Survey aims to beef up farmers' market success

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Projects aims to help build long-term capacity, expand sales, more

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

Researchers want to find out what makes Washington state's farmers' markets tick.

A USDA-funded three-year project earlier gathered input from market managers and shoppers. Now researchers are asking farmers about their experiences at the markets.

"We are looking at who's selling at the market, scope of activities, products, travel, how they are making marketing and production decisions, overall economics, their opinions and outlook for the future," Colleen Donovan, with the Washington State University Small Farms Program, said.

Participation is voluntary, and responses to all questions are confidential.

Donovan encouraged anyone who sold at a farmers' market in 2011 but had not received a survey by April 10 to contact her.

"We need as many farms represented as possible to get the full story," she said.

Project director Marcy Ostrom said farmers' markets have been successful in Washington, growing from 31 markets in 1991 to 165 in 2011.

"We're estimating the minimum current annual sales of all farmers' markets combined at around $50 million per year," she said.

The almost $500,000 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture will:

* Identify barriers to participation in farmers' markets for women, immigrants, minorities and other limited-resource farmers.

* Identify opportunities to enhance the benefits of markets for farmers and communities through improving organizational and management strategies, expanding product mix and optimizing locations and times.

* Help build long-term capacity to address the needs of farmers' market organizations by establishing a team of managers, farmers, extension and university faculty, government agencies and community partners.

Donovan said the thrust of the survey is to "help the continuity of new farmers, help them manage their sales and reach out to consumers. We want to help them succeed."

About 1,400 farms in the state sell at the markets, she said, but no commodity commission helps them.

Instead they must be supported by grass-roots organizations.

A "Farmer's Market Action Team," which includes nonprofits, farm advocates and farmers, has worked alongside WSU in the survey.

"These are people on the ground who have been working at and advocating for the markets for years," she said.

The WSU Social and Economic Sciences Research Center is managing the survey.

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Job creation

The seven urban markets in Seattle support:

* 150 farms

* 680 full-time jobs

* 920 seasonal jobs

* 238 market-day jobs

* Six full-time and eight seasonal jobs running the markets.

Source: Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, 2010

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