FEED and other Evaluation Tools Can Give Markets Insight into Operations and Impacts

      Posted On: October 13, 2010

By Darlene Wolnik, Director of marketshare, marketumbrella.org

darleneFarmers markets often act as the fulcrum of the local food movement in the U.S. In order to prove that assertion to interested investors and leaders, many organizations are using tools to measure the ways that markets succeed or fail. In-depth food system reports are multiplying faster than tent poles, but few are led or produced by the markets themselves. To ensure that markets understand how their intent and structural choices produce outcomes, more simple tools are needed for markets to employ. In this article, we discuss two measurement tools my organization is using.

This bean survey assesses changes in consumer spending due to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, incorporating four questions on one board.

A new study piloted this summer in New Orleans showed that 74% of shoppers were introduced to new types of food as a result of shopping at the local farmers market. In the middle of the summer farmers market season, the Food Environment Evaluation Device, otherwise known as FEED, was piloted at our Crescent City Farmers Markets in New Orleans in partnership with Preservation Research Center’s 2010 Health Promotion Practicum program. Jennifer Brady, a graduate student from the Tulane’s School of Public Health headed the project.

FEED tests the theory that shopping at a farmers market improves health by providing access not just to fresh fruits and vegetables, but also the access to the people who grow them. Adults and children shopping at the market were interviewed. Findings include:

•        83% of shoppers have changed the way they shop.

•        34% say they buy most or all of their produce from the market.

•        74% report they have been introduced to new food at the market.
•       This includes prepared items like Mediterranean food and specialty goods like pesto and avocado popsicles. Others mentioned different varieties of vegetables that they never knew existed before coming to the market, namely Creole tomatoes and all sorts of peppers and squash like “the cute one that looks like a UFO.”

•        78% of children interviewed clearly understood the origins of food: plants, animals, seeds and farms were popular answers.

Simple instructions are written at the base of the bean survey to help respondents understand how to interact with the survey.

FEED is the latest addition to our trans•act research fellowship project which purports to measure what markets have long advertised: that, when well-organized, markets balance the needs of vendors, shoppers, and the surrounding community. The first tool, SEED (Sticky Economic Evaluation Device) measures a market’s economic impact on the neighborhood and the buying power of the local vendors while NEED (NeighborhoodEquity Evaluation Device) measures social cohesion in markets and their ability to add projects based on level of the trust between the different actors.

All of the trans•act tools are based on measurements found in other sectors and adapted to the specialized needs of public markets. The trans•act tools use shopper and vendor intercept surveys, observation and at times, Participatory Urban Appraisals (PUA), which emphasizes local knowledge and local analysisof a community’s own problems or plans. These tools will soon be live in a marketshare portal at marketumbrella.org where users can create accounts and store their measurement data.

We also use a version of Oregon’s excellent Rapid Market Assessment (RMA)’s dot survey tool… with a twist. Our tool (called a Bean Survey) uses dried beans and confidential answers to address “topic of the day” or qualitative questions. Recently, I used it at the regional Main Street Conference held in New Iberia, LA in mid September (although the picture shows our Oil Spill survey!) I left beans on the chairs before the workshop began and asked people to use them on the way out to answer survey questions (if they ran markets).  Here are the responses:

Market Structure Survey
Do you currently run a market in your Main Street program?  Y (15) N (8) NA (1)
Does your market have a mission statement of its own? Y (7) N (10) NA (7)
Does your market have a paid staff member? Y (7) N (12) NA (5)
Does your market have a separate written budget? Y (7) N (10) NA (7)

Market Evaluation Survey
Has your market-conducted vendor surveys? Y (2) N (9) NA (0)
Has your market conducted retail analysis? Y (2) N (9) NA (0)
Has your market conducted customer surveys? Y (2) N (9) NA (0)
Has your market conducted economic impact? Y (0) N (10) NA (1)

This is also a great way to get focus group answers. We will be using this method at a focus group series to be held for a new market opening in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans in mid-November.

In any case, markets should be doing more individualized measurement and then use the results to share widely within your own community.