National Farmers Market Summit Proceedings Report

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), in partnership with the Farmers Market Consortium, hosted the National Farmers Market Summit November 7–9, 2007, in Baltimore, MD. The Summit assembled key stakeholders from the farmers market community to convene a national conversation on issues and challenges facing today’s farmers markets. The National Farmers Market Summit had three broad objectives: (1) Identify farmers market needs and existing gaps in assistance, (2) Prioritize future research and technical assistance initiatives, and (3) Provide guidance to policymakers on how best to allocate available resources. The Summit was attended by 75 participants who represented a diverse range of farmers market stakeholders, including national resource providers, farmers market representatives, and community partners. Invitations were sent to farmers market stakeholders with diverse interests, expertise, and geographic location. Participants included representatives from 31 States and the District of Columbia. The Summit also included 12 staff members of AMS’s Marketing Services Division (MSD), the lead organizer of the Summit, and Dr. Kenneth C. Clayton, the Associate Administrator of AMS and chair of the Farmers Market Consortium. In order to develop a national consensus agenda of farmers market priorities, it was critical for the Summit design process to promote a high level of attendee participation and create a forum of engaging dialogue. The process through which consensus was developed in so large a group was done by combining lightly structured, facilitated discussions in small groups, with subsequent report-outs, plenary discussions and agreement-reaching in the large group. Specifically, the Summit process design consisted of four facilitated working group sessions, each session building off the previous one. The sessions included: (1) World Café-formatted Brainstorming Session on Major Challenges and Opportunities for Farmers Markets; (2) Reaching Consensus on Farmers Market Priorities; (3) Recommending Strategies for Addressing Consensus Priorities Issues; and (4) Opportunities for Collaboration (Role-Alike Groups). SUMMIT OUTCOMES Reaching Consensus on Farmers Market Priorities Using the brainstorming and consensus priority exercises, participants at the National Farmers Market Summit identified 12 key issues that they believe deserve attention from policymakers, funders, and other market assistance providers. These included: “Growing” Farmers, Policy/Regulation, Professional Development, Partnerships, Message Related to Farmers Market Promotion, Research, Funding/Resources, Farmers Markets as Center of Community, Public Health, Low Income Access, Local Food Systems, and Economic Sustainability Recommending Strategies for Addressing Consensus Priorities Issues To explore possible approaches and solutions for addressing each consensus priority, Summit attendees were invited to engage in one of 12 issue-specific discussions, based on their level of interest in the given discussion topic. Although each of the 12 key issues has a distinctive scope and set of associated characteristics, they primarily fall into the following three broadly defined categories of activity: (1) Policy and Advocacy-based Initiatives; (2) Education and Training Initiatives; and (3) Community-based Initiatives. Policy and advocacy-based initiatives aimed at championing the importance of farmers markets and facilitating their continued growth. As defined by Summit participants, specific priorities to be addressed within the framework of policy-based initiatives included: Policy/Regulatory Barriers, Message Related to Farmers Market Promotion, and Funding/Resources. One of the common themes that surfaced repeatedly during discussions of all three priority issues related to policy and advocacy was the notion of creating a single national trade organization for farmers market stakeholders (perhaps similar to the newly reorganized Farmers Market Coalition) to speak with a unified voice to policymakers and be a centralized point of contact for disseminating information about available funding and technical assistance to community members. Other strategies that appeared to share wide support were the development of a professional training curriculum aimed at enhancing and creating greater consistency in the expertise and knowledge base of farmers market managers (a theme that also emerged repeatedly during the “education and training” related priority discussions), and the development of a national farmers market promotional campaign aimed at informing policymakers and the public about the economic, community, and health benefits of farmers markets. All three discussions touched on the difficulty of preserving some degree of local autonomy while centralizing authority. Education and training initiatives, especially those targeted at enhancing the technical skills of farmers-market practitioners. As defined by Summit participants, specific priorities to be addressed include: “Growing” Farmers, Professional Development, Economic Sustainability, and Research, One common theme that surfaced repeatedly throughout each of the priority discussions related to education and training was the importance of establishing a minimum standard of technical experience in business planning and marketing for farmers market participants, whether through the development of a formal curriculum or the provision of other relevant continuing educational opportunities. The ability to properly gauge production costs and prices, and gain ongoing exposure to such rapidly changing issues as emerging consumer trends, new product varieties, and improved season extension techniques, were seen as essential tools in enhancing the profitability and long-term economic viability of farmers market vendors and suppliers. With respect to farmers market managers and members of market boards/management organizations, who often serve as a market’s primary point of contact with community members and policymakers, it was recommended that workshops or courses be developed that help such individuals learn how to: (1) Develop effective community partnerships (especially by examining the lessons learned from successful partnership models); (2) Augment the reach and impact of existing partnerships by exploring the possibility of relationships with nontraditional organizations; (3) Locate available resources from Federal, State, and local sources; and (4) Train market managers and other advocates on how to best capture, document, and report information that measures a market’s impact on the local economy/community. Community-based initiatives aimed at establishing farmers markets as vital cornerstones of their community’s quality of life. As defined by Summit participants, priorities included: Partnerships, Farmers Markets as Center of the Community, Public Health, Low-Income Access, and Local Food Systems. Probably the most common conversational thread that appeared in all of these independent discussions was the emphasis given to the importance of establishing innovative—and possibly untraditional—partnerships in order to achieve desired community goals. Lack of public awareness about the opportunities and benefits offered by farmers markets was a pervasive complaint throughout many of the discussions, whether the members of the public in question involved household consumers, local farmers, elected officials, or Federal