Over the course of this week, much of our time and effort went towards addressing the logistics behind our research methods, working at our project site, and tackling some of our overarching goals so that we can move forward with clear next steps. We focused on several questions that we had around the issue of farmers’ market organization regarding management, budgeting, vendor recruitment, and the potential use of EBT and WIC. These questions included:
- Ideally, will market management be internal (run by clinic staff/volunteers) or external (operated by a hired organization)?
- Does SMMC have a budget for market implementation?
- What will be the best way for us to administer our survey to clinic patients? Staff? Other community members?
- Is there a certain type of vendor we hope to recruit?
- What steps need to be taken in order to allow for WIC and EBT use at a new farmers’ market?
We also began reaching out to other Bay Area resources to help us answer these questions. We were able to make contact with Nicole Wires, the Manager of Community Initiatives for Collective Roots in East Palo Alto. She has agreed to have a conversation with us in the coming week. We plan to ask her the following questions:
- What are the biggest challenges you have faced in creating a farmer’s market?
- How hard has it been to accept government food stamps and WIC vouchers? Do you require all vendors to accept these forms of payment?
- How have you marketed the farmer’s market to EPA residents? What has been the hardest part of generating interest in the community?
- To what extent do you think the farmer’s market has contributed to healthier eating habits?
- How have you paired the farmer’s market efforts with educational outreach?
- How have you attracted vendors?
- What times of the day and week have been most profitable?
- If you started the process of establishing a farmer’s market over again, what would you do differently?
Moving forward, we are going to begin looking at other markets that operate in Redwood City in order to identify vendors and potential dates and times when they are already traveling to the area. We want to look at markets that exist in low-income areas with demographics similar to North Fair Oaks, but we also plan to look at markets in more affluent areas. This may help us find vendors that are more financially viable and capable of engaging in a riskier market endeavor. Survey design and writing is also an important next step so that we can begin gathering the information we need to plan the market. Lastly, we need to tour the clinic and visit the area with Priscilla. As soon as we agree on a date and time, we will finally get the chance to see our project site.
Part 2: What We Observed and Learned
Priscilla was able to clear up many of our lingering preliminary questions when we met on Wednesday. Importantly, we learned that the clinic does not have a budget for operating and managing a farmers’ market, so management will have to remain internal. This factor narrows our options for market design and implementation. In discussing survey design and execution, Priscilla suggested approaching patients in the waiting rooms of the clinic and how we could organize this based on average waiting times in each department. She is going to solicit this information from the clinic departments and pass it on to us.
The phone call with Carle Brinkman from the Ecology Center answered many of our EBT questions. We learned that WIC includes both the Farmers Market Nutrition Program and a fruit and vegetable check program. The former is much easier for farmers markets to participate in than the latter. Studies show that recipients redeem FMNP benefits at a much higher rate when those benefits are distributed at farmers markets. The process for accepting WIC is different from the process for accepting CalFresh. In terms of vendor certification, vendors do not need to be certified to accept EBT at a farmers market. Communication with and education of vendors about EBT is critical, and the Ecology Center has materials for that purpose. The POS should be centralized, well-marked, and operated in a way that reduces stigma, an issue that I had not thought of but agree is very important so that all customers feel comfortable at the market and can benefit fully.
We were pleasantly surprised to learn that Priscilla currently has a few other student volunteers working with her at the clinic. She is introducing all of us via email, and it seems as though we may be able to work together on a few aspects of our project. One volunteer is bilingual and may be able to assist us in Spanish translation. Another has offered to administer surveys if there are peak hours when we are not available. Having this additional help could prove to be very important as we deal with the time limitations of one academic quarter.
Lastly, the GIS workshop was incredibly useful. What a wealth of information! Now that we know it’s there, we plan to use the Business Analyst tool to gather information about the North Fair Oaks community at large and perform the mapping necessary for our project.
Part 3: Critical Analysis
At the start of our most recent meeting, Priscilla brought up the issue of time and asked us very directly if we thought that the project deliverables were realistic. While all of us are very excited about the potential of this farmers’ market, it is becoming clear that we need to prioritize and do what will be most useful for the clinic, especially if we can set them up to carry the project forward after the quarter has ended. This conversation tied back in with the “How Do You Define Service?” activity that we did in class and the question of whether or not we can actually provide something that we would consider “service” to a community in such a short period of time. Priscilla mentioned treating it like a farm stand at first, then building it into a market. This struck me as a good approach to the entire process – construct a focused, strong foundation and allow it to grow from there.
In reflecting again on the “Reconsidering the Margin” reading, it became clear that we need to acknowledge our reliance on our community partners as windows into the communities we are trying to serve. Priscilla is likely quite different from our target population; she, too, is existing “outside the margin” and is also working to engage her community in the same way that we hope to. It is important to remember that she is adding another lens that may or may not be reflecting the North Fair Oaks community. There is no doubt that she is an invaluable resource and thinks about these same issues. However, the fact that we are three full weeks in and have yet to see the clinic, visit the area, or talk to a single community member has become a bit of an elephant in the room, and we are really looking forward to taking our next steps.
- Natalie, Pete, Sophie