How Can FMC Help Markets Analyze This Year?

By: Darlene Wolnik       Posted On: December 21, 2020

In 2020, many farmers market managers had to figure out a different staffing plan and find money in slashed budgets for traffic cones, new signs, and cleaning supplies. Amid all of that and more, they also responded to a number of surveys to make sure data and lessons from this difficult year were not lost. Among these were:

1. National surveys such as the one recently completed by USDA/AMS and NASS on market manager roles, job characteristics and their analysis of their markets. That data is being further analyzed by Dr. Justin Schuppand we hope to see that report out in time for 2021 National Farmers Market Week. This will be helpful for market operators in assessing the performance and jobs of paid staff. Stay tuned on that.

2. Census type surveys that many state associations conduct on their farmers markets. Oregon has instituted a particularly robust version and has shared their process and data on FMC’s monthly State and Network Leader calls. Illinois created a database, in partnership with MarketMaker™, so markets and farmers can update their data once, which is then shared to other sites. This has the potential to offer the best data on the number and characteristics of market organizations regionally, and also to help AMS correctly refine and update the Farmers Market Directory, which has become the default census of markets used by many media and policy makers.
Note for market operators: In an effort  to make the list as accurate as possible, AMS began what will be an annual process to remove any listing that hasn’t been updated in two years or more. As a result, many markets fell off, and the numbers currently appear far lower than they actually are. So do check your listing!

3. State of the field surveys for a particular event or time period. The 2020 pandemic has brought a slew of these to the inboxes of market leaders, including FMC’s two surveys, the first in the spring of 2020 and the second in summer of 2020. The data we collect helps FMC decide where and how to deploy resources and staff for technical assistance, and how to frame sector-wide analysis needed by those markets and their stakeholders.

Social distant contactless shopping at the MilkLady Farmers Market in Rockville, MD

In terms of FMC’s two 2020 surveys, the data was rapidly collected via online survey (Google forms). The survey links were shared on listservs, through our partners’ emails lists, and through FMC’s communications channels over some weeks.

For the summer survey, the FMC team set a goal of 300 responses across all states, a goal which was met and then exceeded with a final count of 461 market organizations reporting in 50 states. (When FMC uses the term “market organization” we are referring to those entities that actually manage one or more farmers markets. That could mean a non-profit, a for-profit, an umbrella organization, a municipality, or even a band of happy volunteers!)

The goal of 300 responses was made based on estimating the number of market organizations operating in the US as 3,000-4,000, estimating because the number of actual organizations is unknown. Here is how we came to that number:

The current number of market sites operating in the US is generally agreed to be around 8,200-8,500. Surveys indicate that about half of the organizations operate two or more markets. We also know that in 2019, 2,309 farmers market organizations were authorized as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) retailers, a number that has not changed dramatically in a few years. That seems to indicate that a large majority of those organizations that could be authorized have done so. All of this led us to the 3,000-4000 organizations estimate, but we hope to work on establishing a verified number in the next year or two.

We focused our surveys on the organization’s assessment of the impact of mitigating COVID-19 at their markets. We didn’t stress vendor-level data too much as we knew that markets would not have had time to gather that across the board. However, we did ask markets to share if, when and who among their vendors reported income increases and decreases and in which category.

We do hope to also see the data that markets are beginning to collect via the new online sales platforms and other “pivots” they used to better understand the impact on vendors and shoppers. If you have data and want to share it, feel free to share it with us.

Data from the FMC Summer 2020 Survey

Below, find some of the data from the FMC June – August 2020 survey. State level data will not be released as no state had enough responses for the data to be truly representative, but FMC will be working with researchers to organize and release some of the responses as regional data. Please do credit FMC if you use the data with this title: Farmers Market Coalition Summer 2020 Survey. 

  • 1,463 farmers market sites were used in 2020 among those market organizations reporting. The breakdown of the locations were as follows:
    Urban sites: 645
    Suburban sites: 462
    Rural sites: 356
  • 72% of the market organizations operated the same number or more market days during June, July, and Aug 2020 as in June, July, and Aug 2019.
  • 61% of the market organizations operated reported less revenue during June, July, and Aug 2020 as compared to June, July, and Aug 2019

The data below seems to correspond with the gigantic fluctuation of positive and negative impacts on small businesses from state to state and among vendor types that we heard about this year. It is important to note that the same market organization could have reported both increased income among some vendors and decreased income for some others and therefore be contained in both of the next two data points:

  • 63% of those responding to FMC’s survey said that some or all of their vendors reported increased income for the summer months of 2020. The type of vendor category that reported increased sales was highest among fruit and vegetable, followed by value-added and meat/dairy categories.
  • 60% of those responding to FMC’s survey reported that some or all of their vendors reported decreased income; the type of vendor category that reported decreased sales was highest in the artisanal/crafts category, followed by value-added.
  • 13% of the market orgs responding to FMC’s survey said that all of their vendors reported increased income; 12% said that all of their vendors reported decreased income. 

