Empowering Evaluation: FMC to Partner with University of Virginia on Interdisciplinary Course on Researching Farmers Markets

      Posted On: January 17, 2012

As momentum grows behind farmers markets, the Farmers Market Coalition believes it is imperative to align the vision behind local food systems with indicators for measuring progress.  If local food systems are to continually improve their service to stakeholders,  practitioners should be empowered and provided with a menu of indicators to benchmark and communicate their impacts to community partners and decision-makers.

Towards this goal, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) worked in 2011 with community-level coordinators of CDC’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work, crafting a draft set of indicators that they could use to measure success in their progress and final reports related to farmers market activities.  These communities, facilitated by FMC technical assistance providers Suzanne Briggs and Darlene Wolnik, then ranked the perceived utility of various indicators on the menu.  Now, FMC is identifying a list of a la carte indicators and appropriate collection methodology for economic, social, human, and natural impacts.  With additional support, these indicators can be fleshed out, piloted, revised, and made into a user-friendly interface for use by Farmers Market Coalition members and adapted as needed for other sectors of local food.

This summer, FMC will be collaborating with the University of Virginia on a two week course called Farmers Markets and Applied Food Systems Research  (PLAC 5501) as part of the Morven Summer Institute.  The lead course instructors are Dr. Paul Freedman, in the Department of Politics and Dr. Tanya Denckla Cobb in the Department of Urban & Environmental Planning.

This seminar will provide an introduction to food systems research with a focus on farmers markets.  Students will gain practical experience in applied data gathering and analysis, building a set of skills that can be applied in studying farmers markets throughout the Commonwealth and beyond.  A roster of guest lecturers, developed in collaboration with the national Farmers Market Coalition, will include researchers, policy makers, farmers market managers, and farmers.

In a meeting with Stacy Miller and Darlene Wolnik on January 13th, Professor Paul Freedman said  that part of his vision for this two week intensive course is “to train the next generation of food system leaders with place-based methodology, using farmers markets as the venue for the piloting and analysis of success indicators.”  Once developed, the field-based, interdisciplinary curriculum for this course could be nationally relevant, and lead to the development of an online indicator app for farmers markets and community partners seeking to engage in market research efforts.

FMC is presently seeking partners to support this innovative collaboration and build a comprehensive curriculum and fellowship program.  If you would like to learn more, or provide input on the evolving menu of indicators, please contact Darlene Wolnik at darwolnik@gmail.com