Bringing Community, Not Just Customers, into the Market

      Posted On: July 14, 2010

By Sylvia Fagin and Jean Hamilton, Northeast Organic Farming Association-Vermont


Rutland Downtown Farmers’ Market engages their local business community by advertising neighboring businesses at a market exit

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) is providing Vermont farmers markets with a new tool to bolster the support they receive from their communities. A short (18-page) manual entitled Engaging the Community for Farmers Market Success is now available on the NOFA-VT website. Designed for market managers and boards of directors, the manual outlines some of the types of community partners with which farmers markets can collaborate, and ways in which farmers markets can engage these partners to strengthen their market and contribute to its long-term viability and success.

The manual includes numerous examples from Vermont farmers markets in demonstrating how farmers markets can engage community partners like businesses and merchants, local government, schools, non-profits, health and social service organizations, and customers. Some of the areas in which these community partners can support farmers markets include serving on the board of directors, assisting with operations, collaborating on fundraising, helping with communications, and advocating for the market. A resource guide of national organizations that support farmers markets is included in the document.

The topic of community support for farmers markets became relevant as newer and smaller markets found themselves struggling to stay afloat, and as larger, more established markets discovered that their success brought unexpected challenges with their hosting municipalities. With a grant from the Castanea Foundation, a Vermont-based organization dedicated to conserving and protecting agriculturally productive and environmentally significant lands and water resources throughout Vermont and select areas of New York, NOFA-VT was able to hire a local writer and researcher, Sylvia Fagin, to write the manual.

National research reveals that new farmers markets are taking a community-based approach to their boards of directors and developing a diverse platform of community support before establishing a new market. Older markets often have not done this as systematically, and are frequently run by a board of directors composed entirely of vendors. These markets may need to stop and see what parts of their community aren’t represented on their board or as community partners, and build relationships with these entities to ensure that the entire community understands the market’s needs as well as the benefits the market provides to the community.

NOFA-VT is currently writing a companion tool for local governments and municipalities, to help local leaders understand the benefits that farmers markets provide to communities, and some of the ways that local government can assist markets in becoming strong entities in their communities for years to come.

The community engagement guides build on a number of other NOFA-VT initiatives to support the growth and economic viability of farmers markets in Vermont.  With rising numbers of new farmers and increasing consumer interest in local foods, the number of farmers’ markets in the state continues to grow steadily.  NOFA-VT is currently providing technical assistance and mini-grants for strategic planning to help bolster these markets’ ability to establish a strong foundation in their communities.  Additionally, NOFA-VT is also working on a number of statewide projects including assisting markets in setting up EBT and debit card readers, hosting a statewide National Farmers Market Week celebration and helping to launch the Vermont Farmers’ Market Association, an association that serves as a statewide voice for member markets.

The Vermont Farmers’ Market Association (VFMA) is a 13 member board representing markets statewide. The purposes of the VFMA are to promote information sharing and networking among markets, serve as the statewide voice for farmers’ markets in Vermont, legislative advocacy, and promotion of Vermont farmers markets. In 2009, the VFMA worked with the Vermont legislature to pass a farmers market definition and a $25,000 mini-grant program to support infrastructure improvements at markets.  In addition, they developed a web-site, formalized an organizational logo and worked on a promotion plan, including a brochure detailing all of the summer and winter farmers markets.

You can find out more about the Vermont Farmers’ Market Association, and NOFA-VT, at