Putting our money where our mouth is

Posted by Liz on April 18, 2012
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Photo by Tamara Leigh

A Letter from Stacy Miller, Executive Director

Early in March, I found myself traveling to Vancouver Island (a beautiful ninety minute ferry ride from Vancouver itself), where I was invited to present at the British Columbia Association of Farmers’ Markets Annual Conference. The theme of the conference, “For the Love of Farmers Markets,” was reflected in the panel presentations, which reached to the core of what many of us in the sector are asking as our numbers grow: “What IS a farmers market?”  “Are we cultivating new customers at the same rate as developing new markets?”  There I was, thousands of miles from home, discussing some of the very issues we hear being raised across the United States.

The British Columbia Farmers Market Association (BCAFM) is not unlike many of its sister state associations here on the other side of the Canada’s border. What impressed me about this event, and the BCAFM in general, was the organization’s active commitment to partnership with what may seem unlikely allies. The organization has a number of sponsors that include three different grocery stores based in the province. One of them, Overwaitea Foods, works with nearly 1,200 different growers and producers in BC and Alberta, and, during the growing season, sources more than half of the 300 varieties of fresh vegetables and fruits they sell from family-operated farms in the two provinces. While such a sponsorship may seem controversial to some, it is heartening to see a large retailer recognize that farmers markets are not their competition (nor a cheap way to get their logo out to a target customer base)—rather, that they are the very vehicles that support the cultivation of farmers and food producers in the region, and need cultivation and support themselves.  This sponsorship contributes significantly to the BCAFM’s operating budget, and yet the company makes no mention of its support of the nonprofit on its web site, or attempts to score PR points by publicizing their collaboration in the media.

Another BCAFM sponsor, Vancity, is a large credit union based in Vancouver which operates a community grants program, through which it funds nonprofits that operate farmers markets, biking initiatives, salmon conservation programs, and an impressive array of sustainability initiatives.  In addition, Vancity runs a community foundation through which it also makes grants, with a philosophy rooted in building capital from the grassroots, not the typical top down:

From Vancity Community Foundation

In a grant to BCAFM, Vancity Community Foundation is playing an active role in helping their farmers market members evaluate and communicate impacts. I hope you find it heartening, as I do, that FMC has allies in Canada doing such inspiring work, just as we ourselves are embarking on an effort to create a matrix of indicators for market measurement (you can read more about that effort here in an article by Darlene Wolnik).

As the sentiments that inspired Occupy Wall Street live in the hearts of those lucky enough to work daily in support of viable local economies, I am proud to announce that this spring, FMC is putting its money where its mouth is. After significant research led by FMC’s Past President and acting Treasurer Sharon Yeago, and a unanimous vote by the full board, FMC is officially moving its money from Bank of America to New Resource Bank (NRB).

As small as this change seems, it was nearly two years in the making, and was challenging, in part, because the concept of a “local bank” for a national organization left us weighing competing priorities that remind me of the false “local vs. organic” dichotomy.  We had already relocated FMC’s very small savings to a socially responsible bank, but it was clear that 2012 was the time where we would move the whole modest enchilada to a more sustainable home.

As Sharon explains, FMC’s board and staff “felt very strongly that it was important to put our money (which is in part your money) where our hearts are by supporting socially responsible banking.” As Sharon explains, “I was drawn to NRB because of their support for nonprofits and their commitment to putting deposits to work for good. The board felt that they make a great partner for FMC as we build a brighter future for farmers, markets, and communities across the country.”

If your organization or family is similarly on the search for a new banking institution, we offer a hearty high five.  New Resource Bank is offering to donate $25 to FMC for every new account opened that mentions FMC as a referral, so we hope you’ll keep us in mind if you think it’s a good fit for you and your wallet.

As you launch into a new farmers market season, I want to issue a special thanks to the growing number of members that make FMC possible. Though our small, dedicated staff might wish we were at your side on these brilliant sunny days pitching pop-up tents and smelling fresh strawberries, we’re all grateful for the opportunity to work on your behalf knowing that you are out there putting a smile on the face of farmers markets for everyone in your communities.

We hope you like everything this edition of the market beet has to offer, and look forward to your feedback!

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