Fostering Sustainability for Farmers’ Markets Through Professional Market Management Training
Farmers’ markets play a vital role in our communities. For agriculture, the most significant impact is as a low cost venue for small and medium scale farmers to achieve retail level profits. The sales generated at farmers’ markets may, in fact, be the economic boost that sustains the farms, keeping the land in active production and the farm viable enough to pass on to future generations.
Communities look to farmers’ markets for many benefits, as well. Farmers’ markets can enhance economic development and play a key role in community revitalization efforts. The drawing power of farmers’ markets attracts crowds on market day that spill over into surrounding businesses. Local businesses report increased sales and profits on market days. While local businesses grow as a result of the increased traffic from the farmers’ market, new businesses start up surrounding the market or are incubated within the market to take advantage of the customer appeal of the market. Nurtured by a successful farmers’ market within the community, new and growing businesses add to the job base as well as the tax base of communities.
Additionally, farmers’ markets provide social benefits to communities. They provide not only vibrant public spaces that build neighbor relations, but they also offer access to fresh local foods to consumers of all economic levels and ethnic backgrounds. They are a key link between urban culture and agriculture and educate consumers about agricultural practices and issues through direct farmer-to-consumer interactions.
While it is recognized that farmers’ markets provide vital benefits to consumers, farmers and communities, many markets are not living up to their potential to serve their communities. In fact, up to 50% of new farmers’ markets fail within their first five years. Many factors have been cited that attribute to these failures, including:
Lack of manager skills necessary for the day-to-day operations of the market, lack of leadership skills or ability to create effective management systems.
Lack of planning for future growth and development of the market
Market dependent of volunteerism, without adequate plans for new leadership development
Friction between farmers or between farms and market management, threatening the integrity of the market
Lack of community support
Many of the issues causing market failure can be eliminated with professional market managers and management systems. Therefore, a three-year curriculum is being developed to train Cornell Cooperative Extension and farmers’ market managers in professional standards, policies and practices for farmers’ market management. Extension educators will be encouraged to go through the training, add farmers’ market management to their work plan and bring their new skills and tools to their community markets and market managers to ensure that each market in their region achieves its goal of serving its farmers, consumers and community.
After each year’s training program, the curriculum will be incorporated into a written training manual. The manual will have a job description as well as tools, checklists and/or procedural guidelines that will assist market managers and Extension educators to conduct the management of their local farmers markets with the highest level of professionalism.
Of the 62 Extension offices and over 300 farmers’ market management teams invited to participate in workshops and given a training manual, 25 Extension educators will use their new skills and written materials to work directly with farmers’ market managers in their region to develop professional farmers’ market management policies and practices. The impact of their involvement will result in 75 markets adopting new procedures, policies and/or market systems that will foster long term sustainability for their farmers’ markets.
Reaching the performance target will be accomplished in increments over three years. Each year a new focus of management training will occur, giving Extension educators and market managers new knowledge, materials and tools to use. Evaluations and surveys will be used to track progress in reaching the performance target. After each year’s workshop, Extension educators and market managers will complete an evaluation of the current program and a survey. From the survey, we will learn:
Whether the knowledge and tools from prior years training programs have been implemented;
The degree of Extension involvement in farmers’ market manager training from the manager’s perspective; and
Whether Extension educators have added farmers’ market management training to their work plan and in what manner.
Year 1 Workshop is held, a two-day event focused on basic market manager roles. Eighty beneficiaries will attend the workshops to learn market manager duties and be able to bring the skills and information back to their community markets.
Pre-project surveys were sent to all current market managers in New York State, as well as all 62 Cornell Cooperative Extension offices in New York. The survey cover letter introduced each potential beneficiary to the project and asked for their input in developing the first stage of the training program – basic market manager roles. From the survey, we learned several points:
The degree of Extension involvement in market management. Of 62 counties surveyed, 27 responded, with 16 educators indicating they include farmers’ markets in their plan of work. Eight 8 provide management assistance and 14 provide cooking demonstrations/nutrition education at the market
Experience level for current market managers is 5 years
Approximately half of the market managers responding to the survey indicate they receive some level of support from Extension – demonstrations, publicity and advice.
Approximately half of the market managers responding to the survey indicate they are compensated, either as a salaried position, as an employee of the market sponsor or as a vendor with complimentary selling space.
The educational needs of both Extension educators and market managers were identified under the broad heading of basic manager roles.
Using the survey results, the project committee developed a curriculum for the Year 1 Workshop. The topics to be covered include:
An introduction of the duties of farmers’ market managers
Fair and enforceable rules and regulations
Communication skills for market managers
Strategies for increasing vendor sales
Fundraising and money management
Creating a market experience to keep customers coming back
Vendor recruitment tools
In addition to these topics, several others were chosen to be covered in the written manual. These include customer service skills for market managers and risk management.
The Year 1 Workshop for basic market manager roles is scheduled for January 18-19, 2007. To maximize attendance, the project committee has contracted with Richard McCarthy, the executive director of marketumbrella.org and the Crescent City Farmers’ Market in New Orleans, to be a featured speaker. His dynamic personality, his experiences in developing and expanding markets in the delta region and his involvement in the farmers market movement on a national level make him an attraction to those seeking to learn more about the roles of market managers.
Publicity, in the form of press releases and announcements on ag-related list-serves, brought attention to the program and will promote attendance.
Scholarships were offered to market managers and Extension educators in an effort to encourage participation by those who may not have the funding to support continuing education. Applicants were asked about their experience levels, their market budgets, and how they felt the training would benefit their market and their community. The budget for the workshop was to accommodate 10 scholarships; however, an overwhelming number of applications justified an increase in the number of scholarship awards to 18. Of the 18 scholarships awarded, five were made to Extension educators.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Performance targets are yet to be reached, as we are too early in the project. However, we are on target with the project plan. Training needs have been identified for the first phase of the program, basic manager roles, the curriculum set and the program is scheduled for January 18 and 19, 2007. The development of the training manual will begin immediately following the workshop.
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