chavarest - Technical Advisor
  • Otis Wright - Technical Advisor


Materials and methods:

April 2024

During this grant period, we completed the data collection proposed in the grant. We made this decision to fulfill our research goals and carry out the funded activities promised. We measured our success based on the number of completed vs. proposed action items the team completed between April 1, 2023 and March 31, 2024. 

We have completed the following activities, which are broken out below into “data collection,” “data analysis,” and “project logistics” buckets: 

I.i Data Collection 

  • Participant observation at farmers markets across Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana (n= 24 of 24 proposed visits completed).  
  • In-depth interviews with farmers market managers in all sampling sites (n= 15 of 15 proposed interviews completed.  
  • In-depth interviews with farmers who participate in selling goods at farmers market (n= 50 of 50 proposed interviews complete) 
  • In-depth interviews with farmers who have never or no-longer participate in selling goods at farmers markets (n= 18 out of 25 proposed interviews complete). 
    • Our research team faced significant hurdles in recruiting lapsed and/or “non-market” farmers. We attempted to remedy this through reaching out in our personal networks, consulting the Farmer Advisory board (see below), and through discussion with local extension agents in our sampling catchment. We decided to cease outreach with 18/25 interviews completed—more than needed to reach data saturation (Hennink & Kaiser 2022)—in March 2024.  
  • Collected regulatory documents describing management strategies, legal structure, and vendor lists from all markets in research sample (n= 15 of 15 proposed markets provided documents). Analysis of these data will begin May 2024.  
  • Administered farm-level economic viability survey with market and non-market farmers to gather economic data that will enrich overall analysis by placing narratives about the intersecting experiences of being vendors/non-vendors and market management in financial context (n= 55 of 68 administered responses).
  • Collated geographic data for all vendors provided by market managers (see item V) for use in mapping and geospatial analysis to better understand the range of farmers and farm/product types who vend at markets in the SE. Mapping and spatial analysis will be carried out by Co-PI Dr. Emily Burchfield beginning in Summer 2024.  
  • Received and completed a James Harrison Hill Sr Young Scholar Enhancement Program grant for summer 2023. This grant supported undergraduate Isabel Staton to conduct interviews on farmer experiences of the December 2022 Winter Strom Elliott’s aftermath. The project resulted in a SSARE poster and also on Staton’s undergraduate Honors Thesis in Anthropology, titled “Farmers in the Storm: Exploring Alternative Risk Management Strategies Amid Winter Storm Elliott”, which earned highest honors.  


I.ii Data Analysis  

Alongside primary data collection, collected data were cleaned in preparation for analysis, which began in February 2024. This has taken various forms:  

  • All transcripts were transcribed using voice to text software, and later manually cleaned and corrected by research team (n= 83 of 90 total).
  • Research team created a codebook which will be used to thematically parse and analyze interview transcripts, thereby facilitating the synthesis of research themes into actionable recommendation on ways to improve market management strategies across the SE. To create the codebook the research leads followed best practices in the qualitative social sciences and carried out workshops with research assistants on coding methods and best practices.
  • Coding training began in February 2024, and analysis began in April 2024. It is expected to be ongoing into Fall 2024.  

I.iii Project Logistics 

In addition to completing the research activities outlined above, the work of the project continued on the logistical and administrative level. Activities carried out in this vein include the following: 

  • Farmer Advisory Board: Research team staff have met quarterly with farmer advisory board to solicit feedback on research design, help sharpen research questions, and network with local and regional stakeholders in food system. 
  • Staff Turnover and hiring:
    • Following the departure of Research Manager Anna Ellis in April 2023, Dr. Scott Schnur began as the day-to-day research manager part time in in May 2023, transitioning to full time in July 2023. Dr. Schnur has assisted in project administration, primary data collection RA/staffing, and has spearheaded the data analysis and team coordination for the project.  
    • Due to graduation timelines, the research team transitioned two research assistants in August 2023. These student workers were replaced by Mr. Francis Yeji Albright and Ms. Anne O’Neill in September 2023. Since that time, Mr. Albright and Ms. O’Neal have worked on collecting data, data cleaning, and collating geospatial data.  Isabel Staton, an undergraduate researcher hired in summer 2023 with the YES grant funding, also stayed on during the academic year. 