We’d like to collect data in future years that would help us analyze the ways in which benefit programs may or may not be affected by necessary changes made to operations during any disaster or crisis. For example, when using pre-order platforms, SNAP cards cannot be processed online for direct-to-consumer sales. Yet even with that issue, some of the data already reported in the media indicates that SNAP sales increased in the 2020 summer months over the previous year. What we need to understand is if these increases correspond to the number and dollar amount of increased SNAP distributed during 2020.

  • 39% of those organizations responding said their SNAP sales increased in those months over the same period in 2019. 
  • 14% said their SNAP sales decreased in the summer months of 2020 over the same period in 2019.
  • 48% of the responding markets said they are not SNAP-authorized retailers. 24% of those that are not SNAP-authorized retailers reported that some or all of their vendors are SNAP-authorized retailers.

Packing a box for pickup at the Vancouver Farmers Market in Vancouver, WA.

Platforms and Other Pivots

  • 26% of respondents offered a market-level pre-ordering online platform (to select and purchase individual products) during any or all of the market days in June, July, or August 2020. 
  • 24.5% of respondents operated a curbside or drive-thru model during any or all of the market days in June, July, or August 2020.
  • 17% of respondents operated a pre-packed market box (market aggregate) program during any or all of the market days in June, July, or August 2020.

Top responses to what new costs markets incurred in order to be physically open in the COVID-19 pandemic included: 

    • Purchase of Personal Protective Equipment
    • Additional staff hours
    • Adding new staff
    • Hiring security personnel
    • Costs related to securing new or temporary locations

The estimates of the costs for these actions were varied:

  • 53% of market organizations surveyed estimate those new costs at $200-$1,999 for those 3 months
  • 20% of market organizations surveyed said they spent $2,000-$9,999 
  • 3.5% of market organizations surveyed said they spent more than $20,000


The final question on the survey asked market operators what of these actions to mitigate COVID-19 risk they think will become long-term or permanent features. A sample of popular responses have been grouped and listed below.

Q: Do you anticipate that any of the innovations or operational “pivots” implemented by your markets during this time period will become long-term or permanent features of your market(s)?

Hours/layout adjustment

  • We adjusted the operating hours and may keep the new hours. 
  • Currently we are open for 43 weeks and this will allow us to be open for 50 weeks a year. 
  • Excluding shoppers from entering the market area before Opening Bell.
  • We’ve centered on running a market that is the special event, not running a market plus lots of extra special events. I hope we never go back to hosting extra special events. We used to have a free coffee/water table and probably won’t bring that back. We like the spaced-out layout so we’ll probably implement some hybrid of the old layout and the new.
  • Our new market map layout. A lot of our customers prefer this open-spaced layout in the park as opposed to our previous straight line layout on the sidewalk bordering the park that was difficult to navigate. 
  • Social distancing. Better for our vendors, better for our customers, better for our dogs.
  • We have secured additional space that I hope to keep.
  • Adding an extra hour before the market is permitted to start for Senior/high risk shopping hour has become so popular- we might not be able to go back to just a 4 hour market. The seniors will be too upset!
  • We altered the market layout of some markets and will keep some of the new layout features. 
  • Footprint modifications: We reconfigured the layout of our market to better maintain capacity limits within market boundaries.
  • We expect to leave our extra wide aisles for the foreseeable future.
  • We also reconfigured our information tent point of sale for better social distancing and line management without affecting customer capacity within market boundaries.
  • Controlling access with fencing so there’s a single entrance/exit so we can better count attendees.
  • We will expand the length of the market so we can also safely bring back more vendors.
  • We used to shade the entire market space. That has ceased and may become more permanent. 
  • We intend to build an open-air pavilion to facilitate a safer shopping environment



  • We anticipate having additional staffing in the future due to the growth we’ve experienced and the positive attention we’ve garnered from town management.
  • Likely to keep additional labor/support on market day.



