Fostering Sustainability for Farmers’ Markets Through Professional Market Management Training
Farmers markets, once thought of as a possession of its participating farmers, are a community asset. They serve not just the farmers, but also the consumers who shop and socialize at the market, as well as the host community, who reaps a variety of benefits from having a market in its midst. For a market to be successful, it must recognize that it is a vital asset of its community and must have each component of this triple audience, farmers, consumers and the community, in equal balance.
Farmers’ markets are important venues for small- and mid- scale family farmers to sell their products. Having direct access to consumers and selling at retail level pricing provides farmers with a higher profit margin than more traditional marketing outlets. In fact, in some cases, these family farms are too small to fit into those traditional marketing outlets, producing insufficient quantities to be a part of the supply chain. Instead the retail farmers’ market offers the farmers increased profit margins for their farm products, leading to increased profitability resulting in sustainable farms.
Farmers’ markets provide opportunities for family farmers. The low cost of start-up for small scale farming for farmers’ market sales makes entry into agriculture more affordable. Smaller equipment needs, smaller acreage needs and less labor needs are all characteristic of farmers’ market farmers as opposed to farms reliant upon wholesale channels for marketing their farm products, keeping cost of entry for new farms low.
Opportunities at farmers markets are available for existing small- and mid- scale farms as well. Access to a steady customer base allows farmers to test market new products, whether they are value-added products that are test marketed prior to major financial investments, or introduction of new ethnic vegetables. Farmers’ markets provide instant feedback to growers and producers that help steer product decisions based on consumer response. This rapid-feedback mechanism can alert the entire farming community in an area to emerging trends in consumer preferences. It was certainly farmers’ market farmers who first noticed the consumer interest in organic farm products; now, many of their wholesale-farmer neighbors are also reaping a certified-organic premium on at least some of their crops.
Farmers markets allow farmers to grow their businesses in a controlled manner. Part-time farmers, relying on off-farm income, are able to maintain the off-farm employment as they develop their farm product line, their customer base and increase their sales and profits. They can grow at their own speed and choose to become full time as their business expands sufficiently to support the loss of the off-farm employment, minimizing reliance on debt. Farmers’ markets also allow farmers to promote their farm businesses to consumers. Those with on-farm stands, agri-tourism operations or pick-your-own crops often use farmers’ markets as a vehicle for drawing customers to their home farm operations.
Consumers enjoy having a farmers’ market in the community. The availability of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as other farm products allows them to feed their families fresh wholesome foods. They can become acquainted with the producers of their food, learning about agricultural practices, food handling and preparation. Farmers’ markets are perceived as a safe source of food for their families, free from the worries of contamination that they hear so often on the evening news. There are many programs offered at farmers’ markets that make fresh local foods accessible to all consumers, so that no one in any socio-economic strata is left out. Coupon programs and wireless food stamp benefit access help make food at farmers markets available to everyone.
Farmers’ markets have a significant impact on strengthening the social fabric of the community. They bring people of all walks of life together in a family-friendly atmosphere. People enjoy the experience of shopping at a farmers’ market. They become acquainted with one another and friendships grow. They begin to develop a sense of community that can result in a more cooperative atmosphere, reduced crime rates, and greater value being placed on sharing with one another. As markets draw people together, others recognize the community spirit of the market. Politicians often turn to market as a place to reach a wide audience in a welcoming atmosphere. Nonprofit organizations find farmers’ markets are an excellent place to deliver their message, reach their audience and fundraise. Many markets across the state have partnered with non-profit organizations to increase customer traffic that benefits both the non-profit and the farmers vending at the market.
Many communities across the state have experienced economic and social decline, especially in their business districts and downtowns. Community leaders and organizations, both political and civic, are looking for answers to reclaim and rebuild their urban cores as economic and social centers for community life.
Farmers’ markets are a natural fit for a community’s revitalization efforts. A key mission of farmers’ markets is to serve, not only farmers and consumers, but also the entire community. They do this in a variety of ways that help build the local economy, create vibrant social gathering places and establish a local food system that ensures food security for residents and encourages a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Communities hosting farmers’ markets experience significant economic benefits from their markets. The customer appeal of market attracts large crowds that patronize not only market vendors, but also increase the customer base of the local business community, as well. Many local shops, restaurants and other businesses experience an increase in traffic and sales on market day. They may also realize an increase in overall sales as a result of the exposure they receive from market traffic. For this reason, new businesses may seek locations near a market to take advantage of the customer traffic generated by the farmers’ market, helping them to become established in the community. Farmers markets, themselves, will incubate new businesses that will grow out into the community with full time locations and staff. Farmers’ markets foster economic revitalization in the community through business growth, job creation and the multiplier effect of customer shopping and spending their dollars within the local economy. A popular market can also be a significant tourism attraction.
