The Community Market Project
Farmers’ markets are an indispensable part of maintaining and enhancing Vermont’s farms, local food systems and agricultural knowledge. 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. 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.
Since we first proposed this grant, we have revised our strategy for implementing the professional development training program in order to make the trainings available to more markets. In the fall of 2012, NOFA-VT piloted a Market Learning Community with the goals of 1) providing professional development opportunities for farmers markets to enhance profitability and long term viability of markets, and 2) build a highly functional farmers’ market learning community. This program consisted of four professional development regional trainings in November and December of 2012, and will be followed up with a statewide Direct Marketing Conference in January 2013 designed as a more interactive gathering for markets to network both by region and statewide. In keeping with the original proposal, selected markets will then serve as trainers to other markets in their region in 2013.
The Castanea Foundation pledged $25,000 to this project, but not for the mini-grants, as we originally discussed, but to support the broader market learning community goals proposed for this project. Because of this, we have not yet secured funding for markets to apply for $2,500 mini-grants to support their individual professional development needs. We submitted a proposal to several funders this fall, and funding decisions are still outstanding. Should we not receive funds, we are looking into alternative ways to support markets advanced professional development training.
In the first phase of this project, instead of releasing an RFP for market participation in the market learning community, we contacted all of the farmers’ market managers to confirm their professional development needs, and to assess their interest and availability to attend regional trainings. In our grant proposal, we proposed the following four trainings:
1: Evaluating Effective Promotions and Making Strategic Marketing Investments
2. Safe Food Handling and Implementing Market Regulations
3: Developing an Effective Board
4: Building Budgets of a Sustainable Market
These were confirmed as priority professional development trainings, and in consultation with the Vermont Farmers Market Association board, and Darlene Wolnik, a farmers’ market consultant and current Market Programs Advisor for the Farmers Market Coalition, we developed the trainings.
To evaluate progress towards meeting our performance goals, participants in the professional development regional roundtables completed a survey. This survey allowed us to analyze changes in knowledge in the professional development area discussed at the event (either ‘Marketing/Promotions’ or ‘Building Sustainable Budgets’). A similar survey will be provided at the professional development workshops (‘Market Governance’ and ‘Food Safety’) at the January 2013 Direct Marketing Conference. These surveys also asked participants to identify other specific ways NOFA can support markets. These surveys were the first stage in measurement. As the program continues, further analysis will be completed depending on the professional development trainings and/or grants that markets receive.
Four professional development regional roundtables were held in November and December 2012, on two of the training topics: Building Sustainable Market Budgets and Evaluating Effective Promotions and Making Strategic Marketing Investments. The other two trainings will take place at the Direct Marketing Conference in January for the following reasons: 1. Availability of the trainers (board governance consultant Darlene Wolnik is from New Orleans, and was coming to Vermont to do other consulting work in the winter), 2. Opportunity for continuity of learning – holding the regional trainings in November/December, followed up by a training in January, and 3. Efficiency of holding trainings when the majority of managers are already gathering. With their matching grant, the Castanea Foundation is providing support for each market to send a representative to the January, 2013 Direct Marketing Conference; thereby allowing us to reach a broader market audience.
Markets were invited to attend any of the roundtables and could attend more than one, but were encouraged to attend the one in their region to provide networking opportunities with their neighbor markets.
– November 28th in St. Johnsbury focused on Building Sustainable Budgets, 8 participants
– December 3rd in Winooski focused on Building Sustainable Budgets, 10 participants
– December 4th in White River Junction focused on Marketing/Promotions, 18 participants
– December 6th in Middlebury focused on Marketing/Promotions, 8 participants
– Two other roundtables were planned, one for Bennington and another for Brattleboro, but not enough RSVPs were received and they were canceled.
A total of 44 participants attended the four roundtables. The Vermont Farmers’ Market Association (VTFMA) collaborated with NOFA-VT to provide outreach to VTFMA members about these events. Four VTFMA board members also attended – providing meaningful feedback about how the VTFMA can support their member markets and partner with NOFA-VT to provide further professional development trainings and support.
The framework of these roundtables was that half was spent networking, sharing challenges and brainstorming solutions; the second half was when the consultant came and provided a short presentation on the topic and then dived deeper into the questions the participants had. For example, we did two roundtables on Sustainable Budgets but the conversation was very different with the two groups because of the interests and needs in the room. One focused on how to do a cash flow analysis and the other more on fundraising strategies.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Overall the feedback for this first set of professional development regional roundtables was extremely positive.
Quotes from participants are below in response to the question: What did you like about this networking session?:
– “I love hearing about other markets and having someone to bounce ideas off.”
– “Open, people were speaking freely.”
– “We identified similar challenges and brainstormed solutions.”
– “A chance to hear ideas on fundraising. Learn about the variety of structures.”
When asked ‘As a market, do you feel like you are better prepared to maintain and increase profitability of your market due to your participation in this program?’, 21 of 22 people who responded said yes.