The Future of the Farmers Market Promotion Program

Posted by Liz on January 17, 2012

By Natalie Roper, FMC Research and Education Intern

Many of us have written them, some of us have managed them, and countless more have directly or indirectly benefited from them.  I’m speaking, of course, of Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grants, and few of us really stop to recognize that, after 2012, they could disappear altogether.  FMPP is among thirty-seven USDA programs authorized in the last Farm Bill that have no baseline funding beginning in 2013.  Knowing how big of an impact FMPPs have had in fueling the success of the market organizations it has funded, even fewer of us would want to see that happen. Here, we take a look at the brief history of the program, and what the Farmers Market Coalition, as one of many organizations supportive of FMPP, is doing to better understand and communicate the program’s impacts.

Farmers Market Promotion Program Background

The Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) was created through a 2002 amendment of the Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act of 1976. Twenty grants, chosen from among 369 proposals, were awarded that first year, totaling $900,000.  With such high demand for such a small grant program, the FMPP was revised and expanded in the 2008 Farm Bill, to improve and expand domestic farmers markets as well as roadside stands, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, and agritourism activities.  To date, 444 grant projects have been awarded, totaling more than $23 million in investments to communities in 50 state.

As provisioned in the 2008 Farm Bill, no less than 10% of total FMPP grant funds must be allocated to electronic benefits transfer (EBT) for Federal nutrition programs at farmers markets. In every funding cycle since, this goal was exceeded, sometimes exceeding 30% of awarded funds.  In 2011, 26% of awarded grant funds were dedicated to EBT/SNAP integration and promotion.

Demand for FMPP

In the 2011 funding cycle, 49 states, including D.C., submitted proposals each requesting an average of $75,645. In 2006, less than 5% of projects were able to be funded. As funding for the program has increased, the ratio of requested to awarded proposals has grown, though demand for the program consistently far outweighs the available funds.  In 2009, FMPP administrators reported that there were additional 114 highly ranked proposals that could have been awarded if more funds had been available.

Why does the FMPP matter?

In many communities, farmers markets sprout from grassroots community efforts as stakeholders come together with a vision of a community gathering place that simultaneously supports farming as a viable occupation, builds local economies, and increases availability of healthful, locally-produced foods.  FMPP provides critical capacity-building resources for these efforts.  In addition, it offers important support to farmers markets who need assistance to effectively implement, promote, and redeem federal nutrition benefits. According to USDA Department of Agriculture, each SNAP dollar spent generates $1.84 in actual economic activity. With SNAP participants receiving an average $104/month, SNAP spending at farmers markets could inject a considerable amount of money into local economies. In 2011, only .016% of all SNAP spending took place at farmers markets (see article here). Further, as more states allow WIC families to use fresh fruit and vegetable benefits (CVVs) at farmers markets, farmers will need markets’ help raising awareness that those benefits can be redeemed for locally-grown fresh produce.

FMPP Database Project

Investing more than $23 million to 444 different projects in 50 states, FMPP has helped spur innovations that yield both success stories to be shared and lessons to be learned. With this goal in mind, the Farmers Market Coalition has launched an effort to compile a database of all of the projects funded by FMPP, to make searching by different fields and keywords a little easier. Assistance from FMC volunteers (in particular University of Virginia student, Laura Bell) has been extremely important in assembling detailed project information spanning years of FMPP projects. To date, the format of this database is an excel spreadsheet including year, award amount, project title, description, project director, and links to final reports, where available. Ultimately, a searchable database could bring this knowledge bank of innovation together under one umbrella and provide opportunities for current and perspective grantees to connect with each other and learn from projects past and present. On December 13th, this effort was referenced in a Food Safety News article called Farmers Market Promotion Program: A USDA Success Story, which provides a nice summary as well as recommendations for its future.

Though this effort is funded largely through FMC membership contributions, it is being conducted in cooperation with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, which administers the FMPP. According to Arthur Neal, Deputy Administrator, Transportation and Marketing Program, federal investments are maximized when the broader community has access to grant outcomes and promising practices. About this recent initiative, Neal says, “We hope that the body of direct marketing experiences gained through FMPP and shared through this effort will be helpful to farmers market managers and other direct marketing organizations that are working hard to obtain greater sustainability.”

This database provides a first step in FMC’s goal to build capacity of farmers markets as well as strengthen statewide, regional, and national farmers market support networks. Regardless of FMPP’s future after 2012, this database could provide important documentation of these projects that can be a resource for years to come.

FMC is currently finalizing a one-pager outlining basic program facts and  recommendations for the future of the program.  Members should stay tuned to receive this handy fact sheet so that they can educate their communities and policy makers.

For more information on the Farmers Market Promotion Program, please visit www.ams.usda.gov/fmpp. If you are interested in being part of this database project by volunteering your time to data entry, please contact Liz Comiskey at liz@farmersmarketcoalition.or