Farmers Market Impact
By Lauren Suerth, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Wisconsin–Madison | From Main Street Story of the Week | August 11, 2016 |
In 2015, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) partnered with the University of Wisconsin–Madison to engage Wisconsin Main Street organizations and farmers markets in the Metrics and Indicators for Impact – Farmers Markets (MIFI-FM) toolkit. Formulating performance measures and subsequently, collecting and interpreting data is commonplace in business and government, but it can pose challenges for farmers market managers. Managers know that the activities are important but they lack the resources and training to integrate them into their routine practices. In business and government, reliable performance data drives creative initiatives and decisions, and research indicates that market managers share this need for information.
MIFI-FM provides farmers markets with the means to develop customized knowledge that enhances their internal decision-making and external communication activities. Markets select metrics that will help them understand and evaluate their performance within the context of their goals, their community, and in this case, the Main Street initiatives. For example, they are collecting data on visitor attendance and vendor sales, which provides important insight the economic contributions of markets, and they are collecting data on visitor spending at the market and neighboring businesses and visitor transportation to the market, which supports the program’s mission of revitalizing downtowns around the State of Wisconsin.
Five Wisconsin Main Street communities initially joined MIFI-FM and within a year, we expanded to 12: Beloit, De Pere, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, Kenosha, La Crosse, Lake Mills, Monroe, Port Washington, Watertown, Whitewater, and Viroqua. Errin Welty, the Downtown Development Account Manager for WEDC, and Professor Alfonso Morales, Director of the Kaufman Lab for Food Systems and Marketplaces in the Urban and Regional Planning Department at the University, are leading the partnership.
MIFI-FM works to empower farmers markets through proven data collection strategies, actionable interpretation information, and customizable summary reports. The toolkit is simple to execute, scientifically reliable, and sensitive to market context so participants can integrate the resources into their daily operations. More specifically, it has two components:
1) Data Collection Package – The online portal guides managers through processes of selecting metrics, learning data collection practices, and uploading data. Markets can select the metrics that are most important for them. The suite of metrics is consistent with USDA reporting requirements and compatible with specific, market-oriented goals. The portal automatically generates a set of concise instructions that explain how the daily, monthly, and annual data collection activities coincide with their regular operations.
2) Data Analysis and Summary Report Prototype - The portal automates data analysis and includes an interactive interpretation and reporting feature. Here, markets apply the results of their data collection efforts. The interpretation component teaches them how the data can increase their understanding of the market itself and its role within the community. While, the reporting feature enables them to produce multiple infographic reports so they can customize their communications for different purposes and audiences, such as marketing or social media campaigns, organization or stakeholder reports, and funding applications.
Farmers markets can have a multitude of impacts on their community and the toolkit recognizes that managers will differ in what they want to learn about their market’s impacts. With the MIFI-FM toolkit, managers have 25+ metrics that they can choose from to understand their social, economic, and ecological impacts. The process of reviewing and selecting metrics can provoke local managers and state organizations to think about their potential impacts. This information is important to markets because it enhances their ability to provide credible and detailed facts about their activities and rich descriptions about their role within their community over time. WEDC and Main Street communities can use the results to enhance the connection between program initiatives and market activities.
Professor Morales developed the MIFI-FM toolkit through an award from the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and with assistance from the Farmers Market Coalition. It represents years of knowledge that the research team gleaned from their professional experiences, existing studies on farmers markets and most importantly, conversations with market managers.
Benefits of Farmers Markets
Farmers markets activate places and foster unique interactions. Oftentimes, they locate in underutilized spaces and they generate a dynamic flow of people into the area and within the place. Residents and tourists are attracted to markets for the ability to source food and goods from local farmers and businesses, but they also fulfill important noneconomic purposes. They are an engaging social setting where people meet over common interests and self-expressions.
Furthermore, the produce-centric environment integrates various food system activities. They connect producers and consumers through direct-sales and they provide opportunities to learn about healthy eating and lifestyles. The growing number of farmers markets reflects an increasing interest in local food systems and their ability to stimulate place-making, social interaction, and community development.
Main Street markets support revitalization initiatives because they attract residents and businesses to the historic downtown. Farmers markets, though short and weekly, generate a remarkable influx of fresh energy that is difficult to replicate so they are a wonderful component of the Main Street program.
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Lauren Suerth is a Ph.D. candidate in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Suerth is the lead research assistant for Metrics and Indicators for Impact so she provides extensive support on developing the toolkit and training market managers for data collection. The author acknowledges Johanna Doren, Dantrell Cotton, Carley Herron, and Alfonso Morales.
Lauren Suerth is a Ph.D. candidate in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Suerth is the lead research assistant for Metrics and Indicators for Impact so she provides extensive support on developing the toolkit and training market managers for data collection.
The author acknowledges Johanna Doren, Dantrell Cotton, Carley Herron, and Alfonso Morales.