- Farm Business Management: farmers' markets/farm stands
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, quality of life
This research explores how farmers market management in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi shapes the economic viability and quality of life of urban and rural farmers across the Southeast region. As a direct marketing agricultural (DMA) strategy, selling at farmers markets is a key livelihood strategy for many diversified, limited resource, and niche farmers. However, these outlets vary widely in regulations, outreach, and organization. We hypothesize that differences in farmers market management represent a key but under-recognized factor in farmers’ economic viability and quality of life. In this project, we utilize mixed methods, including interviews, focus groups, participant observation and financial surveys with farmers and market managers to identify, synthesize and disseminate best practices that increase the ability of farmers markets to enhance farmers’ economic viability and quality of life.
Benefits of selling at farmers markets include higher returns by capturing retail prices, low overhead, and control over prices. Many markets are located in urban areas, where both rural and urban farmers increase earnings by accessing larger numbers of customers. However, financial returns are often unpredictable and market schedules can be demanding and inconvenient.
Many programs have sought to address these challenges by training farmers in entrepreneurial skills such as branding, social media for business, financial planning, and managing personnel. These approaches focus on individual farmers’ business practices as primary areas of interventions. In doing so, they miss the differences in farmers markets’ organizational approaches and the ways in which this variance fosters more or less supportive conditions for farmers’ economic viability and quality of life. Non-profit organizations, part-time market managers, city offices, or vendor associations manage many direct markets. These managers are understudied “gatekeepers” whose decisions and capacities have profound impacts on farmers’ experiences. Managers shape the institutional structures, policies, and practices of farmers markets in ways that impact growers’ financial outcomes and quality of life.
This project investigates the relationship between farmers market management and farmer outcomes by 1) documenting and assessing the varied structures of DMA across the Southeast through interviews with market managers, participant observation, and review of primary market materials to creat a market management typology; and 2) investigating the direct market experiences of rural and urban farmers through interviews with farmers who participate in managed markets and those who do not. The farmer sample will be purposefully drawn to maximize diversity of farm scale, enterprise types, production practices, geographic locations, and farmer backgrounds. The market sample will include markets in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi located in eight diverse metropolitan areas selected to maximize demographic diversity.
This research will determine the characteristics of farmers market management approaches that correlate with positive and negative outcomes of farmer economic viability and quality of life. Pairing farmer experience with market management data will provide new information on the roles of farmers markets within food systems. This information will produce concrete, actionable recommendations for farmers market managers. The results of this research will be significant for farmers and for direct market organizations in the southeast and more broadly.
Project objectives from proposal:
The project will contribute to the economic viability and quality of life of farmers in the SSARE region by:
- Documenting the diverse management approaches that currently govern farmers markets in the southeastern US;
- Ascertaining the benefits of and barriers to participation in these markets for diverse rural and urban producers;
- Exploring how: a) diverse farmers understand, operationalize and evaluate the concepts of “quality of life” (QoL) and “economic viability; and b) these concepts, in turn, relate to diverse farmers’ participation in or abstention from farmers market participation;
- Identifying farmers market management practices associated with positive farmer-defined quality of life and economic viability outcomes for farmers, and from these;
- Developing and disseminating practical and actionable recommendations that enable farmers market managers and other organizations to respond to farmer needs related to economic viability and quality of life associated with farmers market participation.