April 2023

Activities for this year have focused on laying the groundwork for research activities. This has included 1) hiring staff, 2) assembling the farmer advisory board and recruiting market participants, 3) submitting the IRB proposals, including drafting and piloting research tools. Data collection will begin in May 2023. Each of these activities is reviewed in greater detail below.

  1. Hiring Staff

The project activities did not begin until mid-summer while the subaward was being processed. In September 2022, a Research Associate was hired to undertake the day-to-day management of the project. In December 2022, the graduate research assistant was hired. These team members proceeded to advance project activities according to the proposed project timeline.

Unfortunately, in February 2023, the Research Associate had to go out on medical leave. She is not returning to her position. This has required the PI and other Co-PIs to increase their work related to the project and may result in minor adjustments to the budget. The PI is in the process of hiring a new Research Associate who will continue with the project from May 2023 forward. In addition, the project was able to recruit a PhD student at Emory who is conducting a research rotation focused on a literature review of quality of life assessments for farmers. The project also brought on an undergraduate research assistant (who was awarded a SSARE James Harrison Hill, SR Young Scholar Enhancement (YES) in April 2023) who will be joining the research team during the summer of 2023 and producing an anthropology honors thesis based on the results of her participation. These choices benefit the project by creating a talented and robust research team capable of producing high quality results.

  1. Networking and Participant Recruitment

While hiring staff was beginning, the PI also began the recruitment process for research participants and for the 8-member Farmer Advisory Board (FAB) that supports the project. The 8-member FAB was finalized in February 2023 and includes farmers and farmer advocates from across the four states (3 from GA, 1 in AL, 2 in MS, and 2 in LA). These board members have already participated in pilot research activities and aided the research team in identifying participating markets. The FAB members were selected based on their roles as producers or directly supporting producers through work with farmer organizations.

Over the course of the winter, the PI and project staff collaborated with FAB members and other stakeholders (Wholesome Wave Georgia, Georgia Organics, and the LA Grown Program) to identify partner markets. In April 2023, the 15 participating markets have also been confirmed. This step is critical as farmer interviews will be drawn from the vendor lists of these markets. These include six Georgia markets, four Louisiana markets, three in Mississippi and two in Alabama. The markets were selected based on their locations in both rural and urban areas, variety of management infrastructures, varied histories, and willingness to participate.

In addition, the members of the research team attended three conferences where they generated awareness of and excitement about the project (USDA Direct Agricultural Marketing Summit in Pensacola, Florida in October 2022; the Georgia Organics Conference in Perry, GA in February 2023; and the InTents Farmers Market Conference in San Diego, CA, in March 2023). At the first two of these conferences, the research team led formative research sessions that have aided recruitment and study design. Outreach through existing gatherings of farmers, market managers and other food system stakeholders is integral to the future education aspects of this project.

  1. Completing the IRB proposals, Team Retreat, Drafting and Piloting Research Tools

Between December and January, the research team drafted all research tools and submitted the IRB proposal to Emory University. In March 2023, the IRB submission was approved allowing for the formal recruitment of research participants and piloting of research tools. In preparing the IRB proposal, Emory research team members conducted two days of participant observations at the Freedom Farmers Market in Atlanta, GA.

In April 2023, the Managing Markets Research team held its first full-day retreat at Emory University in Atlanta during which all team members collaborated on tool drafts. These tools are being piloted in April and will begin to be administered as part of data collection in May 2023. In April 2023, the PI and Emory Graduate Research Assistant began the content analysis focused on participating markets and expect to complete this content analysis by July 2023.

Through these activities, the project has moved forward. While slightly behind schedule, all research activities are underway and the team is excited to continue building out our data collection.  

Research results and discussion:

April 2024

To date, the project work has focused on completing data collection. Results from analysis are forthcoming as the research team is spending the summer of 2024 coding and synthesizing the data collected.

