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A Brightly Colored Quilt: Farmers Market Promotion Program Evaluation Reveals Wide Diversity of Activities and Impacts

July 15, 2013

Guest Post by Stacy Miller, Farmers Market Coalition

Farmers markets are increasingly recognized as having  multiple benefits, spurring community and economic development, encouraging healthier eating patterns, and offering a reliable outlet for innovative farmers to build lasting customer bases.  The Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) was established in the 2002 Farm Bill to advance these goals by supporting the development and expansion of farmers markets and other direct farmer-to-consumer marketing outlets.  The program is small relative to many other USDA programs, but that’s no reason to let its return on investment go unexamined.  Has the FMPP been successful in its goals?  What can be learned from the 575 grant projects awarded since 2006, spread across 50 states? 

Last week, the Farmers Market Coalition and Market Umbrella released a report of findings based on a survey of FMPP grantees from 2006 through 2011, covering more than 400 projects that received grants ranging anywhere from $2,000 to $100,000 to support a wide array of farmers market and direct-to-consumer initiatives at local, regional, and state levels.  Demand for the program is high, with only 21 percent of applications funded between 2006 and 2012, and the number of eligible entities growing steadily every year.

As our team evaluated responses to the survey, which included several hundred comments, it was clear that grantees saw FMPP as an important catalyst.  It was also clear there were a wide spectrum of organization types, project goals, implementation strategies, and evaluation efforts supported by the program.  There is no cookie-cutter or “average” FMPP grant project.

What do the findings show?

FMPP grants yielded agricultural and economic impacts by developing and strengthening market outlets and facilitating entrepreneurship.  In 2012, sales among responding grantees (n=149) totaled $41.5 million, 3.6 times greater than the total amount of grant funding received by those organizations.  Eighty-eight percent of responding grantees report an increase in the diversity of local farm products available since their FMPP award began, and an average 34 percent increase in the number of participating agricultural producers.  Sixty percent of responding grantees used FMPP funds to provide trainings to farmers.  On average, at least four producers involved in each grantee’s project activities are now also selling products to other retail outlets.

FMPP grantees developed markets, conducted outreach, and expanded fresh food access.  Among grantees allocating funding for electronic benefit transfer (EBT) activities for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), 92 percent reported an increase in the return rate of SNAP/EBT shoppers since their grant was awarded, and 85 percent reported an increase in sales to SNAP participants.  Grantees also report an average 47 percent increase in customer visitor counts, with 94 percent experiencing a noticeable increase in the number of first-time customers.  Many increased the number of weeks during the year in which they operated (56 percent) and the number of days per week that they were open for business (37 percent); extending weeks of operation was associated with an increase in customer visitor counts by 33 percent. 

FMPP grants have been used to build community capacity, helping small, relatively young organizations to diversify revenue streams.  With FMPP as a catalyst, many grantees leveraged other funding sources from private foundations, state, or city grants, and local sponsorships.  Eighty-six percent of funded organizations said that FMPP helped them establish new partnership with other community organizations, which allowed them to maximize use of existing resources and ensure continuation of activities after the end of the grant period.   Nearly 80 percent reported an increase in volunteer participation since the beginning of their FMPP award, and 56 percent said that they accomplished more activities with FMPP support than planned in their initial plan of work.  Ninety-four percent of responding grantees said that FMPP made their organization stronger than it was prior to the grant.

 FMPP grants have been used to develop networks and train market organizers by hosting manager trainings and growing professional skills within farmers market organizations.  Among responding grantees, 60 percent provided training for staff or volunteers, and approximately a third of responding grantees used grant funds to develop or support activities of a state network or association.  Interestingly, funds used for manager training initiatives correlated with a greater increase in producer sales (at 94 percent significance), suggesting that using FMPP funds to host trainings for managers accounts for an $85,366 increase in reported producer sales.

With the number of eligible entities growing steadily every year, how can programs like FMPP be both accessible and highly competitive?

In a separate green paper based on findings from the study, recommendations were identified in three areas where focused attention could have most impact to meet the needs of more farmers, consumers, and communities:

 ·        Networking and information-sharing: With little information about past grants easily accessible, many of the survey’s respondents indicated, as one grantee put it, that “lessons learned could be invaluable to other organizations.”  Efforts to connect past, current, and potential grantees and develop more formal networks of market organizers and direct-marketing producers could help FMPP’s limited funding have a stronger “ripple effect” into more communities.  Videos, webinars, national conferences, communities of practice, stronger state farmers market associations, and a potential database of funded projects were all cited by respondents as examples of desired vehicles to document successes and share solutions to common challenges. 

 ·        Capacity-building: Investing in the capacity of new and existing direct-marketing outlets to develop solid governance and management structures will address several of the needs expressed by grantees—including the need to develop alternative funding streams in order to transition from volunteer dependence to stable staffing that can both work with farmers and help markets stay competitive in a rapidly evolving retail environment.  As one survey respondent said, “Farmers markets need a different revenue model that will give them life beyond the FMPP.”  Technical assistance and trainings on governance, fundraising, impact measurement, human resources, and other topics could parallel a competitive grant program and ultimately build and sustain internal infrastructures at the local level.  Larger three year grants may better support efforts to train market managers and build local capacity.

·        Evaluation: As survey findings clearly demonstrated, activities, outputs, and outcomes vary widely from community to community, impacted by supply and demand, as well as by the characteristics and intentions of grantee organizations.  Concerted efforts to identify and use appropriate economic, social, human, and natural capital measurement indicators sensitive to this wide variability could accelerate understanding of markets’ effects on community wellness, local economies, and farm viability.  Research that leads to the creation of a descriptive market typology could aid both public and private funders in their understanding of the wide diversity in organizational goals, capacities, management structures, and needs among FMPP eligible nonprofits and agencies.  Without adding undue recordkeeping burdens on grantees, any future incarnation of FMPP could serve as a vehicle for training a diverse sector on data collection while identifying appropriate indicators that make local food projects more accountable to funders, policymakers, and myriad community partners at the local level.

The survey results, case studies, and green paper are available at fmpp.farmersmarketcoalition.org.  The full report contains both regional and state-by-state totals of FMPP funding (including the portion of each devoted to SNAP/EBT projects) between 2006 and 2012.

The Farmers Market Coalition, a participating member of NSAC, is a national 501(c)(3) organization based in Charlottesville, VA, with a mission of strengthening farmers markets for the benefit of farmers, consumers, and communities.

Market Umbrella is a 501(c)(3) organization based in New Orleans and operating globally to cultivate the field of public markets for public good.

Categories: Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Nutrition & Food Access

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