Farmers Market Metrics Project to Enhance Evaluation Efforts of Farmers Markets

By: Sara Padilla       Posted On: May 1, 2014

Today, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) announces an exciting collaboration with the University of Wisconsin (UW) to build practical tools for evaluating farmers markets and communicating impacts to local, regional, and national stakeholders. FMC is a member-based 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to strengthen farmers markets for the benefit of farmers, consumers, and communities.

Farmers markets have emerged as important players in the effort to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, while supporting diversified farms and new businesses. Despite their many benefits, the impacts that farmers markets are having across the country go largely undocumented. Information on the 8,144 markets, with roughly 150,000 vendors and hundreds of thousands of dollars of sales is not being tracked or analyzed in a meaningful way.

The Farmers Market Metrics project consists of two collaborative efforts: identification of effective, consistent data points for measuring farmers market impact, and development of a web-based tool to facilitate the longitudinal collection and communication of those measures. The web-based tool has begun development, as part of the Knight Foundation’s Prototype Fund, and now FMC begins a three-year exploration of market indicators with our academic partner, the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

The FMC / UW project team will work with nine markets in three regions across the United States to identify a suite of data points and methodologies for programming into the Farmers Market Metrics tool. The markets selected in each region will test data collection and reporting techniques and receive technical assistance throughout the project. The grant project, called “Indicators for Impact: Farmers Markets as Leaders in Collaborative Food System Data Collection and Analysis,” is funded by the USDA’s Agriculture, Food, and Research Initiative (AFRI).

An interdisciplinary national team of researchers will advise the project team on the measurement of economic, social, intellectual, and natural impacts; recommending appropriate methodology for their collection and analysis. National Indicator Advisory Team members include Patricia Inman, Ed. D. Senior Research Associate for International Engagement, Center for Governmental Studies (Northern Illinois University); Robert King, Professor, Department of Applied Economics (University of Minnesota); Colleen Donovan, Farmers Market Research Coordinator, Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural Resources, Small Farms Programs (Washington State University); Bryn Sadownik, Program Manager of Evaluation and Community Impact (Vancity Community Foundation); Garry Stephenson, Coordinator, Small Farms Program (Oregon State University Extension); Paul Freedman, Associate Professor, Department of Politics at the University of Virginia, and Sarah Blacklin, NC Choices Project Coordinator (N.C. State University) and former Market Manager for the Carrboro Farmers Market in North Carolina.

Darlene Wolnik, Independent Researcher and Trainer with Helping Public Markets Grow, will serve as the Project Research Coordinator. Sara Padilla is the FMC Project Manager and co-Principal Investigator on the project.

FMC Executive Director Jen O’Brien described the Market Metrics Project as “a multi-faceted approach to offering practical tools for farmers markets at the community level. Farmers Market Metrics will help market organizers, market partners, and municipalities understand and efficiently communicate a diverse spectrum of impacts. That collected information will strengthen all food system initiatives.”

Alfonso Morales, Principal Investigator of the USDA AFRI grant and Associate Professor of Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Wisconsin believes that a practical but academic approach to measuring impacts will “help bring an evaluation feedback loop that is often missing in many farmers markets, enhancing market credibility which will enable more effective decision-making.”