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 has consisted of four regional roundtables in November and December of 2012; six meetings with the Vermont Farmers’ Market Association during their 2012-2013 session focusing on the development of best practices, a statewide Direct Marketing Conference (DMC) on January 13, 2013; 5 regional roundtables in October-December 2013; and the upcoming statewide DMC on January 12, 2014. The DMC is designed this year as a more interactive gathering for markets to network both by region and statewide by piloting a new intensive farmers’ market organizer track. This track will feature longer, small-group working sessions where participants will work through a workbook or other materials to simultaneously find solutions and build resources for their farmers’ market.
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 secured funding for markets to apply for $2,500 mini-grants to support their individual professional development needs. Since we did not receive funds for these mini-grants, we have been looking into alternative ways to support markets advanced professional development training. To this end, we have worked with the New England Grassroots Environment Fund (NEGEF) and the Vermont Farm Viability program to fund professional development for markets. NEGEF has provided a GROW grant to the West River Farmers’ Market to do board development work and is interested in funding other farmers’ markets. The Vermont Farm Viability is expanding their focus from farms to other agricultural related businesses and is piloting working with farmers’ markets this winter with the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. We are working closely with them on this pilot and, if successful, will offer 1-2 other markets business planning, strategic planning, and/or marketing planning support in 2014.
The performance targets for the first set of regional roundtables were previously reported on. This report addresses the performance targets associated with the 2013 Direct Marketing Conference and the 2013 regional roundtables.
Market Learning Community Performance Targets: All participating markets will be required to complete a project verification survey at the end of their participation in the first phase of professional development trainings and workshops. The survey will allow us to analyze changes to knowledge in four core areas identified by Vermont farmers’ markets as key to enhancing professional development efforts: board development and governance, evaluating promotions and outreach, market regulations and safety, and building sustainable market budgets.
*All participating markets will have identified the appropriate management and governance structure to fit their market size and needs. If they are not already operating within that structure, they will have created a strategic plan of how to get there.
*All markets will have adopted bylaws and created guidelines.
*All markets will have a Board of Directors or advisory committee, depending on market size and needs.
*All markets will have developed a market budget.
*60% of participating markets believe they have increased their profitability and viability as a result of their participation in this project.
*60% of the participating markets will have increased their agricultural sales by 10% from the market season prior to starting the program (2011) to the season after completing the program (2013).
Status of reaching performance target: Although the proposal, as written, was designed so that 10 markets would participate in an in-depth program, we have adjusted the format to allow any markets in the state to participate. In addition, without funding for individual market mini-grants, we have adjusted the deliverables to reflect work that has been done in-group settings, instead of one-on-one.
At the January 2013 Direct Marketing Conference, two trainings were held: Food Safety at Farmers’ Markets and Farmers’ Market Governance. With their matching grant, the Castanea Foundation provided support for each market to send a representative for free to the January 2013 DMC and 36 market organizers attended. In addition, the Vermont Farmers’ Market Association held their annual meeting. The key focus at the meeting was gathering input from the attending markets priorities and needs for the development of best practices for markets.
Based on research early in the 2012-2013 session and feedback at the annual meeting in January, the VTFMA and NOFA-VT staff worked to create a series of best practices documents to guide the work of Vermont farmers’ markets. These documents are intended as guides, not standards. The intention of these guides is to promote ideas for marketing, governance, and safety practices that, if followed, will help markets thrive. The VTFMA focused on three of the four key issues identified in the grant proposal: governance & policy, market safety (including food safety), and marketing. These guides can be found here: http://vtfma.org/index.php/membership/best-practices-for-farmers-markets. It has been identified that a best practice guide is needed for budgeting/accounting/record keeping and the VTFMA is looking forward to working on developing that in the future.
During the summer 2013 season, NOFA-VT staff visited 9 markets across the state to observe and consult with markets on topics ranging from marketing, governance issues, and supporting food access programs with low capacity. NOFA-VT staff also consulted on the phone frequently with many market organizers from across the state requesting support.
Five regional roundtables were held in October – December 2013. Based on feedback from markets that they wanted time primarily for networking, and due to the fact that there will be more intensive working sessions at the 2014 DMC, we took out the training component from the roundtables and held 3 hour meetings that were primarily networking sessions. These sessions were very well received. 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 neighboring markets.
- October 28th in Essex Jct, 12 market representatives
- November 5th in Rutland, 8 market representatives
- November 11th in St. Johnsbury, 5 market representatives
- December 4th in Brattleboro, 2 market representatives (due to illness and conflicts, multiple folks who had pre-registered missed the meeting)
- December 10th in Norwich, 9 market representatives
- One other roundtable was planned for Bennington but all of the interested Bennington Co. folks ended up coming to the meeting in Rutland.
A total of 36 participants attended the 2013 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.
