Within two years, two major retail grocery stores closed leaving a small, discount store as the primary retail food option for the Linden neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. In response, public health staff used the Local Food Action Plan's implementation structure to facilitate partnerships and provided technical assistance to support the creation of a new healthy food retail option, the Linden Farmers Market.
The Linden neighborhood is located in the City of Columbus in Franklin County, Ohio and is home to more than 63,000 people. The population is 53.3% black, 45.1% white with 35.3% of the population living below the Federal Poverty Level. Over 14% of residents versus 9% in Franklin County have been told by a health care professional they have diabetes (2014), the infant mortality rate is almost 2.5 times higher and life expectancy is more than 7 years less than Franklin County as a whole.
There are dozens of food pantries and emergency food options located in this community; however, there are not many retail establishments that offer fresh, culturally appropriate, appealing produce at an affordable cost. While the emergency food system is necessary and very beneficial for many, there are many who are food insecure that do not qualify for the emergency food system. Even those who qualify and utilize the emergency food system must supplement with purchases from retail.
Prior to this market, there were no farmers markets or consistent farm stands located and operating with a mission to serve those in Columbus' high priority neighborhoods. Columbus identifies defined high priority neighborhoods as those that experience the highest rates of infant mortality due to many of the social determinants of health like unemployment, education, homelessness, lack of access to nutritious food and crime. Members of the Local Food Action Plan's implementation structure worked to attract healthy food retailers to the area and even to provide transportation out of the Linden community to grocery stores. However, those efforts did not yield favorable results. Therefore, the answer to the community's issues with healthy food access had to call on resources that already existed in the Linden community.
During the Local Food Action Plan planning process in 2014, the Linden community was asked what interventions they would like to see to help increase healthy food access in their community. One of the top 3 responses was a farmers market. If a farmers market was going to be successful in the Linden community, it was going to need to be run by an anchor institution, have a variety of culturally appropriate produce, provide a good product mix, be affordable for all shoppers and economically viable for vendors and have entertainment and interactive activities. Most importantly, for the market to be successful, it needed to be owned by the community and seen as something developed by them for them.
The Linden Farmers Market exemplifies the effectiveness of the Local Food Action Plan's implementation structure to drive action at the community level. When the retail grocer in Linden closed, the Local Food Team convened food system experts to plan the development of the farmers market. This included engaging experienced farmers market managers to recruit vendors, developing marketing materials and training a community leader to run the market after the pilot season. The Local Food Team was also responsible for sharing the idea with legislative sponsors to acquire the necessary funding and political visibility to draw shoppers and vendors to the market. Lastly, the Local Food Team coordinated and acquired the funding necessary to provide a 15 share fall and winter Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to high need SNAP and WIC customers after the 10 week market ended.
The Local Food Board reviewed the recommendation and voted to support the market. Their support came in the form of spreading knowledge about the market to their constituents and hosting various nutrition and growing education sessions at the markets.
The legislative sponsor and Columbus City Council provided the $32,000 in funding necessary to hire the market manager and consulting market managers, provide healthy food purchasing incentives, equipment and security.
The Food Council promoted the market to the community via emails and word of mouth and encouraged vendors to participate.
There is significant evidence to support farmers markets as an intervention for healthy food access in low income and low access areas. What was innovative about this market was the way in which the City and County's food policy platform was used to to establish and create an economically viable and sustainable market. Many public health interventions are rooted in the social service aspect of providing access. However, that access would be short lived if considerable thought was not put into how the market could be self-supporting after the pilot season. This market was established as a business that needed to capitalize on the disposable income of some and healthy purchasing incentives like double SNAP dollars for others to be economically sustainable for the managing partners and vendors.
During the pilot season, 4,000 customers visited the market, and 50% were from the immediate Linden community. This equates to 3% of the entire 63,000 Linden population visiting the market. Out of respect for shoppers, no questions were asked to determine what percentage of those customers were the 22,000 Linden residents living below the Federal Poverty Level.
