Understanding Farmers Markets Role In Our Community

It’s our first week here at the Austin Center for Design. We are a three-person team from the 2020 class and we are knee deep into our first project. Last Monday, we were provided a list of non-profit organizations to partner with to utilize design strategy in a real-world context.

Lauren, Leah and I (Dan) were instructed to choose five of twenty something non profits we wanted to partner with.  We called, emailed, and stopped by various organizations around Austin trying to pitch the value of a potential partnership on this project. Due to intense time con-straits we were forced to look outside our choices. With a helping hand from a fellow classmate we were put in contact with HOPE Farmers Market. HOPE farmers market has been meeting every Sunday in Austin since 2009. HOPE provides a space for farmers and the local community of East Austin to come together to experience a growing local food system. Over the next three weeks we’ll be using the tools shown to us in class and putting them to use, for real.

Similar to the classes before us, we are taking a deep dive into the unknown. We’re surrounded by driven, intelligent classmates and a strong network of supportive teachers and alumni. There are hundreds of questions but there are no real answers. 

 We’ve met for several hours over the past few days and have developed a research plan containing vital tools we’ll need in order to execute our plan. We hope to better understand the workings of farmers markets and aim to use contextual inquiry and participatory design to observe everyone’s place in the operation. This will allow the research to focus on the true behavior of the participants.

We are going to position ourselves to view these persons lives. We are going to build rapport, conduct an interview and take photos. We want and try to feel an understanding of everyone’s roles. By speaking directly with these humans we’re going to develop insights.

Below is our research plan:

HOPE Farmers Market Community Impact Research Plan

HOPE Farmers Market was on the list provided by AC4D. Our group chose this business because we are passionate about the work they are doing and the impact and the impact a market can have on the broader community.  Crystal, the Market Director for the market has agreed to partner with us.

This document details our research plan, and includes our focus, goals of the research, planned methodology, profiles of individuals we plan to interview, and scripts to be used when engaging with each of those individuals. 

Focus Statement 

To better understand the role a farmers market plays in connecting our community.

Goals

The goals of this research are:

  • Establish an empathic relationship with the persons involved in the market
  • Identify the motivating factors for participation in the market
  • Observe the logistics involved in organizing and attending the market
  • Determine the perceived value of the farmers market to the community

Research Methodology

This research uses contextual inquiry and hands-on exercises which will allow us to focus on the true behavior of the participants.  Our methodology for focusing on behavior will include:

  • Attending the farmer’s market on the day of the market to observe the way the multiple players interact (pre-market, during market, post market)
  • Conducting inquisitive informational interviews with the participants described below in order to better understand his or her motivation and behavior
  • Conversations will be augmented by exercises and corresponding materials, to spur conversations about an individual’s actions, thoughts, and feelings as they pertain to parts of the participant’s role that we cannot directly observe.

Based on our basic understanding of farmers markets we have pulled together three main groups of event stakeholders that make up the broader community.  We have broken these groups down in more details by a few key but differentiating attributes.  To be sure, it is a diverse, but not scientifically significant sample size.

Our research will be conducted with representatives from the HOPE Farmers Market nonprofit organization as well as other farmers markets in the region so that we can gain a comprehensive understanding about the space, and the impact similar markets are having on the community. It will also include various customers and vendors with a wide range of attributes.

Participant Profiles

LDL Research Proposal 1

Script / Research Protocol – Event Organizers

Goals specific to members of an organization that organizes farmers markets (staff, board member, volunteer)

  • To understand the “back of house” work and day-to-day operations that go into putting on a farmers market
  • To understand the structure of the “presenting” entity, including staffing structure and revenue model
  • To understand the motivation for initiating and continuing a market
  1. Introduction

Thank you so much for meeting with us today.  As we mentioned in our previous email, we are students at the Austin Center for Design.  We are here to learn more about the [Name] farmers market.  We are hoping to learn everything we can about [org name], your role with the organization, and your day to day activities here. We’ll start with a few questions and then transition into some exercises to learn even more about the market and its impact in the community.

First, I have a one-page consent form for you and I to both sign. This basically states that everything you say in this interview will be completely anonymous. I will, with your permission, be recording the interview and taking pictures as we talk. The recording will only be used for internal purposes. It helps me focus on our conversation today instead of having to feverishly take notes for fear of missing something you say.  We’ll talk through quite a bit today, but the time should fly right by.

  1. Introductory questions
    1. Will you tell me a little about the market?
    2. What is your role with the farmer’s market?
    3. How did you come to learn about this market?
    4. What kind of an impact do you hope the market has in the community in Austin?
    5. What are some of your favorite elements about the market?
    6. What are some of the most challenging elements of organizing the market?
    7. How have you seen the market evolve since you first became involved with it?
    8. How was the location of the market chosen? 
  1. Exercise: Tool Walkthrough

We want to understand what tools the market is using to attract both vendors and customers.

Do you have any software tools, marketing tools, or databases that help you find and invite new vendors or customers?

  • Can you show them to us and walk us through how you use them?
  • Why do you use these?

Dig into what they like most about the tool, what they find challenging, what they wish the tools did, etc.

Do you have any physical tools you use to attract vendors or customers to the market, like posters or mailings?

  • Can you show them to us and walk us through how you use them?
  • Why do you use these?

Dig into what they like most about each over these materials, what they find challenging, what they wish these materials did, etc.

