Fruit & Vegetable Education Pilot Site Visits

      Posted On: June 26, 2024

As FMC and our partners at the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service work through the reporting and resource development phase of the Fruit and Vegetable Education Pilot, part of our cooperative agreement “Increasing Food Access through Farmers Market Implementation and Education with Underserved Community Focus”, we would like to share some reflections from our in-person visits to the three markets participating in this project. In 2023, FMC Project Manager, Diana Broadaway, and USDA VegU Program Manager, Nikki Vivekanadan, made in-person visits to the three markets participating in this pilot.  

Throughout the pilot process, it has been helpful to the USDA and FMC teams to observe the variations in approach to program implementation between the three pilot markets. These markets vary with respect to type, including differences in size, capacity, community, and partnership opportunities. Each market interpreted the USDA’s program model in a different way to shape a version of the program that worked best for their individual market and audience. 

Our first visit was to McAllen Farmers Market in McAllen, Texas in late June. McAllen Farmers Market is a relatively small (15-20 vendor) market located in an urban area, in front of the city’s main library. McAllen is located in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, less than fifteen miles from the U.S.- Mexico border. McAllen is a smaller, community-focused farmers market which served an average of 250-350 visitors at its Saturday markets during summer 2023. McAllen’s interpretation of the program was most similar to the USDA’s program model, where scheduled demonstrations were offered throughout the market day and talking points related to the featured fruit or vegetable and a walk-through of the recipe for that week were presented to visitors. To assist with their pilot, the McAllen FM team developed a partnership with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, bringing in students from the university’s Dietetics program to assist with food preparation, cooking, and presenting each week’s recipe. Their pilot program was titled “Cooking In Season”. McAllen FM’s Market Manager, JD Hogan, hosted us during our visit on a very hot summer day in the RGV, introducing us to folks at the market and even giving us a mini-tour of McAllen! 

Collage of four photos show people shopping at a farmers market.

Photos from McAllen Farmers Market

Our second visit was to Red River Gorge Farmers Market in Slade, Kentucky in late July. Slade is a rural community located in the Red River Gorge Geological Area in east-central Kentucky. The Red River Gorge Farmers Market supports approximately 30-40 vendors and operates near the entrance to Natural Bridge State Resort Park. This market served an average of 400 visitors at its Saturday markets throughout the course of their pilot, a program titled “Eat Local RRG”. The Red River Gorge FM Team offered a somewhat different interpretation of the USDA’s model, with less formal scheduling of their demonstrations, more casual talking points and visitor engagement. The tone was more conversational and less uniform from one session to the next. Red River Gorge FM’s market founders, Jann Knappage (Market Manager) and Kevin Gurtowski (Advisory Team Member), hosted us during our visit, introducing us to their community, market visitors, and vendors and even took us to one of their favorite bbq spots that features locally sourced ingredients from their farmers market! Jann and Kevin have worked with Cooperative Extension at University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University and partnered with Extension Service staff to assist with program operations, including the cooking demonstrations and education components of the program. The Red River Gorge team looks to continue this partnership this market season.

Collage of four photos show people shopping at a farmers market.

Photos from Red River Gorge Farmers Market

Our last visit was to Downtown Evanston Farmers Market in Evanston, Illinois in September. Evanston is a suburb of Chicago, located just north of the city. Downtown Evanston is the largest of these three markets, averaging 6000 visitors for each of the Saturday markets throughout the course of their 8-week pilot. The market is located in a large parking lot, close to the Northwestern University campus, and supports 60-70 vendors. Their pilot program was titled “Veg-Etown”. This market underwent some administrative changes after they were selected for the pilot and, as a result, we weren’t able to meet their former Market Manager, Myra Gorman, in person during our visit. However, we did get to meet the program team including the chef the market partnered with for this pilot, Brian Huston, and a helpful team of volunteers from Evanston Grows, a local community organization focused on food insecurity and injustice in the Evanston community. In a somewhat similar approach to Red River Gorge Farmers Market, Downtown Evanston’s interpretation of the program was a bit less formal with more casual presentations and visitor engagement but with some variation in format and structure from week to week. 

Collage of four photos show vendors selling and people shopping at a farmers market.

Photos from Downtown Evanston Farmers Market

Having the opportunity to visit these markets in person, interact face-to-face with our project partners, and experience their program operations firsthand was such a valuable part of the pilot process. These experiences will help inform our reporting and best practice recommendations for adaptation of the USDA’s VegU model at other farmers markets. We look forward to sharing final outcomes, program operations and participation data, and a guide to implementing this type of food education program at your market as part of our final report and resource toolkit for this pilot, to be finalized later in 2024.   

If you have any questions about this pilot project or our work with a particular market, please feel free to reach out to Diana Broadaway at diana@farmersmarketcoalition.org.