Out of the success the Linden Farmers Market had during its pilot season, there has been an increase in farm stands and farmers markets in other low income and low access areas of Columbus. While these access points may not claim the same crowd numbers, vendor variety or sales as the Linden Farmers Market, they show that other communities have been empowered to do something because of what they saw happen in Linden. The goal of increasing healthy food access in Linden has spread to other high priority Columbus neighborhoods, and the Local Food Action Plan's vision of creating a local food system that benefits our economy, our environment and all people is being actualized.
The goal that the Local Food Team had in establishing the Linden Farmers Market was that a new healthy food retail opportunity be established in Linden and that it would be seen and treated like an economic investment and owned by the community. In order to do this, partnerships were absolutely necessary. It called on the careful planning of a Sunday market that was heavily supported by a large local anchor institution, New Salem Baptist Church. The Church's community development corporation, Community of Caring Development Foundation provided leadership and resources for market operations. The Foundation is known to work well with partners and owns and manages the building where the market is held. In addition, New Salem Baptist Church is well respected in the community by church and non-church goers because of their commitment to improving the Linden community.
The hundreds of members that came into the Linden community Sunday mornings were encouraged to attend the market and spend their disposable income to support it. The church combined their services and moved them up to let out at the time the market began. They had a small caravan of walkers to travel the one block distance from the church to the market. Members of the church sold at the market and went to support other vendors they knew from the community. Their support was necessary to the success the market experienced.
Success called on the existing relationship with the Ohio Farmers Market Network to recruit vendors in a short 3 month timeframe and to train a community supported leader to run the market. Columbus City Council provided $32,000 for staffing, equipment, security and incentives to fund the entire pilot season. Purchasing incentives were necessary to make the market accessible to all socioeconomic statuses. Part ($4,800) of the City Council funding was set aside to offset the cost of the produce sold at the market for anyone who said they had a need, and grant funds were leveraged to provide additional coupons and CSA shares after the market season. Ohio Farmers Market Network helped navigate the process to acquire approval and the machinery necessary to process SNAP benefits. Produce Perks Midwest expedited the process to accept double SNAP dollars at farmers markets. Franklin County WIC attended several market days and used their mass text message technology to encourage their clients to visit the market and receive $20 per eligible family member in WIC Farmers Market Coupons.
Educational programming and cooking demonstrations were provided by Local Food Board member organizations and a variety of organizations and local businesses.
The Community of Caring Development Foundation and the Ohio Farmers Market Network were involved during pre-planning and the proposal development phase (April 2018). The Local Food Team invited these two entities to the initial meeting with the Columbus City Council member who sponsored the project. These entities were fully empowered to mold the market in a way that would be beneficial to the community and the market vendors. They oversaw changes throughout the planning and implementation processes so they could effectively execute the market. From April to June, all parties worked to gather the necessary resources, recruit vendors, apply for permits and market to the community. July 1, 2018 was the first market of the season, and there was a large turnout in part due to Columbus City Council's support of the effort and extensive media coverage of the event. The pilot season ended on September 2, 2018 and was considered a success by all partners involved.
During the pilot season, the Local Food Team provided significant technical assistance and secured all the necessary funding; however, the market was planned with the intention of being self-sustaining after the pilot season. Technical support has continued, and the Local Food Team has worked to link the market with potential funders and supporters.
Some of the relationships existed prior to the ideation of the market, and some were created during the development process. It was imperative that the Local Food Team and Local Food Board not be seen as the leaders of the project, but as supporters that could be called on to use their resources when necessary. This fostered community ownership. The ability for the Local Food Team and Board to step back and allow the experts guide the process allowed the trust to grow stronger on both sides.
Since the pilot, the Local Food Team has worked significantly with both Ohio Farmers Market Network and Community of Caring Development Foundation on other food access projects because of the strong relationships and positive experience that took place during the pilot season of the Linden Farmers Market. Because of these relationships, there is a market access coordinator that has been funded to provide technical assistance to all of the Columbus markets. An urban farm has been established at New Salem Baptist Church and is supported by City funding due to relationships built through this process. In addition, there is now a way to collect and compare Central Ohio farmers markets' data such as customer counts, dollars spent and zip codes of visitors.