The most unexpected and impactful dimension of the research to date has been the inclusion and expansion of our interview guide to ask questions related to the ways that dimensions of personal identity, including dimensions such as a race, gender, age, etc. impact the experience of vending at farmers markets. In addition, the interview guides covered participant's perceptions of the role identity plays in shaping market experiences more broadly, including diversity/equity/inclusion policies  by market organizations. This work also led to a successful application for a second YES grant for summer 2024. Working in the field, these questions and their responses garnered diverse and lively answers from participants and we look forward to taking a deeper dive into these issues in our analysis. We would like to thank members of the Farmer Advisory board for encouraging us to expand our research guide and interview tools to include questions on these topics, which was first proposed in our September 2023 meeting.  

We look forward to sharing additional insights in next year's report. 

April 2023

So far, research activities have included 1) two formative research listening sessions at conferences, 2) one research team retreat in April 2023, and 3) piloting interview and participant observation guides. These activities have resulted in improved research instruments that will be used for data collection but do not yet include research data to share.

1. Formative Research Sessions

Two formative research sessions were held at the USDA Direct Agricultural Marketing Summit in Pensacola, Florida in October 2022 and the Georgia Organics Conference in Perry, GA in February 2023. The PI also attended the InTents Farmers Market Conference in San Diego, CA, in March 2023. Results of activities at each conference are outlined below:

  • At the USDA Agricultural Marketing Summit, the session titled “Managing Markets: Exploring the Impact of Farmers Market Management”, introduced participants to the project, reviewed the findings of the 2019 National Farmers Market Manager Survey conducted by NASS, and provided time for participants to share insights about project hypotheses and potential organizations to include. The session resulted in a list of noteworthy farmers market organizations and types of programming that farmers markets undertake. The presentation slides are included in this report.
  • At the Georgia Organics Conference, the research team led a session titled “Managing Farmers Market Managers: Sharing Knowledge and Experience” (session slides included in this report). During the session, participants were divided into three groups – market managers, vendors and shoppers. Each group proceeded to answer three questions: 1) “What do farmers market managers do?, 2) “What do managers do that makes life harder for vendors? and 3) “What do managers do that makes like easier for vendors?". These questions led to a robust discussion as well as free-listed answers that were recorded from all participants. During the discussion, several insights became clear that demonstrate different priorities and understandings between market managers and vendors. For instance, market managers and vendors had different ideas about vendor placement at markets, shared priorities about marketing for farmers markets overall (though vendors stressed concern over favoritism), and vendors expressed the need for rules to be evenly applied to all vendors (market managers responded that vendors want uniform policy in theory but bristle when inconvenient rules are applied to them). The research team is now in the process of coding these responses to identify overlap and differences in the answers of the different groups. We hypothesize that demonstrating where these groups have similar and differing understandings will help identify new management and communication strategies that promote coherence. We plan to release a two-page overview of the findings in May 2023.
  • At the Farmers Market Pros InTents conference in March 2023, the PI networked with participants and used participant observation to document concerns of farmers market managers. At the conference, sessions were held on best practices for market promotion, vendor recruitment, acceptance, management and retention, promoting vendor diversity, ideas for at-market programing to attract customers and support vendors, and exploring the future of farmers market management. These concerns are being incorporated into both the content analysis methodology and participant observation guides for this project.

2. Research Team Retreat held at Emory

On April 14, 2023, the Managing Markets research team held its first team retreat. This retreat focused on presenting information collected to date, refining tool drafts based on all participant feedback, and training team members on the research protocol, data collection procedures, data management processes and preliminary analysis plans. These activities support the generation of high-quality data products for future analysis.

3. Piloting Interview and Participant Observation Guides

In March 2023, the research team began piloting research tools, including the content analysis methodology of primary documents associated with included markets, market manager and farmer interview guides, and participant observation guides.

The pilots for the content analysis demonstrated the viability of this process and have led to the development of a preliminary codebook. The market manager and farmer interview guides have now each been piloted twice, leading to improved structured interview guides. These interview guides mirror each other, which will allow results to be compared between farmer and market managers’ responses. The participant observation guide has been geared to capture market management information and to allow for informal interaction with farmers and customers at market. We look forward to sharing more information in next year’s report following the data collection process.

