Report: 2012 BC Association of Farmers’ Market Conference
Date & Location: March 2-4th, 2012 in Courteny, BC
Purpose: The BC Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) represents farmers’ markets throughout the Province, their mission is to support, develop, and promote farmers’ markets in BC. This annual conference provides an opportunity for those involved with Farmers’ Markets to learn, share and network to strengthen the industry.
Creston Representatives: Jen Comer (Farmers’ Market Manager) and Joel Comer (local farmers’ market vendor)
Sponsors: Chamber of Commerce through Agritourism funding and RDCK area A
Don McRae, MLA for the Comox Valley and Minister of Agriculture, opened the 2012 BCAFM conference. He noted that farmers’ market vendors are the face of agriculture in BC. They are an integral part to the BC economy, and the government has shown their support through identifying Agri-Foods as a sector in the BC Jobs Plan.
The theme for this year’s conference was integrity at the market. Stacy Miller, executive director of Farmers’ Market Coalition (a US non-profit similar to BCAFM), noted that between 1994 – 2011 the number of farmers markets in the US increased from 1755 to 7175. However, this growth comes with challenges, some of which we are experiencing here in the Creston Valley, namely:
- More vendors = more competition for customer sales
- Tenuous land security for market (market locations and office space)
- Lack of comprehensive data
- Dependence on volunteers and underpaid staff
- Dependence on grant funding
One of the noted challenges we have experienced in Creston is collecting and reporting on data. Thanks to this conference we now have the opportunity and a plan to measure on our markets social, economic and environmental goals. Vancity Community Foundation is piloting a toolkit for demonstrating values and measuring impacts for farmers’ markets. The Creston Valley Farmers’ Market has signed up as a pilot participant and will be recording and reporting on these indicators this upcoming market season, and for future seasons thereafter.
One of the key goals for the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market is to not be reliant on grant funding for ongoing market operations. Joel attended a session entitled “Income Enhancement Strategies at Farmers’ Market” hosted by Bruce Fatkin, manager of the Abbotsford Farm & Country Market. Their market’s goal was to add an additional 50% of their income from non-grant sources. They identified some key areas that could increase their market revenue:
- Business sponsorship
- More frequent markets (winter markets, and summer mid-week)
- 50/50 draws
- Market operated prepared-food kiosks
- “Market bucks” program through customers pre-paying for market credits (could be in conjunction with implementing onsite debit machine)
Joel also attended a lecture showcasing the BCAFM’s new resources for vendors. This presentation highlighted that FMs as an industry in BC are in a growth phase. As we grow it becomes necessary to increase product standardization so customers know what to expect, while at the same time retaining what it is that makes specific markets unique. Although there are more vendors and more customers at markets, the number of new customers is not keeping up with the number of vendors. Still, 70 of 74 markets are looking for new farmer vendors (specifically niche growers and specialty meats). Some interesting facts (many more on the website):
- 50% of vendors are growing on 5 acres or less
- 30% are growing on less than 1 acre
- 25% of farm vendors make 10-20k solely at markets.
- 18% of vendors make 100% of there income from the market
- wholesale is becoming less and less profitable
In order to attract more customer the “standard pitch” is not enough. We already have the foodies, and community minded people attending the market. The focus must be on showing that our products are of high quality, reasonable cost, low risk, and consistent. There are many very good resources to be found at www.bcfarmersmarket.org/ind/bizcase.htm. It is highly recommended to check it out.
While Joel attended the previously noted sessions, Jen was at the Farmers’ Market Manager Roundtable session, where the coordinators of markets are able to discuss management concerns and issues. Some of the key areas discussed were:
- Monitoring of low risk food products are being passed onto market managers. Concerns that not all managers have the expertise to handle this additional role and it should ultimately be the responsibility of local Environmental Health Officers.
- Need to recruit more vendors – one market has started making presentations to high school students about the opportunities of opening a booth
- Develop stricter vendor penalties for no-show vendors (currently no policy exists in Creston and is becoming a significant problem)
- Innovative market promo tools:
- “Farmer Bob” at Kelowna market, he’s going to get married this summer to “Farmer Jane”. Costs about $4000 for mascot costume and honorarium for person inside costume. Attends schools, parades, and community events.
- “Market Bucks” program with point-of-sale system (debit machine)
- Develop vendor coupon bundles for giveaways on local radio (no cash value, voluntary vendor participation)
This year’s conference was a delight to be at, and we made many valuable connections for future market development in Creston. Thanks to those who supported our attendance!