NSAC's Blog

What’s at Stake: Direct Farmer-to-Consumer Marketing

October 23, 2012

Due to Congressional inaction, the 2008 Farm Bill has expired without a new bill or extension to take its place.  In the absence of a farm bill, numerous innovative programs that invest in sustainable agriculture systems are shut down and left without mandatory funding.  This is the fourth post in our 10-week “What’s at Stake?” series that highlights expired farm bill programs and what that means for farmers and communities throughout the country.

Local food systems are economic growth engines.  Research shows that expanding local agriculture in a community can increase employment and income in that community.  Exemplifying these economic benefits, every two jobs created at a farmers market supports an additional job in another sector of the local economy.  As consumer demand for local and regional food grows, so too do the income opportunities for our nation’s farmers and ranchers.  Through a competitive grant process, the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) funds marketing activities that enable producers to fully seize market opportunities.

Ohiopyle Country Market in Pennsylvania.
Ohiopyle Country Market in Pennsylvania.
Photo credit: Bob Junk, Fay-Penn Economic Development Council.

By fostering market promotion, FMPP boosts farm income and stimulates economic development.  In 2011 Fay-Penn Economic Development Council in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, received an FMPP grant to promote and expand their farmers markets.

Explains Bob Junk with Fay-Penn, “Our FMPP award allowed us to sustain the six farmers markets we developed in the last two years and to develop additional markets, thus helping farmers and ranchers get a higher net return for their produce and giving consumers the opportunity and access to fresh, locally grown food.”

Fay-Penn’s 2011 FMPP grant allowed them to bring on a part-time staff person to help manage the day-to-day operations of the markets.  The grant also gave Fay-Penn the opportunity to launch a marketing campaign, allowing them to reach out to a broader audience and to increase awareness about the markets.

Farmers markets also play a vital role in increasing access to healthy food.  “If it wasn’t for the FMPP grant,” says Bob, “we wouldn’t be able to adequately market and promote our markets to increase access to the local bounty of food.”  He adds, “We wouldn’t be able to provide market opportunities for farmers, especially not at the scale that we are today.”

The bottom line: “FMPP means dollars are being reinvested back into our local community.”

How the Farmers Market Promotion Program Boosts Economic Development

The Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) aims to increase and strengthen direct producer-to-consumer marketing channels.  Through a competitive grants application process, FMPP funds marketing proposals for community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, farmers markets, roadside stands, agri-tourism, and other direct marketing strategies.  Simply put, FMPP assists farmers and ranchers who sell directly to consumers gain the marketing tools needed to attract new customers and thus boost farm income and local economies.

Specific grant uses include market research, business and financial planning, new market organizing, farmer recruitment, improving market access to low-income consumers, direct marketing network development, market management improvements, food safety and handling, and transportation and delivery systems.  The program does not fund brick and mortar projects.

Entities that are eligible for FMPP grants are groups of farmers, non-profit corporations, agricultural cooperatives, local governments, economic development corporations, regional farmers market authorities, public benefit corporations, and Tribal Governments.

Producers are responding to skyrocketing consumer demand for local and regional food by increasing production, creating new markets, and launching new businesses.  Locally marketed foods accounted for an estimated $4.8 billion in gross sales in 2008, the number of farmers markets nationwide jumped nearly 10 percent in 2012, and all 50 states now have farm to school programs.

Despite these opportunities, significant infrastructure, marketing, and information barriers are limiting growth in this sector of American agriculture.  FMPP helps to address marketing barriers.  There are many communities with limited or no direct producer-to-consumer marketing activities.  In other places, farmers markets and CSAs up are and running, but only a fraction of the potential clientele is aware of these local food outlets and thus farmers are missing out on potential income.  As consumer demand for local food grows, farmers want to sell locally to retail, school, and institutional markets but need marketing assistance for this larger and more complex level of sales.

Demand for FMPP grants is high.  For example, in 2010 less than five percent of eligible proposed projects received funding.  As more agricultural producers aim to seize new market opportunities and the types of new markets expand and continue to evolve, competition will remain tight.

