FMC at the 8th Annual International Public Markets Conference

      Posted On: October 24, 2012

by Jen O’Brien, Interim executive director, FMC

Early in September, I traveled to Cleveland for the 8th annual International Public Markets Conference. Project for Public Spaces organized the event, bringing together food activists, researchers, market managers, policy makers, economists, government officials, architects and urban planners for three days of presentations, discussions, and networking.

Cleveland provided an inspiring backdrop for the event, with the bustling West Side Market serving as the centerpiece. The yellow brick market house is celebrating its centennial—the open-air market began in 1840, however, the landmark building and its 137-foot clock tower were completed and dedicated in 1912. The market’s popularity has waxed and waned throughout the century, but has seen tremendous growth over the past decade. A forward-thinking city government, innovative entrepreneurs, and a swell of support from Clevelanders transformed the market and surrounding neighborhood into a thriving agricultural and artisan economy.

Energized by the city and a kick-off presentation from Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, conference attendees explored the ability of public markets to spark the revitalization of neighborhoods and cities, serve as a hub for the regional food economy, incubate businesses, improve food access for low income communities, and promote healthy eating. Question and answer sessions were focused on issues of scale, data collection, and funding as attendees sought to learn new ways to build the profitability and stability of their hometown markets.

A session titled, “Beyond Grassroots: the Professionalization of Farmers Markets,” was moderated by FMC board member Monika Roth, and featured presentations by Donita Anderson of the North Union Shaker Square Market in Ohio, Dru Montri of the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), and Darlene Wolnik of Helping Markets Grow. Dru outlined MIFMA’s market manager certification process, (also featured in of FMC’s October webinar), which provides training in business planning, marketing and outreach, governance and enforcement, conflict management, and fundraising. In addition to improving their market, a number of MIFMA certified managers have successfully used their new credential to negotiate a higher salary, or in some cases, transition from a volunteer to a paid position.

Darlene emphasized the need for this type of formalized training as markets continue to grow. Solidifying the mission, goals and policies of markets helps to build the credibility and resiliency of the entire local food movement. Darlene will continue to explore this topic in FMC’s November 13th webinar.

The Market Associations and Networking Roundtable was another highlight of the event. State association leaders and representatives came together to discuss successes and challenges. Attendees debated the merits of various membership structures, shared fundraising ideas, and compared the types of benefits offered. While many success stories were offered to the group, participants also spoke of difficulty marketing their state associations, defining their mission, and promoting advocacy efforts.

In response to a clear desire for future state association networking opportunities, FMC will facilitate the continuation of the roundtable conversation through monthly, discussion-based webinars starting in December. FMC hopes to build upon the momentum of the ideas and energy generated at the conference through a variety of other upcoming initiatives. Stay tuned to the website for new educational tools and networking opportunities.

Photo courtesy of PPS Communications Manager Brendan Crain.