  1. Exercise: Shadow your work

We want to see you in your element at the farmers market. Do you mind if we follow you around on Sunday to see what you do and who you talk to? (Take note of who they talk to, why they talk to them, and the impact that work has on the overall event.)

  1. Exercise: The Market’s Ecosystem

We know there is a lot that goes into planning and hosting a farmer’s market every week for over ten years.  We would like to understand all of the players that come together each Sunday.  I have a blank sheet of paper here with some sample concentric circles. The farmers market is the center of the circle. Can you draw all of the different players that participate in the event in the outer circles. The more important they are to the core operation of the farmer’s market, the closer to the middle circle.

  1. Conclusion

Thank you so much for talking with us today.  We really learned a lot about [NAME] farmer’s market. Would you mind if we reached out to you by email with additional questions, if they arise? Thanks again!

Script / Research Protocol – Customers 

Goals specific to the customers attending the farmers market

  • To understand who the customers are
  • To understand why customers choose to attend farmers markets
  • To understand how customers spend their time and money at farmers markets
  • To understand what the value of the farmers market is to the customer
  1. Introduction

Thanks for taking the time to work with us today. This meeting should take about 2 hours. Before we get started, I have a brief consent form that I would like you to review and sign. This describes that we will be audio recording the session for our own notes and recollection, and, with your permission, taking pictures. Your name, face, and any other identifying information will be removed so you will be completely anonymous. The recording won’t be shared with anyone else and then I won’t be distracted taking notes for fear of missing something you say.

Let me explain how our session today will work. First, we’re going to ask you some brief questions about yourself and your experiences at farmers markets. Next, we’ll work through several exercises and worksheets about your experiences as you think about what food and community mean to you.

We’ll talk through quite a bit today, but the time should fly right by!

  1. Introductory questions
    1. Where are you from?
    2. What part of town do you live in?
    3. Can you tell me a little bit about your typical week?
    4. What do you like to do in Austin? What are some of your hobbies?
    5. Who are some important people in your life? Can you tell me about them?
    6. When did you start coming to this farmers market?
    7. How often do you come to this market?
    8. What are some of your favorite things to do at the market?
    9. How do you feel at the farmers’ market? Why?
    10. When you’re not shopping at the farmers market, where are some places around town that you like to shop?
  1. Exercise: What’s in your bag?

We want to understand what sort of person our customer is as related to how they prepare for their day.

  1. Will you show me some of the things that you brought with you today. Can you tell me about why you have these things?
  2. What do you never leave home without?
  1. Exercise: Your Market Journey

Present a long straight line on a piece of paper with a sunrise image on the left end and an arrow pointing to the right on the other.

We want to understand how you spend your time at the farmers market. Can you mark on this timeline as many things as you want that you did before and during the farmers market in order.

  • When you leave the farmers’ market where do you go?
  • How do you get to and from the market?
  • Did you take any photos the last time you were at the market? Can we see them?
  1. Exercise: Draw a simple map of a farmers market

There are so many great things about attending farmers’ markets in Austin.

Here’s you (draw a stick figure on a sheet of paper).

Will you draw me a map of where you go first, second, third, etc.  What vendors do you go to? Who do you talk to?  What other activities will you engage in at the farmer’s market?

  1. Completion

Thank you so much for being willing to talk to us today. It was really interesting to talk to you and we learned a lot. We’ll be interviewing several other people over the next few weeks, and those conversations might prompt some more ideas. Would you mind if we reached out to you by email with additional questions, if they arise?

Thank you!

Script / Research Protocol – Vendors

Goals:

  • To understand what vendors gain by coming to the farmers market. Is there a bigger takeaway other than sales driving their return week after week?
  • To understand how vendors view themselves at HOPE Farmer’s market, and the Austin Farmers market ecosystem 
  1. Introduction

Thanks for taking the time to work with us today. This meeting should take about 2 hours. Before we get started, I have a brief consent form that I would like you to review and sign. This describes that we will be audio recording the session for our own notes and recollection, and, with your permission, taking pictures. Your name, face, and any other identifying information will be removed so you will be completely anonymous. The recording won’t be shared with anyone else and then I won’t be distracted taking notes for fear of missing something you say.

Let me explain how our session today will work. First, we’re going to ask you some brief questions about yourself and your experiences at farmers markets. Next, we’ll work through several exercises and worksheets about your experiences as you think about what food and community mean to you.

We’ll talk through quite a bit today, but the time should fly right by!

  1. Introductory Questions:
    1. Where do you come from?
    2. What do you bring to the market?
    3. Can you tell me about your product(s)? – (Where is farm/shop?)
    4. Why HOPE Farmers market?
    5. Can you tell me about your Sunday morning?
    6. What do you want your customers to know?
    7. Can we walk through a transaction? (What do you use to sell? i.e. square, venmo, cash)
    8. Do you sell anywhere else?
    9. Who else is part of the process?
    10. Why do you do this?
  1. Exercise: What’s behind the table or Where is the truck?

We know product is important, but we’re interested in learning about everything it takes for you to present and sell your product here. We want to see what tools you need in order to make this happen.

  • Can you bring me behind your table?
  • What tools do you use?
  1. Exercise: Timeline exercise; the power of now?

Here we are, we’re here. I know this strawberry didn’t come out of the ground in two days…

Can you please take this pen and mark for me where you feel you are now, and what it took for you to get here?

Materials to prepare

Consent forms

  • Audio recorder (i.e. phone)
  • Phone charger
  • Pen and paper

Through this project we hope to deliver actionable insights to HOPE.