  • Yes, hand washing stations may be permanent.
  • I think mask wearing will become a common thing for both participants and customers who are “under the weather” for any reason. 
  • We instilled a NO SAMPLING rule, that will definitely be in effect through this coming 2020 – 2021 season…perhaps longer.
  • Yes: no dogs allowed, hand washing station/sanitizer stations at entrance and inside market.
  • Table disinfecting between customers seems important.


Change in programming

  • Closure of non-essential programs
  • Removing music and a raffle
  • We will not bring back the “food court” in the foreseeable future. Instead we are planning to have one featured prepared food vendor each week on an 8-week rotation.
  • Our main fundraising effort was a big event and we’ll never put our eggs in that one basket again. We’ll have to implement new means of raising funds. 
  • Possibly moving entertainment to another evening instead of with our market.

Currencies/SNAP adjustments

  • Voucher currency: We were forced to incorporate a $5 voucher currency system to supplement our $1 token system when our token producer shut down it factory in NY due to the COVID-19 pandemic and our token inventory was unable to sustain our high-volume SNAP Incentive program. 
  • Digital POS tracking: We converted to digital transaction tracking on iPads at the SNAP Point of Sale to reduce exposure to paper tracking sheets.  
  • Yes, we designed and launched a voucher currency system to operate alongside our token currency system in order to sustain the increased level of SNAP program participation through the pandemic which our token inventory could not sustain during factory closures.  We also converted to digital tracking at the point of sale to reduce paper tracking records and began deducting vendor stall fees from token and voucher redemption by vendors in order to suspend cash collection and create a contactless stall fee payment system for vendors. 


Curbside Pickup/Delivery/Pre Order

  • Yes, we will continue to offer curbside pick up and might add in delivery options as well. 
  • The online market platform will continue to be utilized even though we are back to in person markets. We will utilize it to expand our season to become a year round market. 
  • We started a no-cost senior CSA that we deliver to 2 neighboring senior centers. We are going to try to continue with this pre-packed, drop off model for next year.
  • Likely to keep the online store operational during the off season to allow vendors off season sales.
  • Online ordering with drive-thru pick up.  This option allows us to capture sales that would be missed if the only option was to shop in-person, regardless of COVID. Examples- Physical limitations on walking, a family with a new/fussy baby, vacation , work schedules. 
  • Online orders and aggregated pick-up.
  • Yes, our curbside box program has been successful and we hope it will be sustainable to serve the community into the future.
  • We are increasing our wholesale foraging.
  • The option to pre-order online via WhatsGood. A lot of our customers prefer having this option.
  • Currently planning to implement home delivery.
  • Our shopping app will continue to grow and thrive. The implementation of social services and assistance benefits will continue to grow.  


Other Sales Models 

  • We started a no-cost senior CSA that we deliver to 2 neighboring senior centers. We are going to try to continue with this pre-packed, drop off model for next year.
  • Mobile Market
  • A move to providing SNAP CSA shares 



  • Stall fee deductions from redemption: We converted from cash stall fee collection to a system that deducts stall fees automatically from token/voucher redemption to prevent exposure to cash for staff. 
  • Spacing the vendors 10 feet apart is nice for a multitude of reasons as well, so if space permits, that may also continue.
  • Vendors parking behind booth, spacing out vendors
  • I think some of our vendors will continue to offer pre-orders.
  • Value added products. Senior voucher increased numbers
  • Some new vendors will be staying at the market, due to higher sales than at their other revenue streams.
  • Yes we  were not allowed to have crafts and this worked well for us. 
  • We will continue to utilize additional volunteers even after COVID.


This insightful report from the Local Food Systems Response to COVID Cohort authored by Dawn Thilmany and Hailey Edmondson of Colorado State University  also offers some important consumer data to compare. One such data point:
1684 out of 5000 (35%) tried at least one new outlet in 2020 among these channels (farmers market, CSA, local independent restaurant, bakery/deli/meat or fish market, food box).

We hope this first data release from our 2020 survey is helpful to market operators and stakeholders. Please continue to upload your best resources to the COVID-19 category in our Resource Library and send us data, images, videos, and your thoughts so we can learn from you.  You can be sure that FMC will continue to advocate for our markets wherever and whenever possible.

And do try to get a good night’s sleep. You have definitely earned it.



This blog post was written by Darlene Wolnik, FMC’s Training & Technical Assistance Director.