The only way the Local Food Action Plan's work moves forward is through partnerships. This is at the foundation of the work, and this market was integral in further developing the goal of increasing access to healthy, affordable and local food.
LINDEN FARMERS MARKET PILOT BUDGET
Total Budget: $38,658 ($32,233 requested + $6,425 in-kind)
Recurring Annual Costs (year 2 and beyond) - Approximately $12,720
STAFF COSTS: $24,044
New market manager
Total: 200 hours at $20/hour
20 hours pre-market season work
10 hours of mentoring
40 hours on-site market work
120 hours off-site market work (including community outreach to residents and Linden Faith community)
10 hours post-season work
Market Manager Certificate Training Program
Training program provided by Ohio Farmers' Market Network beginning in 2019.
Consulting farmers' market managers
Total: 230 hours at $40/hour/manager
120 hours pre- / post-market season work
10 hours on-site mentoring at existing markets
20 hours pre-season mentoring
80 hours on-site market work
Does not include addition in kind (see below)
2 hours x 8 weeks @$45/hour
Custodial/Building Management Services for 2830 Cleveland Avenue
6 hours x 8 weeks @$13/hour
EQUIPMENT & SERVICES $3,389
Mobile Market + EBT processing equipment and mobile printer
- $.15/EBT transaction fee
- 1.79% credit/debit transaction fee
- $120/year account maintenance fee
- $119/year license fee (not applicable in year one)
Information tent supplies
$40/2 folding chairs
$100/ logo tablecloth
Marketing and Communications
- $1,500/Logo and material design
- $800/Print materials (3500 color copies at $.25/each)
Market Greens” coupon
480, $10 coupons to be issued by 3 neighboring churches to Linden residents they identify as in need. (20 coupons per church per market)
IN KIND: $6,425
Use of Community of Caring Development Corporation property located at 2830 Cleveland Avenue ($400 x 12 markets)
Extended coverage to Linden Farmers' Market through current insurance policy
Equipment and utilities
Use of equipment and utilities needed to operate market during pilot
Ohio Farmers' Market Conference
Attendance at 2019 Ohio Farmers' Market Conference for hired manager, provided by Ohio Farmers' Market Network
TOTAL FUNDING REQUESTED
Evaluation data are something that most of the farmers markets in Columbus have not consistently collected, and for those who have, it has not been in the most uniform way. Therefore, the pilot of the Linden Farmers Market was used to develop the most effective ways to collect data like customer counts, spending habits and transportation methods. The outcome evaluation focused on the vendors, their perceptions and the economic impact the market had on them. For customers, evaluation was in the form of weekly rapid market assessment otherwise known as a dot survey. A dot survey takes place when one question and multiple answers are written on a large piece of paper, and customers are provided a sticker to place on their corresponding response. Some questions were asked at only one market, and others were asked multiple times throughout the season.
The first objective that was evaluated was: to provide access to fresh, local, and affordable fruits and vegetables for Linden residents. The second objective that was evaluated was: to create job and entrepreneurial opportunities that improve life for residents of Linden.
Based on market data collected from the previously mentioned sources, in 2018, the market drew an estimated 4,000 customers, 81% of which visited the market more than once throughout the season. Almost half of the market visitors were from the two zip codes in Linden, and 16% came from the 4 neighboring zip codes. This suggests the market was able to serve the target audience of the community that was most impacted by the closure of the grocery store. With regards to affordability, vendors were not asked to reduce their prices, and they were required to bring the same quality produce they would to a market in a higher income neighborhood. Double SNAP dollars were provided and accepted by the market, WIC coupons were distributed and accepted and $4,800 of Columbus City Council funding went towards coupons for visitors who stated they had a need. This was regardless if they qualified for emergency assistance or not. More than $3,000 in SNAP/EBT, WIC and coupons were redeemed during the 10 markets of the pilot season.
While approximately one-fourth of visitors stated their primary reason for coming to the market was to purchase fruits and vegetables, over half of all shoppers who responded actually purchased fruits and vegetables. This was an important indicator for success because it shows that the produce provided was appealing to shoppers and was affordable. Adjustments were made to increase the number of produce vendors after the survey question, to increase your spending, the market should offer?” yielded the responses fruit and produce. By the end of the market, over one-third of the vendors sold produce, and the second highest response of things customers liked most about the market” was the fresh produce.