Examples of Successful Farmers Market Promotion Program Grants

FMPP has enabled farmers and ranchers to seize market opportunities all across the country.  Since 2006, FMPP has funded 575 projects totaling $32.4 million in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

A few program highlights include:

  • In Arizona, Tohono O’odham Community Action used its FMPP grant to foster production of food traditionally farmed by the Tohono O’odham Nation, start a farm equipment and tool lending program, and organize and implement a series of “fresh sales” where growers and wild harvesters sell their products directly to the public.
  • In California, Everyone’s Harvest received FMPP funds to help farmers at the Monterey County farmer markets expand their business by developing promotional materials and conducting nutrition workshops.
  • In Georgia, FMPP funded Georgia Organics to promote six farmers markets including targeted outreach to low income individuals and communities.
  • In Illinois, Angelic Organics Learning Center received FMPP funds to develop two farmers markets, two farm stands, and a CSA in food desert areas and to undertake a food aggregation pilot project.
  • In Massachusetts, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, Inc. used its FMPP funds to develop a new direct marketing channel for farmers by creating a workplace CSA program, and also to provide hands-on training for new immigrant farmers.
  • In Michigan, FMPP helped Food System Economic Partnership develop a New Farm Incubator Center to grow new farmers, provide jobs, and increase the supply of local produce.
  • In Ohio, FMPP allowed the Small Farm Institute of Fresno to help grass-fed beef producers market their products directly to consumers.
  • In Pennsylvania, FMPP funds were awarded to Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture to expand direct marketing throughout the state through its “Buy Fresh Buy Local” campaign.

Status of Funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program

FMPP was created in the 2002 Farm Bill and received a small amount of appropriated funds in 2006 and 2007.  Recognizing the demand for the program and the economic gains to be realized, the 2008 Farm Bill switched the program to mandatory funding and increased funding for FMPP on a graduated scale: $3 million in 2008, $5 million in 2009 and 2010, and $10 million in 2011 and 2012.

The good news is that up to this point during the 2012 Farm Bill authorization, Congress has recognized the importance of local food marketing as an economic driver by expanding the scope of the program and thus doubling its funding over 2008 levels.  Both the Senate-passed and House Agriculture Committee-passed bills include the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program with $20 million per year in mandatory funding.

The expanded program continues to fund direct producer-to-consumer marketing but also marketing of “scaled up” local food.  Demand for local food exists in a number of markets beyond direct-to-consumer markets, such as in grocery stores, schools, hospitals, and other non-direct channels.  Many farmers who start out by selling directly to consumers, “scale up” to be able to sell to those markets.  As demand for local food continues to grow, it is equally important that producers seize all available market opportunities, which the expanded program will address.

What’s Next for the Farmers Market Promotion Program?

While Congress debates the new farm bill, like the other programs in our 10-week blog series, FMPP has been put on hold.  The question is, for how long?  Until the farm bill reauthorization is complete or unless funding for the program is part of a farm bill extension, there will be no more FMPP grant cycles.  Farmers and communities will have to wait to get the small marketing investments they need to generate the economic stimulus we all need.  It’s not worth the wait.  Congress should adopt a new farm bill this year and include at least $20 million a year in mandatory funding for FMPP.


Categories: Farm Bill, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems

3 responses to “What’s at Stake: Direct Farmer-to-Consumer Marketing”

  1. Alan Connor says:

    We know there will be no new farm bill in 2012. We need to advocate with our legislators to (1) extend all direct marketing programs (FMPP) Farm to School, Farm to Institution
    Senior Fresh, etc. (2)To at least mandate 2008 level funding for those programs in a new Farm bill.

  2. Lorne Marr says:

    Very interesting article regarding CSA and healthy food choices. As a city dweller, I’ve become an avid fan of Community Supported Agriculture. Here, in Toronto, I get my CSA box every week filled with seasonal and organic veggies and fruits as well as fresh eggs and dairy from local farmers. Meat may be available as well. The box with produce picked perhaps a few hours ago lands in front of my door along with some recipes of the week offering some simple and tasty options for using the items in the kitchen. It’s a great way to re-connect with local farmers, land and environment, too.

  3. Greg Peters says:

    I love it when the farmer’s go direct. I save money, they get more money, my produce is fresher and tastier. Win/win for me!