Sustaining Farmers Markets that Serve Low-Income Consumers

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2008: $9,995.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Kimberly Chung
Michigan State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Farm Business Management: market study, marketing management
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, local and regional food systems

    Proposal abstract:

    “Sustaining Farmers Markets that Serve Low-income Consumers” is designed to explore the conditions and constraints that farmers face when participating in farmers markets in low-income areas. The recent proliferation of farmers markets, and subsequent competition for farmers, has made it increasingly difficult for these markets to identify farmers who will commit to selling there. The goal of this research is to uncover farmers’ perspectives on their decision-making and thus aims to inform market managers of key factors associated with: (1) farmers recruitment and retention to markets located in low-income areas and (2) farmer participation in on-site Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) redemption programs. Five Michigan farmers markets will be selected as case studies. Qualitative research methods will be used to conduct approximately 25 in-depth interviews with farmers. The researchers, together with participating farmers and market managers, will use the results to engage in dialogue and co-learning as a means to explore the conditions necessary to sustain farmer participation in low-income areas. In the short-term, it is expected that farmers will gain an increased awareness of their individual and collective concerns regarding their commitment to farmers markets in low-income areas. Market managers will gain a greater understanding of the factors influencing farmer recruitment and retention and farmer attitudes regarding EBT programs. In the intermediate term, it is anticipated that the process will lead to new conditions and practices to support farmers that sell at these markets. Project outcomes are particularly relevant to farmers because they have the potential to increase farmer revenue from EBT sales, lead to systemic changes that will improve the markets they select as direct marketing outlets, and enhance their quality of life. Evaluation of progress will be measured using indicators at each stage of the research. In addition, farmers will be offered the opportunity to review final project outputs and provide feedback to guarantee a balanced presentation.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Sustaining farmers markets in low-income areas has proven to be challenging nationwide. The purpose of this project is to explore the conditions and constraints that farmers face when participating in such markets. This research seeks to uncover the farmer’s perspective on this experience. It aims to inform market managers of the key factors involved in: (1) recruiting and retaining farmers for markets located in low-income areas and (2) improving farmer participation in Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) programs managed by farmers markets.

    The target audiences for this study are farmers and farmers market managers (hereafter “market managers”). Using a qualitative approach, the study provides farmers an opportunity to articulate the challenges encountered in selling at farmers markets in low-income areas.

    In the short-term farmers are expected to gain awareness of their individual as well as collective concerns surrounding this experience. Market managers will increase their awareness of factors important to farmer recruitment and retention as well as farmer attitudes toward participation in EBT programs at farmers markets. Farmers and market managers will also gain experience in collaborative problem-solving as they use the research results to explore alternative modes of practice. Participating researchers, farmers and market managers will engage in dialogue and co-learning to explore the conditions, practices and agreements necessary to improve farmer participation in these farmers markets. Awareness and knowledge will also rise among farmers and market managers throughout Michigan as the lessons learned from the study are disseminated through project collaborators such as the Michigan Farmers Market Association and Michigan Food and Farming Systems.

    In the intermediate term it is anticipated that this process will lead to new practices and policies that will support farmer participation in low-income farmers markets, increase the number of farmers participating in on-site EBT programs, and increase farmer revenue from EBT sales.

    In the long-term it is projected that the dialogue and co-learning processes used in this research can lead to systemic changes that strengthen farmers markets as community institutions. By working collaboratively with farmers and understanding their constraints, market managers can create conditions that will provide profitable business opportunities for farmers, increase access to local foods by low-income individuals, and improve the vibrancy of farmers markets as public spaces. Through these efforts the long term outcome of this project is enhanced quality of life for farmers, communities and society as a whole.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.