Metrics and Beyond

By: Ben Feldman       Posted On: December 10, 2020

As 2020 comes to a close, farmers market operators across the country are reflecting on a year like no other, reviewing their results, and attempting to use the lessons to plan for 2021. While the future remains uncertain in many regards, the ability of markets to plan and prepare for the future is tied to their ability to understand and analyze what was different this year as compared to previous years, and their ability to effectively convey that information to customers, vendors, and decision makers. In other words, farmers market operators who have a history of data collection, analysis, and reporting have a leg up when it comes to preparing for what comes next. 

Questions and comments like those below show up from members and from other market stakeholders in our FMC email inboxes on a daily basis. In most cases, our Training and Technical Assistance Team replies with resources, tools, tips, or our thanks. In other, more complicated cases, the request may require a broader response and Communications, Policy, or Administration staff are brought in to respond to members and partners needs.

  • Can you help me figure out which metrics we should ask our markets to collect this year?
    — A market network leader
  • I am trying to find out if the Metrics software is right for my market; how do you suggest we start?
    — A market operator
  • I’d like to think through next steps of getting started with Metrics and creating our market’s data collection plan. Can you provide some help with this?
    — A market operator 
  • I’m interested in learning more about metrics related to diversity and inclusion at markets and data collection methodology. Can you share some best practices or examples?
    — A market operator 
  • I am looking for a safe, effective and simple way to get market goers to provide feedback. Do you have any ideas?
    — A market operator   
  • Thanks for the data on farmers markets that you shared; It really helped our report.
    — An international consultant firm
  • We need to save time and more easily share data between the various platforms we use.
    — A market operator
  • What do you think we should focus on adding to our site for market operators?
    — A third party software platform developer
  • When will you be able to share any of the data you gathered from the FMC COVID-19 impact survey?
    — National researchers
  • Wow! The assessment you did on farmers markets response to COVID-19 was very detailed and helpful to our team.
    — National technical assistance provider and funder

These questions reflect the wide and diverse interest in data collection from within and outside the farmers market sector; the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified that interest tremendously. Fortunately, FMC is better positioned to respond than ever before. During previous crises, our team has often struggled to understand in real-time situations at market level, relying mostly on anecdotes via listservs, or larger markets’ ability to share their analysis, although that analysis is rarely quickly available in the moment. This time, because of FMC’s own subscription platform Farmers Market Metrics, expanded focus in supporting all types of market level evaluation through technical assistance, and partnerships (which we like to call “Beyond Metrics”), we have access to much more data from many sources. We have tapped these sources to develop a robust data set of COVID era impacts. 

Read more on FMC’s Beyond Metrics work: below is the latest update on our Metrics subscription platform.


Farmers Market Metrics in 2021

A few years back we thought that creating Metrics accounts for market partners (e.g. funders or state association leaders) would be a rapid way to add markets and projects into Metrics. This was done to meet the goal of increasing the size of the data set and therefore its usefulness in identifying impacts and trends in the farmers market sector. But after piloting this across a few states (a huge thanks to CA, DC, MI, OR and VA farmers market leaders in testing the network approach with us), we’ve learned a great deal, which has led us to refine our approach. We’ve decided to focus on market operators as primary users of the software, and instead provide technical assistance to those network partners “offline.” You can read about this approach in the article our team wrote in 2019 and on our Metrics Guide site.

By taking those network level accounts out of the platform, the software is more reliable and works much better for market organizations.

Another benefit has been that our team has been able to increase the number of reporting “widgets” and dashboards for markets. Widgets refer to the individual automated reporting infographics that are generated by data inputted by users of the platform, while dashboard refers to the overall set of infographics and data. Below are examples of Metrics widgets, including some developed specifically in response to the needs of markets to talk about their impact during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We will also be helping Metrics users and other markets report their 2020 data, as well as the impacts of COVID to their own communities. We plan to work with those markets to use their reports in our communications throughout 2021, culminating in a lively National Farmers Market Week in August.

Beyond Metrics – Evaluation Technical Assistance 

The Farmers Market Metrics Platform is a valuable tool for farmers market operators to collect, manage, and report on their data, and yet there are many aspects and many challenges associated with data that go beyond this tool. Understanding the data challenges and opportunities outside of Metrics builds on a growing expertise within FMC, as well as new and ongoing relationships with external partners such as researchers, extension agents, and government agencies.

One solution to a constant data collection issue for markets will be to get market partners to help gather data, rather than assume that market volunteers and staff will do it all. To that end, we hope our 3-year NCR-SARE funded project — led by Ohio State University and partnering with Ohio Farmers Market Network to build a data culture for markets with both Extension educators and market operators — will be a model of things to come. 

The importance of partnerships related to data collection cannot be overstated. Our goals to increase the base of understanding of farmers markets through data collection, research, analysis, and publication rely on developing additional partnerships. These partnerships will necessarily include software platform developers who have products for farmers market operators, as well as researchers interested in the field. As with most of FMC’s work, the ability to work in partnership extends our reach and makes us more informed and successful. 

Charlene and our Farm Direct Technology Manager, Katie Myhre, have also spent a great deal of time reaching out to the myriad of platforms that hundreds of markets and thousands of producers are currently using. You can expect a lot of resources from FMC in 2021 and 2022 that will help market operators and farmers make more informed choices as well as lead platform developers to iterate in the right direction to support farmers markets. 

If you are a platform developer, contact us to set up a call to show off your products and to see how we can help you. 

Next on our agenda is to ask for shared access to the data that the markets are collecting on other platforms, both to help them analyze sales and product data across markets and regions, but also to continue to understand where the challenges remain for market operators in getting an evaluation system up and running. Fresh Farm’s Market Tracker is one new product that we have watched develop by our DC-based colleagues (which the leadership began to develop while still separately organized as Community Food Works before merging with Fresh Farm).

The final piece of the evaluation framework is how FMC uses collected data for analysis. On that front, we have begun the analysis of two national surveys which we have conducted this season that have helped our own assessment of this crisis and assisted in the analysis of many others. That data, collected from markets in every state and most territories, will be shared by the end of the year through our newsletter and other communication channels. 

Finally, we want to thank every market leader who has shared data with us and offered their analysis to educate stakeholders. Please get in touch if we can help your market with Metrics or with general evaluation, and of course, we hope you will become or renew as an FMC member in 2021.