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. 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. 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.


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