Becoming the Farmers Market Support Program

By: Darlene Wolnik       Posted On: April 5, 2021

One of the chief goals of the FMC Strategic Plan that our stakeholders prioritized is for FMC to Support FM Operators/Networks in Capacity-Building.* Another is to become an active anti-racist organization and ally.  As a result of working towards these two priorities, we’ve redesigned what was previously called our Training and Technical Assistance (T&TA) Program to the Farmers Market Support Program

Training and Technical Assistance? What’s that?
  • That shift is based on interactions with hundreds of communities over the last few years and consultation with market organizations. For example, many leaders who contact us directly are often puzzled by the T&TA language and will often say “Oh I was just looking for some help. I don’t need technical assistance.”
  • Sometimes our state and network leaders are who offer training or assistance to markets and in those cases, we spend our time supporting their efforts.
  • Our year-long participation in the Local Food Systems Response To COVID cohort has taught us a great deal about how the other two dozen market channel and system folks in that cohort are assisting their sector and are seeking more diverse voices and experiences to lead their equitable food system work.
  • The T&TA language we have used doesn’t make clear that FMC’s work relies on the dynamic sharing nature of farmers market communities and their peer-to-peer expertise.
  • As FMC manages a multitude of contracts and grants to support farmers market communities, having a simple and clear process to provide consistent help becomes more important. An example is a multi-year contract we operate as the lead Farm-Direct entity on the GusNIP*  NTAE Hub. In partnership with the Ecology Center and Michigan Farmers Market Association, we provide support to nutrition incentive projects specifically for the farm-direct portion of the grants which includes farmers markets, CSAs, and farm stands. (We outline some of what our team did in Year 1and what we have planned for Year 2 at the bottom of this post.)  That work falls into a few main areas of support, which has become our new program framework:
    • networking peer connections for problem-solving and facilitating one-on-one assistance for operators or network leaders
    • resource search or development 
    • analysis of farmers markets or of the systems that affect them (i.e. building on typology for markets to better match market types)
    • support for product development of appropriate tools and technology necessary for farmers market operators


Building the New

With our new framework, we can more easily plan, direct and describe the support we give to operators and network leaders. As noted above, that language also aligns more easily with the Coalition part of our name and mission by clarifying that we are not the “experts” on farmers markets. Instead, we act as the facilitator and convener for leaders to find or develop the necessary connections, resources, or tools they need to build successful markets that create new systems of wealth and health. So as we rename and rework our sites, look for:

  • New web pages and sites for those seeking support or clarity on farmers markets under those main areas. 
  • More information on fee-based services that FMC can provide.
  • Our Support Provider Registry. Those who are interested in being contracted to assist market operators can fill out the form with supporting materials to show their experience assisting farmers market leaders. It is FMC’s goal to deepen and widen the pool of practitioners providing support to markets and to offer competitive pay scales for their time. Those who can supply the relevant materials may be called upon to work as paid contractors on various FMC projects.
  • Opportunities for outside stakeholders to engage with FMC to develop tools and resources for farmers markets.
  • An increased focus on assisting farmers market operators to work and be seen as leaders of system changes. This would allow markets to align their goals with activists working on issues such as climate change and to focus on becoming anti-racist organizations which, as outlined by Soul Fire Farm’s Leah Penniman, asks white allies to focus on education, reparations, and amplification. I wrote about some of these issues and a few possible strategies on my own blog: here and here.


*Some may note in the old language this strategy was originally written as Professionalize the FM Industry. After reflection, research, and input from stakeholders, this language was deemed unsuitable for our needs. Not only does the term professionalize often leave out able volunteerism, but it also can suggest that there is a need to follow white cultural norms in order to be deemed “professional.” More information can be found here: 

Case Study: FMC as GusNIP Hub Farm-Direct Facilitator

In late 2019, FMC became the Farm-Direct (FD) lead on the Training and Technical Assistance Hub, which was created by the National Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center (NTAE) and led by the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition in partnership with Fair Food Network. The NTAE and its Hub are to provide support to Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) grantees with training and technical assistance. 

Here is some of what the FD team did in the first year of the project:

  • Facilitated hundreds of hours of one-on-one support to GN grantees and their farm-direct partners across the U.S.
  • Developed and collected resources. Over the last year, we collected and organized over 200 resources that had been created by those sites working on nutrition incentives and SNAP.
  • Began analyzing the complicated world of EBT and incentive technology and using that knowledge to educate software developers and policymakers. FMC Technology Research Manager Katie Myhre is leading these efforts and offering support for market operators on their challenges, successes, and needs. Many new resources and types of support have already emerged from this work.

In year 2:

  • FMC will unveil a free Farm Direct Incentives Guide Site to house the resource library of selected PDFs, videos, images gleaned from farm-direct sites working with GusNIP grantees. This site will allow practitioners interested in starting or expanding a SNAP incentive program to easily access “the best of the best” of resources, all developed by their peers.
  • In addition to the farm-direct resource library, the team will create a curriculum for grantees to help their farmers market partners build the right program. The team is also supporting the development of an anti-racist toolkit for farmers market operators. 
  • Providing technical assistance for busy grantees with complex projects can be difficult for the grantee and for the provider. Not only is it difficult for those requesting help to always know what to ask for, but it can also be frustrating to the provider to know if they have really helped solve the problem. Starting with recent grantees in Oregon and Louisiana, the FD team is testing a more holistic approach to providing assistance: grantees begin by outlining their project plans with the FD team over a long call, sharing their concerns and ideas for each part of their work plan. The FD Team is actively listening, making notes, and assessing where one-on-one support, a new resource, or a Community of Practice may be needed to solve something that seems to one or both of the partners to be a looming issue. The grantee and the FD Team will meet regularly to check-in, allowing the FD Team to coach the grantee through many different issues at once.

FMC also has a goal to work with program participants, organizers, and advocates to share their journeys with incentives in their communities through Practitioner Papers. We’re always looking for more authors willing to work with us on a paper centered around nutrition incentives. If you have an idea for a PP on Nutrition Incentives, check in with our Resource Libraries Coordinator Nina Bubadin McQuown. Here is the first round:

  1. Origin of Incentives: This paper is written by Richard McCarthy (Think Like Pirates) and explains one practitioner’s take on the creation and rise of nutrition incentive programs in farmers markets.
  2. WIC Incentives: Written by Erin Molnar (Countryside Food and Farms) and Amanda Osborne (Ohio State University), this paper discusses two pilot programs in northeast Ohio that incentivized voucher and coupon programs other than SNAP that are often used by SNAP recipients.
  3. State Funding for Incentives: Molly Notarianni (Farmers Market Fund) and Elizabeth Borst (Virginia Fresh Match) write about their journey to pursue state-sponsored funding for their SNAP incentive programs.

All of that activity contributed to our decision to have a more user-directed and dynamic structure for support to farmers market operators. By next year, we hope to offer the same suite of services to other grant programs and to networks of markets. Let us know your thoughts.