Posted On: January 28, 2020
by Darlene Wolnik, Training and Technical Assistance Director
I just got back from a wonderful week in Maine for the Maine Federation of Farmers Market (MFFM) Convention held during the Maine Ag Trades Show. I was able to attend courtesy of Maine’s Director of Agricultural Resource Development at the Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry, Leigh Hallett. Many may remember Leigh was the standout MFFM leader who added so much capacity to their work over the last few years. She is now doing as impressive work under the Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry’s Commissioner, Amanda Beal. Beal, an appointee made by incoming Governor Janet Mills, also attended the show and spoke during Tuesday’s luncheon as did the Governor whose deep relationship with agriculture showed in her speech. The attendance by staff from all of the Senate and Congressional offices and from a wide selection of state-level leaders showed the respect they have for the Governor and for the farmers and harvesters who are so important to the state.
Leigh had participated in a short session that NOFA-VT’s Erin Buckwalter and I did at the 2019 Direct Ag Marketing Summit in Chicago in October, centered on the Farmers Market Legal Toolkit’s record keeping section. That lively session had a lot of great ideas shared for enhanced record keeping strategies. Leigh reached out to us right after the Summit, asking if we’d present similar content at the 2020 MFFM convention. Jimmy DeBiasi, the Director of Programs at MFFM, was enthusiastic about this session, scheduling it as the keynote for the day and also requesting a Metrics workshop which is always exciting for FMC to present too.
The trade show was excellent and gave me opportunity to share information about farmers market trends with a wide variety of program leaders and entrepreneurs set up amid the tractors, specialty crop materials, and government program handouts set up around the auditorium. There was also time to meet with MFFM board members and listen to their plans for MFFM, as well as know more about their shared experience as vendors and producers.
The MFFM convention day proved to be THE snow accumulation day of the week (everyone humorously shared with me that at least one day of this show has a snow event each year!) with totals reaching 6-8 inches, all falling during the daylight hours on Thursday. Still, the schedule of events was maintained and most speakers and a good number of market leaders made it even with 45 mph limits on the highways. (and props to my old pal Sarah Alexander, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association MOFGA’s Executive Director, who shepherded me there and back from Portland even in the deep snow and ice on Thursday! It was great to see her again and to learn how much she is doing on behalf of organic growers in the state. Long wintry drives can offer a few benefits!)
Some other MFFM highlights:
- Great sessions on Conflict Resolution Strategies from Maine Agricultural Mediation Program leaders. Fascinating insight into understanding how to de-escalate conflicts for all members of the market community.
- Presentation and handout on the Bangor Wellness Project: The City of Bangor gave its 550 employees up to $40 in vouchers to the 4 area markets to increase wellness and awareness of markets. (MFFM helped with the administration and coordination through their Workplace to Market campaign.)
- $1720 worth of vouchers were redeemed
- 45% were first-time shoppers
- 80% spent their own money in addition to the vouchers
- 43% said this program led them to shop more at farmers markets
- Panel on Low-income food access models was so inspiring! The efforts by markets to come up with programs that work for their model was impressive. Yarmouth FM fundraising from local businesses to pay for their “human-scaled” voucher program which is color-coded by the month and distributed by hand has grown from 32 vouchers redeemed in 2016 to 180 vouchers redeemed in 2019.
The Bath Farmers Market gave a detailed and professional overview of their costs for their privately funded incentive program, which allows for incentive dollars to be spent on any item in their market and not just fruits and vegetables, which is one reason they do not participate in the statewide Harvest Bucks Program. Their program does a 50% match of the SNAP transactions for up to 15.00 per week per shopper. They use 7 volunteers to run the program who take turns managing the booth. Had 1700.00 in bank and service charges in 2019 which they covered with donations from shoppers, First Federal Savings as sponsor, fm organization support, and tote bag sales (in order of the portion of the budget covered, starting from largest portion.)
Next, Emily from MFFM talked about the Harvest Bucks program which has seen a 14% growth in SNAP and 15% in HB. 5 new markets and 3 new farm stands were added in 2019. Am appreciating the opportunity to learn more about more incentive programs across the US, especially with our T&TA for GusNIP grantees starting in 2020.
- Crisp MFFM member meeting led by MFFM Board President Hanne Tierney and Director of Programs Jimmy DeBiasi. Good reporting of activities and analysis of their strengths and goals.
- Apples. So many heirloom apples available during the Ag Trades Show. I am still eating the last of them. More than 100 varieties are grown in Maine. It takes about 36 apples to create one gallon of cider. I could go on about the apples.
- Keynote. Gulp. Doing a 2-hour keynote can knock one for a loop no matter what the content. Lucky for me, the Farmers Market Legal Toolkit has a gorgeous and easy to navigate website for me to use as the prompter. That, along with showing FMC materials available for its members (and since MFFM is a state partner, all of its members are automatically FMC members too), offered some useful content to the attendees. Good feedback right afterward, including some specific questions which always makes me feel people were listening!
- Metrics workshop. Ending the day with this can be tricky, but the room was lively and had a great cross-section of market managers ready to discuss how to collect and use data. The Metrics website is another tool that I am always thankful for when presenting on this subject, as I can easily show details about questions that arise on collection methods, or how to use the data….
Thanks to everyone in Maine for their participation and their sharing. That generosity is what makes our work so rewarding and so impactful.