FMC Submits Recommendations for USDA Farmers Market Research

By: Stacy Miller       Posted On: January 2, 2013

On January 2nd, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) submitted recommendations to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service regarding the agency’s collection of data about farmers markets.  These recommendations were developed in response to a request for comments on proposed revisions to USDA’s National Farmers Market Manager Questionnaire.  Changes proposed by USDA include the addition of on-farm markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations to their annual information collection.

The USDA Farmers Market Directory provides the public, researchers, media, and farmers market practitioners with the only comprehensive census of farmers markets currently available.  In the letter, FMC supports efforts to maximize its accuracy, reduce market manager burden, and systematically improve the collective understanding of farmers market characteristics as well as those of on-farm markets and farm subscription programs like CSAs.

Currently, USDA administers a Farmers Market Manager Survey, last implemented in 2006 and results published in 2009.  Publication of the 2010 survey results is currently pending — too long a timeframe to keep pace with a rapidly evolving sector. A simplified annual data collection effort, paired with the Farmers Market Directory update, will ease respondent burden, improve the response rate, and speed the publication timeframe.

Specific recommendations to assist the agency in its data collection efforts include:

Definition of terms: FMC applauds AMS’ proposed congruence with FMC’s definition of farmers markets while recommending clarification of the definition of on-farm markets and CSAs, and development of a glossary of terms to help clarify basic terminology and reduces confusion about classifications and the intent of the questions themselves.

Variables for inclusion in annual survey: In concert with a reminder to add or update a directory listing, FMC suggests that AMS include an annual “theme” with eight or fewer specific questions aligned with national research priorities, such as

  • Economic development, including sales, staffing, business incubation, and the role of women and minority owned businesses;
  • Fresh food access and nutritional programming, including participation in federal nutrition programs, fresh produce incentives, and cooking demonstrations;
  • Agricultural producer participation, including farmer demographics, acres in production, organic products, and crop diversity;
  • Community engagement and organizational partnerships, including nonprofit, volunteer, and youth participation; and
  • Organizational capacity, governance methods, physical infrastructure, annual budget, staffing, and professional development needs.

Collaboration with other agencies and organizations: FMC recommends strategically identifying a research theme in collaboration with other organizations and agencies through Farmers Market Consortium task forces by the fall of each year.  Market managers (as well as CSA and on-farm market operators) can be advised of the theme before the traditional close of the market season, and prepare to collect necessary pieces of information so that it is on hand during the appropriate survey response window.  Coordination on annual themed campaigns will allow FMC to engage its local, state, regional, and national members and partners to reinforce the importance of participation in AMS research efforts.  As FMC President Bernie Prince says in the letter, “Market manager participation is crucial to ensure accuracy, and communication to the respondent population must be clear, consistent, and offer sufficient response windows.”

FMC also recommends continued partnership with USDA FNS to reconcile disparate data on farmers markets, on-farm markets, and CSAs participating in federal nutrition programs like SNAP, Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, and WIC Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Cash Value Benefits.

A concerted effort to collaborate with other organizations and agencies in annual identification of high-priority indicators clustered into themes will increase relevance for these stakeholders and ensure their support in widespread outreach to ensure a high response rate for AMS. Doing so, FMC states, “will also eliminate the need for multiple surveys administered by multiple organizations, demonstrating cohesiveness while building trust and leadership in the sector.”

The Farmers Market Coalition offered its assistance to identify theme emphases, translate   indicators into simple questions, and help maximize farmers market managers participation.  FMC membership includes more than 640 organizations representing nearly 4,000 farmers markets and more than 25,000 agricultural producers.

The Farmers Market Coalition’s full letter of recommendations is on-line here.

Organizations and individuals can submit comments on USDA AMS’ direct-marketing data collection efforts on the web site here no later than January 4, 2013.