Hi Gail. Nothing like getting right to the basic question. Actually, the idea is for an Association of farmers' markets in the State, not a statewide farmers' market. The impetus for an association of some sort is coming right now from a dozen or so farmers' market members from several counties around the state, from Cumberland to Aroostook and from Franklin to Hancock. We have met formally one time so far (just last week) to determine just what the need is for an association and of what use it might be to the local farmers' markets. We'll be meeting again at the Ag Trades Show in Augusta and of course at the Maine Farmers' Market Convention Jan 28-29.
The group is at the point of assessing the needs of Maine's farmers' markets and would like to poll as many market members around the state as possible with a survey to gauge interest in several ideas. We have been looking at other farmers' market associations around the country – about two dozen states have active associations – to see what it is that they provide to their state's markets, to market members, and to the general public, and how they go about it. Some are agencies of the state Dept of Ag, some are arms of pro-local farming organizations (a la MOFGA), and still others are stand-alone associations.
Below are some ideas that seem to be common among many of the associations, plus some ideas a few of us have been knocking around. An association would address these issues by combining information already existing in the various markets, by researching and collating the information from various sources, by identifying “experts” in the various markets who agree to help other market members on certain issues, and by creating a directory of solutions to common problems. Tools would include a website and forums for the centralized and decentralized distribution of farmers market information, and perhaps a statewide farmers' market e-newsletter. Control of the association would be by a regionally representative elected board of directors.
Insurance procurement issues: for markets and for market members. Rates and plans. Comparison of providers.
Conflict resolution issues: among market members, between markets and local businesses, between markets, between markets and their members, between state and federal regulations and market practices.
Membership issues: How big does a market need to be? How big should a market get? Should market membership be restricted in any way? Should only certain types of sellers be allowed at our market? Who should decide who gets to sell at the market?
Pricing issues: How do I set prices? What prices are appropriate in what communities. How should prices be displayed at market? How does my pricing compare with other food sources?
Promotion issues: What the best way to promote our market? What the cheapest way to promote our market? What about signs? Should markets make an effort to promote market members individually? Should each farm be identified when at market? Helping local markets in creating useful websites, Facebook pages, and email newsletter mailing lists.
Basic Information issues: How to I set up at market? How do I start a farmers' market? Can I integrate a CSA with a farmers' market? What's the best time/day/season for a market? What about winter markets?Laws, regulations and permits relating to selling various items. Rules and by-laws of markets. Conducting meetings of the membership.
Management issues: Who's in charge of the market? Is anyone paid for their market work? Does the market have a sponsor or is it independently organized? How do you change from one form of management to another? How do you get market members to participate in the running of the market?
Legislative representation: Being a single place where state and federal officials and agencies could address all farmers' markets at once. Lobbying representatives and regulators on issues of concern to Maine's farmers' markets.
“Big Picture” issues: Investigating the role of the farmers' market movement in the larger local foods, local purchasing, micro enterprise, slow food, slow money, women in business, and other related social-economic movements. Initiating conversations about the future of Maine farmers' markets. What about web-based “farmers' markets”. Maintaining a statewide list of farmers' markets.
Payment methods: Taking checks, including for cash back. Taking EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer?the new Food Stamps). Using Senior Farm Shares. Taking Farmers Market WIC checks and regular WIC checks.
Internal Operations: Budgets for markets: Dues structures used by markets, and pros and cons for each. Treasurer reports on income and expenses to the market membership. What to do with annual surpluses.
Much of the above information exists already in some form at http://mffm.org, but much of is doesn't also.
Thanks, Tom. I appreciate your taking the time to answer this question. It appears this project attempts to address the very issues present at our local farmers market, so a statewide would act as a clearing house, eh? That would surely help new starts and others struggling with the issues.
If any member of a farmers' market would like to be included in the core group for organizing a statewide association, let me know at email@example.com and I'll make sure you are included in the emails being circulated, invited to organizational meetings (some happen via conference call to minimize travel), and are solicited for your opinions and energies.
Also, we are developing an email list for all members of Maine's farmers' markets, so if you can send me the list from your market, that would be great. I can accept a list in almost any format, but I'd like to have this info: first name, last name, farm name, email address, market(s) attended. If someone in your market does not have email, we can use that info, too, since we will be developing a phone & snail mail list of those folks who are expensive to contact. At this time we have most of the market members whose markets have websites, amounting to about 400 names, but there are still many we do not have. Email me and I'll send you a list of markets we need info from.
This is wonderful, I'm in the process of gathering info and organizing to start a Farmer's Market in Maine, I'd love to be included in a statewide association, especially just starting out, I know I will be in need of advice, tips and guidance from the groups already in place!
Thanks for such great information above. . .
My husband and I are getting back into the farmer's market model; so, I'm just beginning to follow current trends and conversations. But, I'm very interested in promoting and encouraging a local producer/community centric way of life, so would be really interested in finding out what you're up to. My question: How would this new group differ from what MOFGA is doing, or what the Maine Federation of Farmer's Markets does? Thanks for the info and forward thinking!
Glad to see you are returning to farmers' markets. This discussion began in April 2010, and since then the Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets has been resurrected and is currently quite active. We're working with MOFGA to improve the their farmers' market directory and provide many more marketing opportunities for farmers by getting all markets looking for more members to be listed in MOFGA's marketing opportunities for farmers page. If you go to mffm.org and subscribe to the Selling Outdoors newsletter, that's probably the best way to keep on top of what's going on.
Great. Thanks, Tom. We're trying to network as much as possible and get ourselves ready to jump in. I've also been contemplating seeing if I can generate enough local interest in our area (Buckfield) to start one up ourselves. Looking forward to being an active member in this great community!