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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Grow your skills, grow your market" program

In December of 2007, Penn State Extension Educators John Berry and Bob Pierson conducted needs assessment surveys of 61 farmers’ market managers in South-East Pennsylvania. What they found in analyzing these surveys was a strong desire for more and better networking and educational programming addressing small market managers. In 2009, Penn State Extension Educator Peggy Fogarty-Harnish visited 15 farmers markets throughout Lancaster and found similar desires to those in Southeast Pennsylvania. This discovery broadened the scope of the program from Southeast Pennsylvania farmers’ markets to a more state wide focus group. These efforts led to the creation of the “Grow your Skills, Grow your Market” program offered by Penn State Extension with support from Chester County Economic Development Council. Each year, specific topics of interest will be identified and corresponding and relevant speakers will be found to participate in the program.

This year, the program started at Lancaster Central Market—named by the American Planning Association as one of the top 10 Great Public Spaces in 2009—on March 30 at 8:30 A.M. After the treasure hunt led by Linda Aleci from the Franklin & Marshall Local Economy Center, the program moved to Southern Market Center for networking and workshops. In all, there were 68 attendees representing multiple cities including Harrisburg, Allentown, Phoenixville, Philadelphia, Carlisle, Hershey, Quakertown, and West Chester. Other workshop presenters included Carolyn Shelby, USDA Electronic Benefit Transfer Coordinator for Mid-Atlantic States, and Susan Richards, Capital RC&D Area Council, who together presented a workshop on obtaining EBT capability at your farmers’ market. Nicky Uy from The Food Trust talked about recruiting producers and vendors before lunch was provided featuring foods from Lancaster Central Market. Linda Aleci returned after lunch to talk about the great features of Central Market and then turned it over to John Berry who discussed food safety. After a break for networking, Carmen Humphrey from the USDA/Farmers’ Market Promotion Program closed out this year’s “Grow Your Skills, Grow Your Market” with a workshop on promoting and paying for a farmers’ market.

Fogarty-Harnish says this year’s program was very interactive and promoted peer to peer learning, while also leaving plenty of time for Q&A sessions. This program is particularly relevant today because of the recent growth in farmers’ markets due to consumer awareness of healthy eating, supporting the local economy and food safety. “It is definitely a consumer-driven development,” says Fogarty-Harnish, “and the downtown areas and boroughs see the benefit of local farmers’ markets to community economic development.” There is a local desire to keep the food dollar in the community and it seems the downtown areas and boroughs profit from the markets due to an increase in sales owing to the increase in consumers frequenting those areas.

Farmers’ markets are complex businesses. There are a lot of issues involved including food safety, regulations and permits, marketing and research, and the struggle to help low-income families have access to the products. A lot of markets are volunteer, which means that there is a lot of turnover from year to year. Fogarty-Harnish says that there is “an emerging professional development needed to strengthen and sustain markets over time.” With the help of this workshop, we can look forward to an even more successful future for farmers’ markets.

If you have any questions about “Grow Your Skills, Grow Your Market” please contact Peggy Fogarty-Harnish at (717) 394-6851 or at muf17@psu.edu.

By Dawn Gannon (dmg5096@psu.edu), Penn State Extension Writer/Intern

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