Measuring the Impact of Farmers' Markets
Have you ever wondered why farmers' markets open in some neighborhoods and not others? These markets—one strategy for obesity prevention, especially in low-income areas—are increasing exponentially in the U.S. In the past year, 1,000 new markets were added.
Candace Young, senior associate at the Food Trust in Philadelphia, talked about how her organization decides where to put a new farmers’ market in that city at an APHA panel on Monday. In addition to tracking sales and counting customers to get a sense of the “grocery gap” in an area (identifying low-income neighborhoods where fresh food is just not sold), the Food Trust surveys would-be customers and determines whether a new location is easily accessible for walkers and bikers. Young and her colleagues haven’t had to close a farmers’ market in five years, so they are very methodical when it comes to deciding where to open a new one.
One in every eight Americans receives SNAP/food stamps, so Young and her colleagues aim to ensure that their farmers' markets are especially friendly to families shopping with food stamps. Philly Food Bucks, a Philadelphia Department of Health program operated by the Food Trust, is a program that gives farmer’s market customers a $2 voucher (to be used for more fresh food purchases) for every $5 they spend.
Sonia Kim, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), discussed the results of her study surveying farmers' markets to determine how common it was for them to collect information about their customers, their sales, customer demographics and other data. Nearly all surveyed collected some sort of information about demographics or shopping preferences, but only a small number reported asking customers about how shopping at farmers' markets impacted their fruit and vegetable intake.
Kim and her colleagues believe that since so many farmers' markets are surveying their customers in general, it wouldn’t be too difficult or costly to get a couple of questions on diet and health into those surveys. This additional data would be useful for researchers looking to gauge the impact of the increasing number of farmer’s markets in neighborhoods across the country.