Theming Through a Farmers Market

Lauren, Leah, and I have found ourselves enclosed in a small black box here at Austin Center for Design. The black walls are covered in text, these pieces of text are on small white pieces of paper we’ve cut out called utterances. These utterances were pulled from massive word documents that we transcribed from hours of interviews we’ve conducted with people who are involved with HOPE Farmers Market (HOPE FM). It’s been a learning process for us, and we’re learning that the people we’re talking with are learning too. The farmer’s market contains an eclectic mix of self-starters, rebels, and passionate hobbyists. There’s such a diverse group of humans and businesses that attend the market. Everyone is having their own experience while others aim to provide an experience.

Through hours of interviews (30 plus) we are now at a point in the process where we are considering what our deliverables to our client could be. Amongst the walls of text exist “red trucks” obvious and pointed commonalities that have come across in our conversations with our interviewee’s. The Texas heat being one of them. Our goal at this point in the process is to develop themes. We walked into the market as outsiders, and although difficult, will remain outsiders in order to be able to provide more valuable insight. It’s been difficult to tip toe around without shouting out obvious problems, or easy solutions to some of the things we’ve seen. It’s bigger than that. This project is more important than that and design research carries more value than that. It’s finding out the things that lie beneath the surface. That is where our themes have begun to form.

Our first theme we’ve come across is this market provides a raw and experimental environment for people looking to try new things. People can bring their ideas to life, with few hurdles to jump over at HOPE. We’ve heard from those who had their product in mind long before they created it. Passion projects that started at HOPE have turned into profit for some, they’ve been able to leave jobs they didn’t like, and some walk past their products at local grocers in Austin. A vendor we spoke with has been coming to HOPE FM since its inception. Walter found a way to escape his desk job, via kombucha, and used the market to further propel his product. While others aspire to arrive there, renting kitchen space and walking the path to market from their local culture through food. A vendor named Jessie shared her story of working part time at a local taco joint while getting a grant from an incubator to help grow her business. She sell’s traditional Mexican candies and is now featured in Mexic-Arte Museum here in Austin. It’s been inspiring to hear from them, and it’s more inspiring to see their thoughts on paper clustered next to each other, in a way that only we’ve been able to see.

We continue to hear about a sacrifice of profit over people. Janet is a vendor who sells juice, she has such an intense passion for her product that she’s refused to scale up even though she was presented the opportunity. She said “In order for me to grow the business it’s going to need a longer shelf life. But I didn’t want to sacrifice the quality. In hot pasteurization you basically heat it up to a temperature to kill the bacteria, but also the flavor isn’t there.” This aversion to sacrifice of quality is present among other vendors at HOPE. Janet also emphasized that her recipes are from her grandmother, they’ve been passed down for generations and quality is the key. Janet is providing a piece of herself through her product and she’ll stop at nothing to leave a lasting impression.

This market has leveled the playing field for people to embrace their most raw experiments. A mother daughter rock duo plays their version of Little Miss Muffet, across Plaza Saltillo where the market takes place. Whether the customers of the market were stopping through for a cool beverage during their day or coming for a Sunday afternoon activity they’re going to hear some tunes, whether they like it or not. On the other side of the market, a renaissance storyteller has taken up a spot near the yoga mats where she recites folk lore and fairy tales from memory for tips. The market even has free yoga! A previous volunteer kicked off the program each Sunday and still returns to give instruction…. when they can. That being said these people are giving things a try, in a place of no judgement. HOPE Farmer’s Market seems to be much more than a market, it’s a platform, a playground, to try something different in pursuit of passion.

Something we also continue to hear is this polarizing magnetism for HOPE FM. There are people who have grown and are growing with the market, it’s their place, they have found a home for their product and in turn, themselves. People have been returning to HOPE weekend after weekend whether they’re profiting or not. The ambiance of the market plays into this polarization effect, and the people who are attracted may be unaware of the aversion people are experiencing as well. We heard from a local chef who used to visit the market finds it to be a market of treats, he doesn’t attend as frequently as he once did.. A neighborhood resident mentioned to us that the market seemed sad, and he doesn’t think he would go back.

Overall we’re looking forward to feedback so we can better develop our themes into insights.