Are you lacking a local farmers market? Jodi shares her advice on how to start and manage a farmers market in your community.
Daley is a problem solver. Upon moving to Warner Robins, Georgia one of the first things she noticed was the city’s lack of a farmers market, despite being surrounded by local growers and producers. Starting with just a handful of vendors she organized the International City Farmers Market in 2011 on a shoestring budget, and has seen the market grow from just several thousand customers in its first year to nearly 30,000 in 2014. Despite the market’s growth and popularity, Daley’s original goals have remained firmly intact: support local growers; promote healthy, whole foods; and enhance community identity. She encourages International City Farmers Market visitors to know their farmers, know their food and keep their money within the local economy.
Now a member of several national farmers market networks, Daley is also Treasurer of the Georgia Food Policy Council and has helped develop Land to Hand, the market’s charitable arm.
Has the market benefited the local community in ways that aren’t simply economic?
Absolutely! The market has been picked as one the top three things to do in Warner Robins. We offer a place to learn, hang out with friends and listen to live music. One of our goals is to enhance a community spirit. Each year as we acquire more monies, we add more programs. This coming year, we are expanding the cooking demos and creating an educational program for children of all ages that will be offered each week. We have an annual cooking contest in April and are planning our first growers’ conference. We also started a seed library that is housed at the library branch across the street from the market. We feel we are creating a food culture.
What are the benefits of shopping at farmers markets over grocery stores?
At the ICFM, food producers strive to be competitive in their pricing with the local grocer. That said, they offer a superior product over the local grocer because of their products are fresher and tastier. The seasonal produce offered at market will be harvested within the last 48 hours before coming to market. Growers and shoppers at the market can also offer cooking tips and/or recipes.
Supporting the local farmers helps the local economy and shopping locally protects the environment as food travels less distance to your plate.
There have been reports at farmers’ markets across the country of sellers simply marking up produce purchased wholesale to cash in on the local, farm to table movement. How does this impact actual independent farmers and producers, not to mention customers?
I do not feel it is fair to anyone that a reseller passes himself or herself off as a producer. Our small business farmers work hard to provide the foods they grow and should have the same chance to sell to the public. As a customer, I prefer to know my farmer and how my food is grown.
Do you have any sort of vetting process or specific criteria for producers and sellers at the International City Farmers Market?
All vendors fill out an application and submit required licenses and certifications. I visit every producer’s farm to learn about them for a couple of reasons. First, to be sure they do what they say they do. Second, it helps me to promote them. Know your farmer, know your food.
The International City Farmers Market also honors EBT and SNAP, allowing more low-income families to enjoy local, organic produce. Why was it important to you to make this possible?
We accept SNAP/EBT benefits and partner with Wholesome Wave GA to double those benefits up to $50 per week. This not only increases access to locally grown whole food for consumers, but it benefits the farmers as well. One EBT dollar at the market equals $2 for the farmer.
I believe every person, regardless of socio-economic background, has a right to healthy whole foods at an affordable price. This is why the International City Farmers Market is located in a census tract designated as a food desert by the USDA, and why we partner with Wholesome Wave GA.
How can those families that don’t quite qualify for food assistance, but still want to eat good, local food on a limited budget, do so?
Grow one of your favorite vegetables to supplement your food income. Cooking from scratch and buying produce seasonally is usually cheaper. Some of our customers cook in bulk and freeze, then get together and trade meals. This makes for a variety of meals and a great way to spend time with friends.
How has the market evolved since its first year?
Our market has consistently grown every year. We have been establishing new relationships with various entities to build a stronger fiscal future for the market and create new opportunities for the community members. We started with eight vendors and now average 20 per week with over 30 vendors during the peak season. During our first two years we were open April through December, but are now open year round, every Thursday from 1:00 p.m. to dusk. We will be managing a second market on Saturdays starting next year.
We are developing an online market that will have drop off locations in other parts of the area on non-market days. This will create more access to local food for those who cannot make it on Thursdays. Starting next year we will also be managing a Saturday morning market in Perry.
Did you run into any unexpected hurdles when establishing the market?
The real challenges were learning the agriculture and public health rules and regulations. They are not always clear and the two agencies do not communicate well with each other. My hope is for them to create a manual/website resource guide for farmers market managers. This would be extremely helpful in planning market programs and would make it easier to find and follow the rules and regulations. As of last month, the Department of Agriculture is creating a website for market managers.
After more than five years running the International City Farmers Market, what do you think is the recipe for success?
Be consistent in marketing, spreading the word, advertising and with social media. Listen to the consumer about their needs and wants. Have open communication with the vendors about their ideas. Having a variety of vendors seems to work for us. Our market is first and foremost a food market, but we also offer body care products and arts and crafts. Several local nonprofits occasionally set up booths to bring awareness to their cause – these folks are very appreciative of the space.
Has your work with the International City Farmers Market inspired any offshoot projects?
In July, 2014, Lori Freeman and I established Land to Hand, Inc., the over-arching nonprofit organization that supports the farmers markets and community gardens, organizes events, and provides educational opportunities. As we continue to build partnerships and collaborate with other agencies and individuals, we will be able to create more opportunities for all people to learn and have fun through food.
Can you offer any advice to those hoping to establish their own market?
Establish a network, ask questions from the experts or seasoned market managers, know the rules and regulations at all levels so you will not be surprised, and be consistent in promoting your market. Feel to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.