Participation Summary
90 Farmers participating in research


Educational approach:

The educational approach of this project is iterative. As we gain knowledge through the research activities, we are checking those insights through listening sessions and workshops with different stakeholders. These listening session activities picked up in the fall and winter of 2023/24 (the lighter seasons for many of the farmers included in the project). Outreach using data from the project thus far has included in-person and virtual events with market managers from across the country. These include the following presentations: 

  • What Farmers Markets Manage To Do: Exploring the Diverse Work of Varied Farmers Market Organizations.” This presentation took place at the USDA Direct Agricultural Market Summit in Washington, D.C. on November 14, 2023. 
  • “Management Styles, Vendor Clusters and Market Cohesion: Learning from Qualitative Research on Farmers Market Organizations.” This presentation took place over Zoom with members of the NY Federation of Farmers Markets on January 23rd, 2024.  
  • "What Should We Measure About Farmers Markets?  Manager Input on the National Farmers Market Manager Survey.” This presentation was part of the Wholesome Wave GA state meeting that occurred in Atlanta on February 19th, 2024. This presentation took place in person with market managers from across the state.  

Educational & Outreach Activities

90 Consultations
6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
6 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

90 Farmers participated
8 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Participation in the aforementioned conferences resulted in the participation of farmers/ranchers, and agricultural professionals in project activities. At the USDA Direct Agricultural Marketing Summit in 2024, approximately 60 agricultural professionals, including farmers market managers, farmers market state association leaders, and researchers attended the presentation. Our session with the NY State Farmers Market Federation was attended by 12 market managers, and the 2024 Wholesome Wave session had 9 participants.

In addition, during this year, the team conducted 83 interviews with 93 participants (several interviews had more than one participant). While these were data collection activities, they also provided participants with the opportunity to reflect on their experiences as market managers and as direct agricultural sellers. Several people remarked about the value of this space and time for reflection. 

Beginning summer 2024, the research team is coding interviews that will turn into drafts for journal articles. In collaboration with the FAB, we have also identified several venues for sharing research findings in 2024-2025, including the SOWTH conference in Atlanta, the Tuskegee Farmers Conference, and the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Conference. The team also plans to submit results to the InTents Farmers Market Conference for 2025. 

Learning Outcomes

Key changes:
  • direct marketing
    farmers market management
    social identities impact on farmers market experience

Project Outcomes

3 Grants received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

LS22-368 is underway and will have impacts on the future sustainability of farmers markets across the southeast and farmer participation in those markets. So far, the project has led to 1) two complementary grants awarded; 2) new networks and collaborations among researchers; and 3) interest and support for the project and its findings from farmers and market managers. Over time, all of these results should support sustainable agriculture across the Southeast and provide economic, environmental and social benefits for farmers.

April 2024

This year, the project outcomes were completing data collection for later analysis. We have been able to use the project to expand its scope through two additional grants, by connecting researchers located in the southeast who overlap multiple farmer networks and geographical areas, and by building support for the project through participant recruitment. We look forward to having more to report on how answers to our research questions can contribute to economic, social and environmental sustainability for farmers across the southeast next year.  

Complementary grants awarded: This project is already building on itself in ways that will continue to support sustainable agriculture.

