Strengthening the Farmers Market Community through Joint Membership

      Posted On: October 19, 2011

In 2011, the Agricultural Market Services Department of the USDA reported that there were 7,175 farmers markets. That represents a 17% growth rate from 2010, (when numbers had grown 16% since 2009). The trend is hardly a recent phenomenon. Farmers markets have grown steadily, without exception, since 1994.

Yet any farmers market vendor, shopper, or market manager will tell you that no two markets are created the same. And while some markets are fantastic, and others lackluster, there are even more markets that never survive to see their second year. In short, there is a wide variety of quality in the farmers market community, and an impetus to share resources and information to improve the system of farmers markets across the country.

Improving farmers markets, for farmers, shoppers, market managers and their communities, is at the very heart of the Farmers Market Coalition’s (FMC) mission. Every year, FMC helps state-level organizations and networks emerge to help provide education and assistance on the ground, where it’s needed most.

New this year is yet another innovative program that brings these 7,000+ markets closer together to share what they do best, and improve the quality of each market in every community. We call it the joint membership program.

On September 1st, the FMC board of directors approved a membership dues restructuring which will result in an increase from $25 for individual farmers markets to $40, to take effect June 1, 2012. This leaves plenty of time for existing members to renew and new members to join under the current lower rate. But there are other ways to save, too.

Earlier in 2011, the Farmers Market Coalition partnered with Mass Farmers Markets (MFM) for a joint membership pilot project, in which Mass Farmers Markets paid for all their 101 members to join FMC under their umbrella, all with the same renewal date. Those who were already members of FMC were upgraded to coincide with the same renewal data as other markets in the state.

“We have had nothing but positive response from our membership to the joint membership pilot,” said Jeff Cole, Executive Director of Mass Farmers Markets. “The resources FMC offers allows Mass Farmers Markets to better focus on the diverse and specific issues our members have each season while still supporting general information requests. We continue to feel that this is an excellent opportunity to add value to our membership as well as support the national farmers market community.”

This fall, FMC is opening the program to other statewide organizations, so that they can add FMC membership to their suite of benefits, and then have access to the same market characteristics data that is collected from FMC members upon joining. As each statewide association signs up for the joint membership program, they will be able to offer

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an extended variety of services to their own members—something that will become even more valuable as FMC offers more webinars at no cost to its members.

So, where do the savings come in? State organizations participating in the program, in which they want to join all participating markets in their state, will pay HALF of the $40 rate that individual markets would pay on their own. That is, state organizations will pay $20 for each member of their organization to join FMC, and can choose what amount they add into their own dues structure to accommodate. For example, a state association may add $25/year to their dues requirement, $20 of which goes to FMC and $5 of which is retained to cover the overhead costs associated with communicating about FMC member benefits and managing payment and member upload as a service to their members.

As state associations grow and seek to provide more services, this link with FMC means a source of revenue, a partner in better understanding their state’s market characteristics, and a stronger national organization that can respond to their needs and help them grow.

More membership means a stronger voice at the national level, as FMC steps up to provide leadership to other national organizations on the future of the Farmers Market Promotion Program, implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, and strategies to expand and simplify SNAP access in farmers markets. This stronger voice means more opportunities for members to engage in important discussions about the policies that shape our food system.

A stronger community also allows FMC to be more responsive to the needs of farmers markets, whether it’s the implications of IRS rulings, health insurance needs of market managers, music copyright liability, or other current events impacting farmers markets.

More members also mean more dynamic contributions to the FMC listserv, and a more extensive and interactive resource library— both of which are vital tools in connecting farmers, vendors, market managers, and others in the community to each other. FMC recently launched a listserv specifically for state farmers market organization members, too, in order to provide these leaders with opportunities to share organizational challenges, successes, and best practices.

As FMC membership continues to grow, so does FMC’s capacity to respond to ever-changing needs, and to connect farmers markets across the country with the information and resources they need to flourish.

For more information about how your state can implement the Join Membership Program, please contact {Elizabeth Comiskey, Membership & Volunteer Coordinator at}.