We are currently planning the last part of this project – intensive tracks for the 2014 DMC. The trainings at the DMC this year are:
- Building High Impact Board Teams: Leadership Skills that Make the Difference
- Marketing Tools, Best Practices, & Guidelines for Better Organizing & Promoting Farmers’ Markets
- Making the Case for Your Market in Your Community
- Flagship Market Roundtable.
We again have funds to enable one market organizer from each VTFMA member market to attend the DMC for free – a great way to increase participation in this professional development opportunity.
As this project is wrapping up, we will build upon the strong relationships that market managers are developing. We will pair markets that are looking for mentorship with markets that have experience. We believe that these mentorships will strengthen the connections between markets and contribute to stronger markets.
Performance Target 1: All participating markets will have identified the appropriate management and governance structure to fit their market size and needs. If they are not already operating within that structure, they will have created a strategic plan of how to get there.
Performance Target 2:All markets will have adopted bylaws and created guidelines.
Performance Target 3: All markets will have a Board of Directors or advisory committee, depending on market size and needs.
Status of Performance Target 1, 2, and 3:
All of the markets participating in the 2013 roundtables reported having bylaws and a board or steering committee (or are incorporated under an organization that does). Many of the markets indicate that they would like to revise/update their bylaws and/or that their board is not as active as they would like. Since we do not have mini-grants to work individually with markets, we are focusing on pairing markets with mentors markets to help them with this work and providing high quality intensive workshops at the DMC.
Performance Target 4:All markets will have developed a market budget.
Status of Performance Target 4:
The VTFMA has determined that a best practice document on farmers market financials is important and is looking into the resources it would take to develop one. In addition, NOFA-VT has determined that while best practices like those that the VTFMA will develop will help markets, markets will need individual support to make these changes at their markets. We believe that with the support of organizations like NEGEF and Vermont Farm Viability, we will make progress in 2014 on this issue.
Performance Target 5: 60% of participating market representatives believe they have increased their profitability and viability as a result of their participation in this project.
Status of Performance Target 5:
- When surveyed after participating in the Farmers Market Governance Workshop at the 2013 DMC, ‘As a market, do you feel like you are better prepared to maintain and increase the success of your market management due to your participation in this program?’ 93% (14 of 15 market representatives) who responded said yes.
- When surveyed after participating in the Food Safety at Farmers’ Markets Workshop at the 2013 DMC, ‘As a market, do you feel like you are better prepared to maintain and increase the success of your market management due to your participation in this program?’ 93% (13 of 14 market representatives) who responded said yes.
- When asked at the 2013 Regional Roundtables participant survey, “On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = Not at all and 5 = Yes!), do you feel like you got ideas that will help you increase the profitability of your market due to your participation in this roundtable?”, the responses were: 1 – 0 votes; 2 – 3 votes; 3 – 4 votes; 4 – 9 votes; 5 – 8 votes. This equates to 71% of responding markets choosing 4 or 5.
Performance Target 6: 60% of the participating markets will have increased their agricultural sales by 10% from the market season prior to starting the program (2011) to the season after completing the program (2013).
Status of Performance Target 6:
The 2013 farmers market survey will be collected in early 2014. At that time, we will analyze the agricultural sales data for all reporting markets that participated in some aspect of this project.
Quotes from the 2013 DMC Farmers Market Governance Workshop market participants are below:
- “I have been managing this market for 7 years. Still keeping up with changing times is important to me. I feel attending workshops such as this helps me stay informed and aware of new ideas.”
- “Yes better informed. Can bring ideas to the board.”
- “Keep the workshops like this coming!”
Quote from a 2013 DMC Farmers Market Food Safety Workshop market participant is below:
- “This is the second time I have participated in this workshop. Each time I have obtained valuable information.”
Quotes from 2013 Roundtables market participants are below:
- “It is always good to have discussions with market management – new ideas always emerge”
- “I never have an opportunity to connect with other managers and this was perfect”“I have felt very isolated in this job – it was great talking to others with experience”
- “I had a chance to really hash out some issues around manager vs. board responsibilities with people with different kinds of markets, but who knew what I was dealing with.”
When asked if key issues discussed at the 2013 roundtables increased their level of understanding on the issues, 91% (21 of 23 market participants) who responded rated their level of understanding as greater after the roundtable than before.
One hundred percent of 2013 roundtable survey respondents when asked “Do you think NOFA-VT should do roundtables again in 2014?” said yes!
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The increase in high-quality professional development and networking opportunities for all farmers market organizers in Vermont is leading to more market organizers to believe they have the tools to increase the profitability and viability of their markets. This shift in attitude has the potential for impact on hundreds Vermont agricultural producers using farmers markets as a marketing outlet. This project has also helped markets identify areas where they need more intensive support, yet as we have developed this Market Learning Community markets have stated loud and clear that in order to participate in an in-depth training program (such as was initially proposed) they need financial resources. Therefore, NOFA-VT is partnering with other organizations such as the VTFMA, NEGEF and the Vermont Farm Viability Program to find resources for markets to access and afford this intensive support.