Managing a farmers market is hard work! As a market manager, you’re using a wide set of skills which draws upon your physical, cognitive, emotional, and psychological energies. As the season wears on and hits the busy peak of produce and customers, you’re frequently called upon to effectively manage a wide range of issues ranging from the minor, but annoying, to the true crisis. To effectively manage all of this, you need to have the energy and the physical, cognitive, emotional and psychological reserves for dealing with tense and fast-moving situations and to roll with whatever punches come your way. It may sound cliché, but you cannot pour water from empty cup.
This blog post will delve into strategies for taking care of yourself and effectively managing your market both throughout the rest of this season and in future seasons.
Strategies for taking care of you:
Self-care is often misconstrued as something that must take a long time (e.g. a week-long retreat) or be expensive (that hot stone massage) or must meet a certain “self-care” standard. The reality is that self-care is about what recharges you. If something that takes a long time or is expensive stresses you out, then it’s not recharging you. Choose something else. It could be taking a walk in the woods or around your farm. It could be saying “no” to something that you do not actually need to do and will only add stress. It could be getting together with a couple of friends to share a meal. Self-Care Bingo may help you think about self-care in a different way. If you think about the last week, can you get a bingo? If not, why? Was it an unusually stressful week? Are the items listed not activities which recharge you? Are you not taking care of yourself?
The reality is that there are only so many things that you can do during the season – particularly this time of the season as we’re all worn out and, in some cases, it’s just too late to implement something new. However, that doesn’t mean those ideas should be thrown out. Write them down, jot something in your phone’s note app, record a voice message to yourself. Do something to preserve that idea! Then, act on it. Some ideas for how to do this:
- Make a plan to take better care of yourself next summer. What really drained you this summer? What irritated you the most? What recharged you the most? Step back and dig into these questions. Then use that information to make a self-care plan.
- Figure out whether the item on your self-care plan is something that you can primarily do on your own or if you need to enlist the help of someone else.
- If it is something you can primarily do on your own – exercise, drink more water, be tougher with the rules early in the season – give yourself plenty of time to develop your new self-care habit. According to the Lally study, it takes a while to turn an activity into a habit – generally 2-9 months depending on the person, activity, and circumstance. And, just because this is something you need to do primarily on your own, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t solicit some help. Maybe getting a walking buddy will help you stick to your routine. Maybe a whimsical water consumption app on your phone will help you drink more water.
- If it is something that will require assistance from others – maybe you didn’t get much help from your board, maybe you could have used a few days off, maybe different board members had different expectations and this caused confusion or way too much work – do your homework. Articulate the concern, figure out some possible solutions, build your argument, and then present it to the person or group who can make the change. There, of course, are no guarantees that this will work, but it definitely won’t if you don’t give it a try.
Strategies for market management:
Implementing new rules or new management strategies during the market high season in most cases, is not realistic. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t strategies you can employ to help you successfully get through the rest of the season. A primary strategy is to not beat yourself up over the small things and to manage both your own expectations for what you and others can accomplish and your own stress level. It is doubtful that many people, if any, will notice the extra signs that didn’t put up or the five minutes extra you took to linger over your coffee and breathe which made you a few minutes to the market. And, neither one of those is likely to have a significant impact on the market, so don’t let it have significant impact on you.
Other market management strategies for this and future seasons include:
- Schedule volunteers during the busiest hours of the market. It may be easier to get folks to commit to a two-hour time slot than a whole morning and why not try to schedule them when you are the busiest?
- Make certain to schedule volunteers to help clean-up from special events and not just to help set up or run those events.
- It is okay to put up a sign at the information table saying “be back in five minutes” so you can deal with a situation that needs your attention. Prioritize market needs and communicate the prioritization to the people demanding your time and attention.
- Consider entering data directly into FM Tracks at the market if you have cell or data access. If not, make certain you have forms on which you can capture all the data you need for FM Tracks. Also, make certain to set aside time each week to do your data entry. This will ease the stress of getting everything ready by the monthly reimbursement request due date.
- Do not fill market board vacancies during the summer, unless it is an emergency. This takes time and energy that can be used for market operations.
- Consider using Zoom or other video/phone conferencing application to facilitate board member participation in meetings. Make certain all documents used during the meeting are available to all members, including those participating from a remote location. Having documents available via Google Docs or in a community storage area (such as Dropbox) are one way to do this.
- Have clear market policies. This eliminates confusions and provides a tool for you to use in managing the market, particularly when conflicts arise over rules.
- Involve your farmers in making decisions. This empowers them and helps to strengthen their buy-in to the market and its policies and can insulate the market manager some in tricky situations. For example, asking the existing farmers what they think about a guest vendor bringing a truckload of corn to sell at Saturday’s market instead of making the decision yourself.
- Have a clear process for farmers who wish to join your market. It could be relatively simple such as a short application and verification of appropriate training such as PBPT or it could be more extensive such as a longer application, a farm visit, and a vote by the board of directors.
- Note what happens during the market in a logbook, in an audio note, or some other manner. In the off season, use these notes to get your ducks in a row. Identify issues and trouble spots and possible solutions and then work with the appropriate people to implement the agreed upon solutions.
- Create a market calendar that is available to all farmers so they know what is going on at the market.
- Consider implementing a rule that farmers cannot politic about the market at the market (e.g. change the re-sale rule, change market times, etc.). Then, provide a time outside of the market for farmers to do so.
- Schedule time to worry. A Penn State study found that people who schedule a time to worry – 15 to 30 minutes in the morning or evening – and then tabled their worry the rest of the time were able to increase their productivity.
The good health of your farmers:
It’s also a chaotic, exhausting time of year for your farmers and they are also likely more stressed especially in years like this when the weather has been crazy and they may have taken a financial hit from crops not planted or destroyed or not producing as they should. Perhaps they get more easily frustrated this time of year or they are more difficult to work with. How can you help them?
- Take some time to chat with them and ask how they are doing or how their farm is doing.
- Take a step back when they seem to be difficult and ask yourself if the situation is being exacerbated by the farmer’s stress level, your stress level, or both.
- Observe how they interact with the market and if there are changes in their behavior.
- Offer resources, as appropriate, to vendors or as general practice to all market vendors:
- Suicide hotline: 1-800-FARM-AID (1-800-327-6243)
- Farm Aid website: www.farmaid.org
- Farm Crisis Center: https://farmcrisis.nfu.org/
- Business planning & production –
- KCARD (Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development). Provides educational opportunities, technical assistance, and business support services to new and existing agribusinesses. https://www.kcard.info
- UK Extension Office. Provides informal education in agricultural production and environmental stewardship. http://extension.ca.uky.edu/
- NRCS (Natural Resources and Conservation Services). Provides technical expertise and conservation planning for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners wanting to make conservation improvements to their land. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/ky/home/
- Grow Appalachia. Provides gardening resource distribution and technical assistance, agricultural curriculum and hands-on training, high tunnel infrastructure and protected growing systems, and economic development and beginning farmer assistance. https://growappalachia.berea.edu
Looking for additional resources to help you manage your market? Check these out!
- CFA’s YouTube channel and our library of Farmers Market Matters webinars
- CFA’s Blog and our archive of Market Mindfulness blogs – http://cfakyblog.org/blog/
- Farmers Market Toolkit – https://cfaky.org/
- National Farmers Market Coalition – https://farmersmarketcoalition.org
- CFA’s Farmers Market Support Program staff