policymakers, and improvement in outreach to potential allies was considered essential to obtain the level of attention necessary to change consumer behavior and/or public policy. Discussion participants also expressed the general opinion that current levels of communication and collaboration with relevant farmers market stakeholders was less than optimal and could easily be improved if greater attention were paid to the issue. This phenomenon appeared to hold true whether or not such discussions were occurring at a local, regional, or national level, suggesting that geographical proximity alone did not ensure that proper lines of communication were established and maintained. Opportunities for Collaboration (Role-Alike Groups) The final session of the Summit brought together participants from similar professions to discuss actions they could take individually or collectively in their organizations, as well as opportunities for inter-organizational collaboration on the priorities. The role-alike groups included: Federal agencies, State Departments of Agriculture, local and regional representatives, State farmers market associations, university researchers, farmers and farmers market managers, health representatives, private foundations, and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs). A common theme emerging from these discussions was the need to improve communication channels among major stakeholder groups. Enhanced communications can be expected to strengthen existing partnerships and help build new partnerships—both of which will be necessary to tackle most, if not all, of the Summit priorities. Toward this end, one recommendation that several groups mentioned was the establishment of an open-source online site to facilitate more effective communication among farmers market vendors, managers, community development practitioners, researchers, funders, and other stakeholders, which could be used as a means to share pertinent resources (e.g., best practices, lessons learned, current research findings, training and funding opportunities, upcoming events, etc.). Participant Feedback and Actions Initiated In an effort to make the proceedings report as inclusive as possible, a draft of the report was sent to all Summit attendees. Participants were asked to provide feedback in a number of ways, including: (a) points of clarification and any further detail on the content of the sessions they participated in; (b) further reflections on the format and outcomes of the Summit, and (c) actions initiated by participants, or ideas they hope to carry forward, to address the major priorities since the conclusion of the Summit. This final Summit proceedings report has taken into account and incorporated the feedback from participants on content and clarity issues, and highlighted a number of actions initiated by participants and their respective organizations as a means to start addressing the Summit priorities. Some of the examples of actions initiated by Summit participants and priority areas addressed include: (1) Public Health—A representative from Kaiser Permanente learned the concept of creating a “Best of Market” program at the Summit, and plans to pilot test it at two hospitals. The scheme works by having the farmers market manager identify an assortment of "best of the market" items each week, and charge around $20 for each package. A "designated shopper" from each department surveys the staff to see who wants a package and goes down to the market on behalf of their fellow workers. If executed correctly, such programs have been known to help farmers double their market day revenue. If the pilot project goes well, Kaiser hopes to expand the program to their other medical facilities where farmers markets have been established; (2) Professional Development and Growing Farmers—An extension professor from Mississippi State University is in the preliminary stages of establishing a model farm with a variety of crops using techniques and technology intended to maximize yields and extend growing seasons. Over time, it is hoped that the model farm will be part of a “Farmers Market University,” which would provide a dynamic setting for growers and other stakeholders to share best practices and lessons learned on developing viable local food systems. USDA Agricultural Research Service is supporting this effort with a supplementary grant of $75,000 to help establish high-tunnel demonstration farms in Mississippi; (3) Farmers Market Promotion—A representative from the American Farmland Trust (AFT) is actively engaging farmers markets to help cultivate customer loyalty through AFT’s promotion of “No Farms No Food” bumper stickers. AFT is also beginning work on local farm policy initiatives that includes farmers markets, including one project that is examining the San Francisco “foodshed;” and (4) Partnerships and Professional Development—For their annual Partners’ Meeting in August, the USDA Office of Outreach will include two workshops that will address farmers markets and direct-marketing opportunities for small-scale and limited resource farmers. MSD will be conducting these workshops, offering one workshop on planning and management considerations for start-up farmers markets and a second workshop on how to access alternative marketing channels (i.e., institutions, grocery stores, restaurants, etc.) and thereby mitigate risk. Further examples of actions initiated by Summit participants can be found in the main body of the report. For our part, AMS has already formulated several ways of addressing Summit priorities in our programmatic activities. As an initial step, we have incorporated several of the priorities that emerged at the Summit in the guidelines for the 2008 Farmers Market Promotion Program. We encouraged applicants to incorporate three subject areas corresponding with Summit priorities in their grant application attention: Growing Farmers, Innovative Partnerships and Networking, and Professional Development. We believe that all three issues play essential roles in promoting the future growth and success of farmers markets. AMS also recognizes that one of the areas with broad Summit consensus involved the creation of a national organization that could effectively advocate on behalf of the nation’s farmers markets. Toward this end, we are presently working with the Farmers Market Coalition to identify ways to strengthen the organization and enable it to meet its stated mission and goals. Furthermore, we see our role as leading organizer and member of the Farmers Market Consortium as an effective instrument to coordinate and strengthen inter-government agency and industry-wide efforts to develop innovative partnerships, another one of the top priorities identified at the Summit. In future Consortium meetings, we will work with the other members to set agendas that incorporates Summit priorities, with the goal of establishing actionable items that the Consortium can carry forward. These initial efforts by AMS and other Summit participants provide just a few examples of how to carry forward some of key farmers market priorities. We will continue to engage Summit participants, as well as the wider farmers-market community, to learn more about innovative ways to address these priorities, as part of a larger effort to promote promising models for successful and sustainable farmers market expansion.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-27

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