2012 Sustainable Ag. Conference – Farmers’ Markets: Elements of Success workshop
by Jacqueline Venner Senske, conference blogger
Markets are a vital component to local food systems. They also happen to be a trendy pursuit at this moment in time. So when market managers from a variety of locations and situations gather, they find they are dealing with common problems, regardless of the idiosyncrasies of their specific situations.
After creating and running the All Local Farmers Market in Columbia for seven years and creating the new Soda City Market, not to mention also running Caw Caw Creek Farm, Emile DeFelice is an expert on markets. On top of that, he exudes intense energy, a passion for learning, and an active and adaptable thought process. And every person in the room – mostly market managers and a few sellers –hung on his every word.
The session was a combination of narratives on Emile’s experiences and lessons learned, punctuated with profound sound bites, and eager questions from market managers seeking input on their existential challenges.
As any politician knows, sound bites are sexy. Their danger lies in oversimplification, but in Emile’s case, it seems like things really do come down to some basic truths. As he proclaimed, he loves capitalism. He’s obsessed with markets. He loves people and wants them to work happily and well. And in the end his experiences have taught him that while yes, every situation is different, the basic truths still apply.
- Low expectations are the key to happiness. Sounds cynical, but I don’t think this is. What he meant was to be realistic and don’t get overcome with disappointment when things don’t go as well as you hope.
- Set boundaries. This means making clear rules and communicating them. It means when there are penalties for stepping over boundaries, make them effective. And if the penalty isn’t effective, increase it.
- Local food is transpolitical. It’s one of the few things in America where people at both extremes can agree.
And some other useful things…
- Markets that succeed are focused on the success of their farmers and vendors.
- An empty space does not a market make.
- Never get caught selling. In other words, make interactions about building relationships, not just promoting business.
- The good of all always supersedes the good of one.
- Sample. Sample. Sample. The most compelling reason to buy a great product is its taste.
- Programming works. Develop partnerships and innovate. Flash mobs, for example, can offer great energy and interest to markets.
- Being at your Market should be an enhancing life experience for everyone involved.
- Don’t make it hard for people to give you money. Look into recent technologies, like Square Up, if you don’t already use it.
- When it comes to marketing, always go one step past the line.
Emile mentioned some favorite resources…
- Books by Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of the Zingerman’s, a Community of Businesses (ZCoB) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, offer great lessons on food, finance, and service. Suffice it to say – it’s a special place. (Full disclosure: The author of this post worked at Zingerman’s Deli for 5 years before moving to Charlotte.)
- Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating
- Zingerman’s Guide to Great Service
- Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading Part 1:A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business
- Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading Part 2: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader
- Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
- The Legal Guide For Direct Farm Marketing by Neil Hamilton
European and American organic standards now considered equal
by Danielle of eatbreatheblog.com
In February, the European Union (EU) and the United States (U.S.) announced that organic products certified in either Europe or the United States may be sold in either region, beginning June 1. According to the USDA, “This partnership between the two largest organic producers in the world will establish a strong foundation from which to promote organic agriculture, benefiting the growing organic industry and supporting jobs and businesses on a global scale.” U.S. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said, “This partnership will open new markets for American farmers and ranchers, create more opportunities for small businesses and result in good jobs for Americans who package, ship and market organic products.” Clearly, this move will benefit large companies that use worldwide shipping to transport their produce around the globe, but will the change be a boon or bust for small-scale farmers?
Together, the U.S. and EU’s organic market is valued at more than $50 billion and it’s growing. Until now, the standards used to classify a product as organic haven’t been equivalent, so the world’s two largest markets have essentially been off-limits to one another. Previously, those who wanted to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications for each standard, which meant a double set of fees, inspections and paperwork. Farmers and food producers in both markets will soon benefit from easier access, less bureaucracy and lower costs. Shared standards will improve transparency and enhance consumers’ confidence and recognition of organic food and products.
Organic by definition
Until a few decades ago, the definition of organic wasn’t strictly codified. The notion of organic farming was considered to be more of a philosophical choice espoused by advocates like Rodale, Steiner and Howard and based on the idea that organic production led to healthier food. Starting in the 1970s, farmers and regulatory bodies started taking a closer look at organic production. They quickly realized that, without a system of rules, oversight and certification, anyone could call their products organic, regardless of how they were actually produced. This led to the development of current restrictions that are soon to be lifted. Although the U.S. and the EU shared certain rules, such as prohibitions on pesticides and chemical fertilizers, other regulations differed.
