2012 Sustainable Ag. Conference – Farmers’ Markets: Elements of Success workshop
by Jacqueline Venner Senske, conference blogger
Markets are a vital component to local food systems. They also happen to be a trendy pursuit at this moment in time. So when market managers from a variety of locations and situations gather, they find they are dealing with common problems, regardless of the idiosyncrasies of their specific situations.
After creating and running the All Local Farmers Market in Columbia for seven years and creating the new Soda City Market, not to mention also running Caw Caw Creek Farm, Emile DeFelice is an expert on markets. On top of that, he exudes intense energy, a passion for learning, and an active and adaptable thought process. And every person in the room – mostly market managers and a few sellers –hung on his every word.
The session was a combination of narratives on Emile’s experiences and lessons learned, punctuated with profound sound bites, and eager questions from market managers seeking input on their existential challenges.
As any politician knows, sound bites are sexy. Their danger lies in oversimplification, but in Emile’s case, it seems like things really do come down to some basic truths. As he proclaimed, he loves capitalism. He’s obsessed with markets. He loves people and wants them to work happily and well. And in the end his experiences have taught him that while yes, every situation is different, the basic truths still apply.
- Low expectations are the key to happiness. Sounds cynical, but I don’t think this is. What he meant was to be realistic and don’t get overcome with disappointment when things don’t go as well as you hope.
- Set boundaries. This means making clear rules and communicating them. It means when there are penalties for stepping over boundaries, make them effective. And if the penalty isn’t effective, increase it.
- Local food is transpolitical. It’s one of the few things in America where people at both extremes can agree.
And some other useful things…
- Markets that succeed are focused on the success of their farmers and vendors.
- An empty space does not a market make.
- Never get caught selling. In other words, make interactions about building relationships, not just promoting business.
- The good of all always supersedes the good of one.
- Sample. Sample. Sample. The most compelling reason to buy a great product is its taste.
- Programming works. Develop partnerships and innovate. Flash mobs, for example, can offer great energy and interest to markets.
- Being at your Market should be an enhancing life experience for everyone involved.
- Don’t make it hard for people to give you money. Look into recent technologies, like Square Up, if you don’t already use it.
- When it comes to marketing, always go one step past the line.
Emile mentioned some favorite resources…
- Books by Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of the Zingerman’s, a Community of Businesses (ZCoB) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, offer great lessons on food, finance, and service. Suffice it to say – it’s a special place. (Full disclosure: The author of this post worked at Zingerman’s Deli for 5 years before moving to Charlotte.)
- Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating
- Zingerman’s Guide to Great Service
- Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading Part 1:A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business
- Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading Part 2: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader
- Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
- The Legal Guide For Direct Farm Marketing by Neil Hamilton