- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, technical assistance
- Sustainable Communities: community development, leadership development, partnerships
Farmers’ markets are an indispensable part of maintaining and enhancing Vermont’s farms, local food systems and agricultural knowledge. Farmers’ markets have also proven to be one of the best ways to cultivate lasting personal relationships between farmers and consumers, and present an ideal opportunity to educate people about the importance of viable local food systems. For farmers, direct sales at farmers’ markets represent the best return on labor and investments; and markets offer communities an excellent revival tool for downtown centers and businesses. This project seeks to bolster the stability and sustainable growth of farmers’ markets in Vermont by providing much needed professional development and networking opportunities for farmers’ market organizers. Farmers’ markets are a critical resource for hundreds of agricultural producers, most evidently because of the added value of direct-to-consumer sales. By developing the strength and stability of farmers’ markets, this project has the potential to improve direct to consumer sales for hundreds of Vermont agricultural producers. We propose to collaborate with the Vermont Farmers Market Association (VTFMA), the Castanea Foundation and the Farmers’ Market Coalition to develop and pilot a professional development training program for 10 market manager/board member teams.
Project objectives from proposal:
To achieve the goals of developing a strong professional skill set among Vermont’s farmers’ markets, we propose the following activities: Market Learning Community: We will select 10 markets to participate in a two-year Market Learning Community. A competitive application process will select the 10 markets based on their being able to demonstrate that they have a foundation upon they can make significant improvements through the training sessions and mini-grant program. The end goal for Learning Community is that the participating markets will be able to act as economic anchors in the broader farmers’ market community and provide mentorship to less established markets in their regions. Professional Development Training Sessions: Over the course of the first year, the Market Learning Community will participate in four training sessions to dive deeply into critical challenges that have been identified through market interviews and the 2010 Vermont Farmers’ Market Survey. The four topics are detailed in the timeline below. Because these issues closely align with challenges that markets are experiencing around the country, we will work with the Farmers’ Market Coalition to identify existing resources and to create robust training materials that address gaps in the current knowledge base of the farmers’ market community. These important resources will be available to other markets and market associations. In addition to attending the four training sessions, members of the Market Learning Community will be expected to attend the 2012 Direct Marketing Conference. We will utlize this convening as an opportunity for the member markets to evaluate the lessons learned to date and plans for each market’s mini-grant. Market Visits: During the 2012 summer market season, NOFA-VT will conduct and on-site consultation with each of the Learning Community markets. Additionally, each of the 10 markets will accompany the NOFA-VT farmers’ market consultant to the consultations to conduct a peer-to-peer observation. Market Mini-Grants: Each of the 10 markets will receive a $2,500 mini-grant (provided by the Castanea Foundation) to integrate lessons learned from the training sessions into their market’s functionality. After the final training session, markets will be asked to create a proposal for a $2,500 project to be implemented in 2013. Possible projects include: hiring a facilitator to solidify the market’s board of directors, creating a promotional campaign that utilizes evaluation techniques to determine most strategic marketing investments, or convening a market task force to research, write, and implement successful market regulations (that fully address food handling regulations and best practices). Farmers’ Market Coalition Convening: In 2012, two members of the VTFMA will attend the first Farmers’ Market Coalition Convening (date tbd) to network with other nascent farmers’ market associations from around the country. Regional Networking Sessions: Members of the Market Learning Community will each host one training in their region for neighboring farmers’ markets. These trainings will help the member markets solidify the lessons learned from the Learning Community and begin to establish a market mentorship network. 1/8/2012 RFP for Market Learning Community Released at Direct Marketing Conference. VTFMA Board helps define criteria for selecting 10 markets. NOFA-VT prepares and announces RFP. 3/1/2012 Markets submit applications for the Learning Community. 4/2/2012 10 markets selected to participate in the Learning Community. VTFMA board members and Castanea Foundation advise selection of 10 markets in partnership with NOFA-VT. 5/1/2012 Training Session 1: Evaluating Effective Promotions and Making Strategic Marketing Investments. NOFAVT, in partnership with FMC, conducts training. 6/4/2012 Training Session 2: Safe Food Handling and Implementing Market Regulations. NOFA-VT, in partnership with FMC, conducts training. 6/1/2012-9/1/2012 Market site visits by NOFA-VT farmers’ market consultant and partner markets. NOFA-VT coordinates site visits with markets and peer market representatives. 10/1/2012 Training Session 3: Developing an Effective Board NOFA-VT, in partnership with FMC, conducts training. 11/5/2012 Training Session 4: Building Budgets of a Sustainable Market NOFA-VT, in partnership with FMC, conducts training. 11/2012-1/12/2013 Markets develop mini-grant proposals. NOFA-VT staff outlines proposal guidelines and provides direct consultation to assist with proposal development. 1/12/2013 Meeting of Learning Committee to discuss lessons learned from training sessions and mini-grant proposals. NOFA-VT hosts meeting in conjunction with VTFMA. NOFA-VT conducts evaluation with markets to assess impact of training sessions. 1/2013-12/2013 Markets complete mini-grant projects. 1/2013-12/2013 Markets host a training in their region for neighboring markets NOFA-VT helps markets coordinate their regional trainings. Date tbd Representatives from VTFMA Board attend FMC Convening. NOFA-VT and VTFMA share findings with other state market associations. 1/2014 Final Reporting. NOFA-VT evaluates program successes and prepares final reporting materials. This project is fundamentally about developing stronger professional skills across the farmers’ market community through shared learning opportunities such as an intensive Market Learning Community, leveraging the VTFMA and FMC networks, and establishing a new market mentorship program. In other words, outreach and information sharing are central to the mission of this project. Our outreach will use existing resources for information sharing including the annual Direct Marketing Conference, the upcoming FMC convening, and the existing networks of the VTFMA and FMC. We will work closely with FMC to develop the training session resources, which will ensure that the training materials are accessible to other markets and market associations around the country. Furthermore, the market mentorship component of the project will encourage members of the Learning Community to share critical lessons learned with markets throughout their region.