Market Evaluation Background

Here’s what we know: Almost all markets and their partners already collect data. It may be the SNAP tally sheet at the end of the market, which tells how many benefit program users came that day or how many tokens they used. It might be clicking how many visitors came to the market or how many products were available to purchase, or the sales reported by the market’s vendors. The reality is that there is actually a good deal of information available about markets. There are even a few excellent tools to do some collection and reporting, such as Market Umbrella’s SEED tool, Projects for Public Spaces Placemaking audits, Demonstrating Value’s market toolkit, Wholesome Wave’s incentive tracking portal, or state-level market tracking such as West Virginia’s data collection project and so on.

And a few markets are great at analyzing how well they use their funding or their staff levels or are adept at showing the changes in their community. So there are already some reports available that detail the impact of markets on their shoppers and their vendors, on the neighboring businesses and on the larger community. Check out the FMC Resource Library for a representation of those.

Data (and some tools) surely exist. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that data is often collected across different time spans, using different definitions, rarely uses comparable analysis or matches the output with the unique characteristics of that market. And the market community itself is often left out of the design of the collection and of the reports.

Understaffed markets organizations are often uneasy in participating in the actual collection, often leaving it to external partners; as a result, the raw data is often not shared with the markets.

And what type of impact does that data show? Internal benchmarks or is there an external change that can affect policy? Can it be compared to other sectors or other markets in the food system? Does it show a wide spectrum of benefits, more than just economic?
Markets rely on external partners to provide that analysis, but often that analysis represents only the change that partner is primarily interested in.

So where to start? For the Farmers Market Coalition and the University of Wisconsin AFRI project team, it seemed best to start at the market level by asking these questions:

• What if someone collected the best metrics now available and refined them for markets and market partners to use?
• What if markets took the lead in deciding which of those metrics to use (with some help) based on their immediate issues or to help with their long-term planning?
• What resources are needed to help largely volunteer entities know how to properly collect or supervise the collection of data and to use that data to make their case for expanded capacity?
• And what if those results (indicators) were collected and shared at the national level so everyone could see the data, compare results and decide what else could be measured?

From 2014 through 2016, FMC and University of Wisconsin will be conducting applied research on these questions at nine market sites in three regions. The focus of this research will be to uncover the barriers and challenges that keep markets from collecting and using data as well as refining metrics for market communities to begin to make their case on the potential multiple benefits of markets.

At the end of the three years, there will be a beginning set of metrics, resources to address data collection barriers at the grassroots level and drafts of the reports using the data collected by the nine markets. All of the data collected will be given back to the markets in spreadsheets, in info graphic-style reports and made available to researchers and partners to continue to expand reasonable and disciplined data collection and analysis. All of this will be stored on a upcoming portal for data collection on the Farmers Market Coalition site.

Obviously, many questions remain and more pilots will certainly be necessary to build a true system for evaluation of markets. Be patient with us in this opening round and please check back here to find invitations for shared learning on this work or to read the updates.

Farmers Market Metrics: Economic, Human, Social and Ecological. A Review of the Literature.

In 2014, Dr. Alfonso Morales and his team of graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted a review of the literature on data collection and evaluation at farmers markets to inform the planning and implementation of the Indicators for Impact research study. Publication TBD.