2018 National Direct Agricultural Marketing Summit

The 2018 National Direct Agricultural Marketing Summit came to fruition because 4 organizations explored a common goal: fostering mutually beneficial connections between researchers and practitioners while offering hands-on technical assistance. With no national convening to set precedence for these goals, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service took on an experiment: hosting a first-of-its-kind event with partners from the Food Distribution Research Society (FDRS), the National Value Added Conference, Farm Credit Council, and Farmers Market Coalition (FMC).

The Summit took place September 15th-18th in Arlington, Virginia. In the days leading up to the conference, the event’s status was touch and go as Hurricane Florence began its unpredictable path towards the US eastern coast. Ultimately unaffected, the conference welcomed 400 attendees coming from 44 states and Canada. Over 150 farmers market managers and program operators joined extension agents, students and researchers, USDA employees, entrepreneurs, and service providers. The Summit successfully melded this group of direct ag professionals and leaders through two days of presentations and workshops, surrounded by networking and peer-to-peer learning at receptions, the vendor Expo, and a project poster showcase.

At FMC, we were particularly pleased to help plan the Summit field trip to the Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market, where attendees were able to experience one of DC’s longest-running producer-only markets first hand, and bring their observations and questions to the Director of Markets, Nony Dutton, anchor vendor, Eli Cook of Spring Valley Farms, and General Operations Manager Nick Stavley of another DC-area market network, Community Foodworks. The post-market discussion took place underneath the market, where the city’s old trolley lines have been converted into the Dupont Underground, a unique gallery and meeting space.

Other highlights included:

  • A welcome from USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach, who shared stories and experiences from his family ranch in Nebraska. During his panel, USDA AMS Deputy Administrator Arthur Neal remarked that at farmers markets there is, “meaningful interaction with customers that helps differentiate products and results in increased economic value”.
  • Pre-conference workshop speakers Brian Coppom and Colleen Donovan leading the Trust by Verify discussion, moderated by Jen Cheek.

    Hearing from market managers and state association leaders across the country during FMC’s pre-conference workshops- Managing Market Risk with the Farmers Market Legal Toolkit, Maintaining Market Integrity, and Building Market Capacity with Data Collection & Communication. Discussion during these workshops was indicative of the broad range of markets in attendance: rural to urban, small to large, new and well-established. Each session allotted time for Q and A between speakers and the audience, with takeaway materials available and applicable to the audience members’ organizations. 

  • Networking during the Poster Display session. Poster presenters shared their innovative outreach and programming ideas, and attendees had the opportunity to learn, socialize and connect with their peers. (After, of course, getting a selfie with the Lynchburg Community Market’s Beet mascot). Check out the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association’s Cultivating a Strategy for Social Media Success project, Historic Lewes Farmers Market’s Creating a Farmers Market Living Lab, MIFMA’s Hoophouses for Health, and RAFI’s One Size Doesn’t Fit All: SNAP/EBT Programs at 4 NC Markets. 
  • Convening Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grantees to receive guidance and technical assistance directly from the USDA support staff. The Summit served as the first-ever meeting of FMPP grantees, providing an invaluable opportunity for grantees and grant administrators to connect and learn from each other. 
  • Getting to meet the 15 Vermont Law School (VLS) scholarship recipients in person. FMC was able to offer our members these scholarships with generous support from the Center for Ag, VLS. One scholarship recipient shared, “The National Direct Agriculture Marketing Summit far exceeded my expectations. I was continually exhilarated by the many inspiring people doing the important work of growing the local food system in their respective communities. I’ve already begun to implement some of what I learned, and our team has begun to tackle some of the bigger questions that the Summit raised. The Summit was immensely valuable to me, and I’m confident that my experience will inform my work at least until next year’s conference!”- Ned Savage, LEAP Virginia 
  • Attending sessions on innovative initiatives like Grow NYC’s Regional Grains Project, important research from Colorado State University on the profitability of direct marketing channels. 
  • Spring Valley Farm and Orchard’s farmer Eli Cook and Kate Fitzgerald were presented the FMC Gus Schumacher awards by FMC’s Executive Director, Jen Cheek and Board President, Hugo Mogollon. The award, named after the late Gus Schumacher, recognizes both Eli and Kate’s exemplary dedication to local foods, improving fresh food access, and advocacy on the local and national levels.


Farmers Market Track Speakers:

A Glimpse at 2019 Attendees

Connect with the Conference:


Attendee Testimonials:

Bloomfield Development Corporation was excited to learn that the National Direct Ag Marketing Conference would take place this year as we have felt that there aren’t enough opportunities for small farmer’s markets such as ourselves to learn from others. We were thrilled to not only meet so many other small and medium sized markets and learn and share best practices, but to also learn so much about data collection, specific programming ideas, and key partnerships that could be feasible for us in the future. In particular, sessions around risk management, how and why to capture data, and how other markets have won FMPP grants were helpful for us. I value the connections I made, reaching several similar-sized markets who I’ll remain in contact with as we continue to share information and use each other as a resource and sounding board. And I came to the conference with two specific problems or questions that I was having difficulty answering, and I made connections that will help me understand how to collect data to answer my questions. Overall, I enjoyed the conference, and look forward to the logistics and infrastructure being expanded in a way to better support the amazing content of the conference.”- Christina Howell, Bloomfield Development Corporation

“It was an honor to attend the National Direct Agriculture Summit as a part of the Farmers Market Coalition. The Summit provided a rare opportunity to network and connect with other farmers market leaders from across the country, share ideas and challenges, learn about resources that are available, explore current research and projects, and connect to opportunities on a larger scale. I was inspired to meet leaders that I’ve connected with online, learn more about their markets, and tips that I can take home to strengthen our markets. It was fascinating to learn more about the USDA programs behind many of the initiatives that we have been involved in, and network with those representatives. On a personal note, it was great to be able to discuss many topics and issues that I’ve come into contact in our markets, and feel like a part of a larger community in addressing them. This experience was extremely valuable to me, and I very much look forward to continuing the learning now that I’ve returned home. Thank you to Farmers Market Coalition the Vermont Law School for this incredible opportunity!”- Marie Boyd, Healthy Harvest of North Iowa

“The summit was excellent and I was able to connect with some great organizations and people that were willing to share lessons learned and paths forward in regards to some of the issues our market is dealing with. The one thing I would add is that the Summit seemed very urban market oriented and I would like to see some sort of separate Rural market track added in the future. We enjoyed learning from and sharing ideas with our urban market colleagues, but there are a lot of unique challenges / opportunities rural markets face that did not get a lot of air time. Other than that, we would like to thank FMC for providing our market with a scholarship and for supporting our market’s programming!”- Megan Taylor, Gillette Saturday Farmers Market

“I’ve been fortunate to be present at the very beginning of a number of projects – I started my own farm, started our community’s first farmers’ market, and was a pilot partner in Market Match, so it was terrific to attend the first Direct Marketing Summit and confirm that yes, in fact direct marketing and local food systems are growing in strength and numbers all over the Country! It was so great to meet folks from all regions of the country to discuss the challenges, opportunities and the triumphs of working in this sun-up to sundown business!”- Erin Tormey, Coastside Farmers Market/Farm Fatales

“I had a great time! I came away with a lot of inspiration and ideas to take back to my market. I met a lot of great people and resources to help our market continue to grow and evolve. Thank you for the opportunity!”- Corrina Smith, Columbia Farmers Market

Have questions about the Summit or participating in future national conferences? Visit localfoodeconomics.com