Networking Small Urban Farmers Markets
Lessons learned from IATP
While some Minneapolis neighborhoods enjoy a bountiful supply of healthy foods, others do not. Mini farmers markets help address this challenge by bringing fresh, locally grown foods into Minneapolis neighborhoods. This manual shares IATP’s experience building and managing a network of these small markets. This guide complements a companion manual that provides guidance to organizations that are managing individual markets.
In 2006, with the help of an intern, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) began working with neighborhood-based organizations to launch a set of small farmers markets throughout Minneapolis. Mini Markets are farmers markets that have five or fewer vendors and sell locally grown food, fresh produce and home-processed foods.
The markets are initiated, hosted and managed by community organizations and are located on their properties at community centers, senior housing facilities, hospitals, colleges, churches and other locations. Mini farmers markets help increase access to healthy foods in urban neighborhoods, foster a sense of community, provide sales opportunities for small farmers, connect people with the farmers who grow their food and link low-income residents with farmers markets that accept food assistance.
IATP quickly found itself leading a growing network of mini farmers markets throughout Minneapolis. The network grew to include 15–21 mini markets per year, with about 30 participating farmers (some selling at multiple locations).
A majority of the markets are authorized to take Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupons (under an umbrella established by IATP with the State of Minnesota) and several are now able to process EBT/SNAP transactions.
IATP provided training, technical assistance, promotional support, evaluation and other services to the network of mini farmers markets. Below we share our approach and lessons we learned in the following areas:
- Training, technical support and peer support market managers
- Liaison with city government
- Policy support
- Enabling participating in FMNP
- Vendor coordination
- Promotions and graphics
We begin by sharing some other more over-arching lessons that have emerged from the experience in Minneapolis. Then for each of the topics above, we briefly recap the role of the "umbrella organization" as it played out in this initiative and then highlight lessons that we learned along the way.
Overarching lessons learned
- Each market manager needs to have sufficient time, energy and resources make the market a success.
- Markets are most effective when they are borne out of the community’s interests and aspirations. Prospective market hosts should also determine that they have the customer base needed to support a farmers market before launching a new market. A survey of the community to determine the potential customer base and to get feedback about desired products is important.
- A market’s location is also critical to success. Markets benefit from being located near population centers, community gathering places and workplaces, within a comfortable walking distance for shoppers, accessible by transit and in highly visible locations.
- Across Minneapolis and in neighboring suburbs, there has been a proliferation of new markets of various sizes over the past decade. A groundswell of interest among organizations seeking to improve food access in their neighborhood led to many new mini markets being launched in under-served areas of Minneapolis, in particular. The mini market network grew from six markets to 21 markets in just two years. IATP helped all of the organizations who wanted our technical assistance. While we were pleased to support this growth as it emerged spontaneously, a more deliberate city-wide process for strategically planning the growth of the farmers market sector as a whole could have been beneficial as the demand for local foods and farmers market locations grew.
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