With the restriction on organic goods lifted, government officials predict that U.S. exports will grow by 300 percent by 2015. The change won’t affect sales at farmers’ markets, on-farm stores or community-supported agriculture memberships. The agreement, however, is a game changer. Given that the new standards have the potential to open new markets in Europe, large-scale operations and co-ops capable of shipping overseas will likely notice the biggest difference in their day-to-day operations. Only time will tell what effect this change will have on small-scale farmers both here and overseas. Ideally, as with any major business venture, the new approach to sending and receiving organic goods will noticeably benefit consumers and farmers on both sides of the pond.
by Matt Lardie
With many area farmers’ markets moving to spring hours and a plethora of produce soon to arrive, this time of year brings an onslaught of new and returning customers eager for some homegrown goodness. I’m an admitted farmers’ market addict, and I’ve seen markets from all sides, as a customer, as a past member of the Board of Directors for South Estes Farmers’ Market in Chapel Hill, and currently as a vendor. Throughout many hours spent at markets across the Triangle, I’ve distilled a few basic rules of etiquette that customers should observe when shopping at a farmers’ market.
1. No dogs. I know this is a hard one for many folks; we all love our dogs and it only seems natural to take them to an open-air event like a farmers’ market. Take a moment to look at it from the vendors’ view, though; dogs can be messy (I’ve seen a dog urinate on a produce display), dogs can get in fights or frighten customers, and dogs can be loud and distracting. Everyone always says, “Oh, not MY little Fido,” but in all honesty you cannot control the environment around your dog or know how it will react in every situation. Additionally, many markets serve ready-to-eat food, and if you can’t take a dog into a restaurant, it would fit that you can’t take your dog to market. Please observe the no-pets rule that most markets have; Fido can wait until you get back home for a bite of that homemade scone.
2. Bring small bills. As a vendor I will tell you that nothing is more frustrating than running out of change halfway through market after breaking $20 bill after $20 bill for customers who might only be purchasing $4 worth of goods. Most vendors usually only have limited amounts of change on them, and if you take their last $5 bill they might lose a sale to the next customer, who also has a $20 but needs change. We are more than happy to break bills when we can, but we’re not the bank (plus, most of us aren’t rich enough to be able to bring $400 in change each week). I always bring $1’s and $5’s to market when I shop, it makes each transaction go quickly and smoothly. If you must break a large bill, try asking at the market manager’s tent first; they usually have petty cash on hand. If all else fails, a simple “Sorry, I only have a $20 bill” usually softens the blow.
3. Get to know your vendor, but don’t monopolize them. Farmers and vendors love getting to know their customers, and it always feels good to know their customers appreciate them. Asking questions about produce, growing practices, recipes, or Farmer Bill’s new granddaughter can go a long way to solidifying a farmer-customer relationship, and might even net you some free goods from a grateful vendor! That being said, be aware of the other customers around you, and don’t take up 20 minutes of the vendor’s time when there is a line of customers waiting patiently to pay for their purchases. If you want to chat longer most vendors are more than happy to give you their e-mail address or even phone number!
4. Spread the word, get involved. This might be the most important rule of all. Farmers’ markets are by their nature low-profit ventures; they usually don’t have a ton of money for fancy ads or commercials to drive customer traffic. Many of the new faces I see at market are referrals from regular customers. Bring a friend to market, talk up the vendor whose carrots your family is raving about, or volunteer to put up flyers. Many markets have organized committees for “Friends of the Market,” and some even have spots on their Board of Directors for community representatives. Chat with the market manager at your favorite farmers’ market and find out what you can do to help. Vendors are only half of the equation of promoting healthy, local food. It takes consumers to purchase, learn about, and advocate for that food to keep the ball rolling!
by Kaynan Goldberg
Spring is coming! Spring is coming!
To be honest, I’m not a spring person. I prefer summer and fall. This year, however, I’m really excited. Why? Three words: The. Farmers’. Markets! The farmers’ market season is about to start, and I can’t wait.
Just look at these carrots. They’re so much more natural than their grocery store cousins, and they taste a lot more… carroty. (You’re thinking, “Well, duh, they’re carroty! They’re carrots!” but I swear, these little orange veggies are a billion times better than any commercial variety.) Amazing taste aside, I love these carrots for their personality. I mean, you never get a grocery store carrot, or any veggie for that matter, that still has dirt on it!
These carrots are only the beginning. In three weeks, when the farmers’ market season officially starts, we’ll be surrounded by fresh produce, colorful stalls, and (hopefully) warm spring air. I’m so excited for April!
Until then, I’m going to daydream about the fresh produce that, soon, but nowhere near soon enough, will be sitting on our tiled counter, just like those carrots. Strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, blackberries, asparagus- mmmm….
P.S. If you do not live near Raleigh, North Carolina, check out this website to find markets closer to home. You can also go here to see what’s in season in your home state.