To ensure that farmers markets reach their potential to realize these benefits for their farmers, consumers and host communities, it is important that farmers markets are managed with professional standards. Training opportunities, through this project, are being created that will provide opportunities to teach professional standards and share policies and best practices among market managers and Extension educators to ensure that farmers markets have every opportunity to operate at their full capacity and realize a mission that fulfills a triple bottom line of farmers, consumers and community.
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 farmers’ markets adopting new procedures, policies and/or market systems that will foster long-term sustainability for their farmers’ markets.
Milestone 1: Year 1 Workshop is held, a 2 day event focused on basic market manager roles. 80 beneficiaries will attend the workshops to learn market manager duties and be able to bring the skills and information back to their community farmers’ markets.
Year 1 Workshop was held on January 18-19, 2007, in conjunction with the NYS Farmers Direct Market Conference. The workshop covered the basic roles of a farmers market manager, including on site duties, strategies for increasing vendor sales, farmers market rules and regulations development and enforcement, fundraising and budgeting, vendor recruitment, and communications skills. Richard McCarthy, Executive Director of marketumbrella.org and founder of the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans, President of the Farmers Market Coalition and known nationwide for his work with farmers market development and local food systems initiatives offered his unique take on creating an experience that keeps customers returning – New Orleans-style. He also led round table discussions that helped to involve attendees in the learning process.
The workshop was attended by a total of 47 people from three states and Canada. Thirty six participants were market managers, four from states other than NY, 9 were Extension educators, one from Pennsylvania, 2 were representatives from non profit organizations seeking to learn more about farmers markets and potential partnership opportunities.
Scholarships were offered to assist farmers market managers and Extension educators to attend the market management training program. Fifteen scholarships were awarded, ten to farmers market managers and five to Extension educators who have pledged to include farmers markets as part of their 2007 plan of work.
Milestone 2: 50 Extension Educators will work with farmers market managers through the first market season of the project, targeting at least one area from the workshop training. Assessment will be conducted through surveys and follow up phone calls at the Year 2 workshop.
Evaluations of the workshop attendees assessed the value of the training program to their work with farmers markets. The following is a sample of the comments that were reported:
• Information from each session has practical application
• Will be sharing information with market managers, sponsor and youth in the market when I get back home
• I’m just starting out, so this information is extremely helpful and will be used as a resource
• This will be our market’s 3rd year and this information will help us to make needed improvements
• Handouts and information have given me the best information I have had to date
• Helped to confirm that we are doing a good job in our market
• This will help us to tweak our rules, with tools to enforce them
• This gives us ideas for developing a sustainable market committee
• Interaction with other chamber and municipal folks was helpful
• Helpful to get new contacts with good sources of information
• Information will be very helpful in the everyday management of our market.
A review of Extension educators involved in farmers markets, whether in management capacity, advisory roles, or in working with the farmers that participate in the farmers markets, we have determined that there were minimally 33 New York State Extension educators working with farmers markets during the 2007 market season. Extension involvement came from Nutrition Educators, Ag Economic Development Specialists, as well as Production Specialists. Extension educators that participated in the training workshop, indicated that they plan to use the information and tools provided to them in the following manner:
• Will use this information as a “train the trainer” model to disseminate the information to current managers, vendors and future managers and vendors
• Will try to connect more with the Chamber and Village reps to get them on board and behind our efforts.
Milestone 6: A written training manual for market mangers will be completed and distributed. Of the 400 manuals distributed to Extension Educators and farmers market managers, 100 will be read, either in whole or in part. Assessment will be made on a final survey as part of Milestone 7.
The training program has been broken down into three stages. The first stage is basic market manager roles. The conference-style training for this stage is complete and the training manual for the first stage is in development. The chapters have been written and are in editing for a final draft. The first installment of the manual will be distributed at the Year 2 Market Managers Training Workshop to be conducted in March of 2008.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The target audience for the Year 1 workshop was 80 participants. While falling short of the goal in the face to face setting, we feel confident that we have reached out to a new audience. The scholarship winners have never participated in previous market manager training workshops, nor had a significant number of additional workshop participants. However, we may have ultimately reached our goal by including the power point presentations from the workshops on the Farmers Market Federation of NY website, http://www.nyfarmersmarket.com/powerpoints.htm. Here anyone interested in the workshops and learning the basics of market manager roles can download each presentation.
Plans are now underway for the 2008 Market Managers Training Workshop. This will be held March 6-8 in Rochester, NY. The 2008 Workshop will be the second stage of the training, Building Market Community. The workshop will include a tour of the Rochester Public Market, as well as local foods.
Niagara Frontier Growers Cooperative
1443-1517 Clinton St.
Buffalo, NY 14206
Office Phone: 7168222466
Cornell Cooperative Extension
615 Willow Ave
Ithaca, NY 14850
Office Phone: 6072722292
Cornell Cooperative Extension
480 N. Main St.
Canandaigua, NY 14424-1049
Office Phone: 5853943977
Bureau of Parks & Recreation
400 Dewey Ave.
Rochester, NY 14613
Office Phone: 5854286770