Virginia Market Managers Make Time for Data Collection
I wrote this article for the Farmers Market Coalition about the first year of the Farmers Market Metrics project in Virginia.
“You want to add something else to my schedule during market season?” their looks said to me.
I was attending our monthly Capital Area Farmers Market Association (CAFMA) meeting and sat at a table surrounded by farmers market managers from the greater Richmond, Virginia area. I was enthusiastically encouraging everyone to start collecting and sharing data about their markets.
I’d jumped on a wave of metrics appreciation in November during the annual conference coordinated by the Virginia Farmers Market Association (VAFMA). There, staff from the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) made a very compelling case for using data to help tell our market stories, and I was hooked.
Fortunately, I was not the only one from CAFMA attending the conference, and they were hooked on the idea too. Together we shared the benefits of data collection with the other market managers …
Data Improves Decision-Making. Analyzing data helps market managers spot significant changes and areas that need attention. They can also track key indicators over time and use that knowledge to make decisions.
Data Improves Market Promotion. Having specific metrics in marketing messages makes them much more likely to be shared. They also help reinforce the benefits of shopping at farmers markets.
Data Improves Media Relations. Reporters typically want to know more about the market than its opening date, location and hours. Press releases that include relevant data are much more likely to be picked up by publications.
Data Improves Advocacy. Sharing the market’s community impact with public officials, partners, market neighbors and other stakeholders helps market managers and vendors increase understanding and support for their markets.
Data Improves Funding. Funders want to understand the impact their investments have on the communities they serve. Accordingly, they frequently require outcome measurement.
You may be thinking, “Isn’t this a lot of work you are asking of them?” I understand that concern. I know what April, May and June look like for market managers. However, most market managers already collect data! Vendor applications and other records hold a lot of information. Market managers just need help unlocking it. The Farmers Market Metrics’ training program teaches us how to gather and share this data while protecting vendor privacy. It also encourages us to start slowly and build from one year to the next.
Our appeal to the CAFMA members worked, and 7 markets joined VAFMA & FMC’s Farmers Market Metrics pilot program including:
Birdhouse Farmers’ Market
Carytown Farmers Market
Chesterfield County Farmers Market
Goochland Fairgrounds Farmers Market
Lakeside Farmers Market
South of the James Market
Our next step: convince vendors that data collection — including vendor sales data — is a good idea. As you can imagine, market managers hear everything from “Woohoo” to “Hell no” with a few “Whatevers” thrown in there too.
Our group anticipated this range of reactions. We remind each other that we are building a culture of data collection, and we have to start somewhere. In this first year, we are focused on collecting easier data points such as visitor counts, miles to market and acres cultivated.
Once collected, we will share the aggregated data with vendors and demonstrate its usefulness by adding it to our social media posts, websites and press releases, highlighting the impact of local food and farming in Virginia.
We will also let vendors know how we’ve added market data to grant applications and shared it with partners and public officials. Data collected is information that can be used immediately, not to just sit in a file. Through training and support, we help build trust and understanding of the process.
I look forward to reporting back on our success!
About Mary Delicate
Since 2009 Mary Delicate has devoted her marketing, research and web design skills to promoting local food in Virginia. She has created 20+ websites, 600 newsletters, 500 blog posts and thousands of social media posts all to spread the word about local farms and farmers markets.
Mary was hired as the VAFMA Metrics/Network Coordinator in 2017.
Mary loves visiting farmers markets and has a 2 to 3 market-per-week habit so don’t be surprised to see her at your market! Word of warning: don’t get her started on local food, nutrition, and social media unless you have some time to talk. 😉