  • USDA Agricultural Market Service Cooperative Research Agreement for National Farmers Market Manager Survey: Following the awarding of this project, in summer 2023 the PI and Co-PI Andrea Rissing and Postdoc Scott Schnur were able to enter into a second Cooperative Research Agreement with USDA AMS to help shape the National Farmers Market Manager Survey in 2025. The survey will allow researchers and industry stakeholders to better understand the state of market management across the country and see how their markets fit into the broader national sector
    • This builds on the first cooperative agreement signed in Fall 2022 to focus on the diversity of farmers market management organizations across the country. This project will draw on data from this SSARE grant in order to assess vendor experiences in the Southeast and will place these findings in a broader national context by conducting an evaluation and assessment of the National Farmers Market Management Survey, a national survey carried out the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service every 5 years. 
  • YES Grants: The research team was awarded a James Harrison Hill Young Scholar Enhancement Grant in summer 2023 and for summer 2024. Isabel Staton, the undergraduate researcher who received the YES award, completed a poster for SSARE and also an honors thesis in Anthropology titled, "Farmers in the Storm: Exploring Alternative Risk Management Strategies Amid Winter Storm Elliott". Isabel interviewed small-scale farmers in the metro area who experienced crop losses during Winter Storm Elliott in December 2022, and assessed on-farm and community resilience strategies as well as challenges to accessing federal crop insurance. Isabel earned Highest Honors for the thesis. 
    • Isabel will continue working with the project for Summer 2024 with a second YES grant. This qualitative study will document farmers market policies related to diversity, equity and inclusion amongst vendors and market staff, and explores perceptions of the role identity plays in shaping economic viability and quality of life for farmers market farmers and managers. 

New collaborations with researchers: The project team expanded collaborations with USDA, snowballing off work beginning in SSARE.  

April 2023

Complementary grants awarded: This project is already building on itself in ways that will continue to support sustainable agriculture. Following the awarding of this project, the PI and Cop-PI Andrea Rissing were able to enter into a Cooperative Research Agreement with USDA AMS to focus on the diversity of farmers market management organizations across the country. This project will draw on data from this SSARE grant in order to assess vendor experiences in the Southeast and will place these findings in a broader national context. LS22-368 activities will be complemented through an online environmental scan of farmers market organizations and the activities that they undertake, virtual focus groups, conference workshops and key informant interviews with leaders of market organizations. In addition, in April 2023, the project was awarded a James Harrison Hill, SR Young Scholar Enhancement (YES) grant that will bring on an undergraduate student to expand the project through a case study analysis of farmers market support for farmers in the Atlanta area following Winter Storm Elliot in December 2023. These two projects expand the scope and impact of LS22-368 and will contribute to insights that should aid farmers market managers to better support the farmers that sell at their markets.

New collaborations with researchers: The project team has built new collaborations – including between scholars at LSU and Tulane (Dr. Sarah Franzen and Dr. Marcus Coleman). Both well embedded in agricultural and farmer networks in the southeast, bringing these two together with the Emory research team opens possibilities for collaboration on this and other projects. Hilary King in Atlanta has made plans to collaborate with Dr. Carrie Furman to work on quality of life assessments for farmers. The two plan to meet to ensure that data collection for this study is aligned with and can contribute to that larger project on defining quality of life.

Interest in and support for the project: Though the primary data collection for this project will begin in May 2023, our listening sessions, conference attendance and recruitment stages have cemented the relevance of this topic to sustainable agriculture. At the Georgia Organics conference, when asked, “what do you do that negatively impacts your vendors?” an Atlanta area market manager joked, “Nothing ever!” The workshop erupted in laughter, and it was clear that this joke broke some level of tension as vendors and market managers laughed at each other’s answers and also listened intently as each discussed the other’s pain points. All stakeholders present were clearly invested in learning about the disconnects and overlaps between their understandings of market management and its impacts. At pilot participant observation days at farmers markets, farmers have actively shared stories of both good and bad market management. All participants have been eager to hear how the study progresses.

We have recruited the markets that we intend to use for the study, and have been approached by several more, demonstrating interest in the project. Through preliminary discussions with market managers, we have also decided to split our interviews of non-market farmers between farmers that used to sell at the selected markets and farmers that applied to the markets but did not end up joining as vendors. We believe that this approach should capture pathways out of markets and also barriers to entry.

This year, the project outcomes are laying the groundwork for meaningful data collection and later analysis. We have been able to use the project to expand its scope through two additional grants, by connecting researchers located in the southeast who overlap multiple farmer networks and geographical areas, and by building support for the project through participant recruitment. We look forward to having more to report on how answers to our research questions can contribute to economic, social and environmental sustainability for farmers across the southeast next year.

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.