To answer the question about creating job and entrepreneurial opportunities for Linden residents, vendors were anonymously surveyed after the last market. The data was collected through an online survey, supplied by SurveyMonkey, and provided to all 29 vendors after the completion of the market season via an email invitation. Eleven out of the twenty-nine vendors responded to the survey. Almost 50% of vendors were minorities or women, 30% were Linden based and most reported $101-$200 in sales per market day.
It is important to note that vendors who participated in Linden Farmers Market took a great risk, and went against popular belief to sell at the market. Popular belief was that a farmers market would not be profitable in a low income neighborhood like Linden. This was a pilot market, therefore vendors had no data to understand the risk or benefit to sell at the market. In the end, over 80% of vendors stated the market met or exceeded their expectations. Vendors were asked if they would return to sell the next year, and 54% stated they would. During the 2019 season, 56% of vendors returned from the pilot season.
Forty percent of vendors believed the time of the market (1-4pm) was fair” with more specific responses requesting an earlier start time. Therefore, in the 2019 season the time was changed to begin at 12:00pm and end at 3:00pm.
This was the first market of its kind in the Central Ohio area; therefore, there was no data to compare survey results. However, data collected served as baseline data for this market and a comparison for other markets in Central Ohio. A question bank for customer rapid market assessments was created to share with other Central Ohio markets. Currently, the Ohio Farmers Market Network is using the data that was uniformly collected to create a plan for increasing the capacity and uptake of farmers markets and to identify models that may be successful in lower income areas.
While there is no way to evaluate the direct impact of the LFAP's implementation structure in establishing the Linden Farmers Market, there is certainty the partners would not have met nor had the resources necessary to run a successful market without their knowledge and direction.
The Local Food Action Plan has paid staff through Columbus Public Health and the Franklin County Economic Planning and Development to ensure the work identified in the LFAP is carried out. The Local Food Board is appointed by elected officials. All appointees work in entities that are very well connected and invested in the success of the local food system. The Local Food Action Plan has a legislative sponsor that has made local food system efforts one of their top priorities. Therefore, the framework which supports food system efforts like the Linden Farmers Market has sustainability woven throughout.
From the initial conversation the Local Food Team had about establishing the Linden Farmers, it was intended that Columbus City Council funding would only be provided for the pilot season. Therefore, the managers needed to make provisions to operate independently. In selecting an anchor institution that could support the farmers market, it was important that the organization was familiar with operating a business and working with organizations in the community. The Linden Farmers Market charged vendors a fee to support the market manager and assistant market manager's compensation. The cost to operate the market for year 2 and beyond was one-third the cost of the pilot, and was funded by vendor fees and support from the community development corporation.
Another important factor for sustainability is to control cost where possible. The building and land where the farmers market takes place is owned by the Community of Caring Development Foundation, which runs the farmers market. Building and operating cost for the facility are already factored into the Foundation's operating budget. The market is responsible for anything over that amount, which is a large costs savings.
Programming support was and will continue to be provided by institutions and organizations who have mission alignment and have funding to provide their services for free. Organizations like The Ohio State University Franklin County Extension, Local Matters, Columbus City Schools Farm to School and Columbus Public Health.
In order to operate, a farmers market must have vendors. Based on the feedback from year one, and the return rate in year two many vendors saw value in selling at the market. To meet the increasing demand for producers at the Linden Farmers Market and other markets across the City, the City of Columbus financially supports initiatives like free soil testing and liability insurance to increase growers' capacity to sell in farmers markets.
A lesson learned regarding marketing in Linden was the best way to get the information out about the market was through word of mouth, door-to-door conversations and flyer distributions. It is necessary to provide technical assistance, but government can not lead the effort and hope the community will take ownership. Community ownership must start from the planning process. When something arose that the Community of Caring Development Foundation could not figure out, they called on the Local Food Team to use the resources to find a solution that worked for them. This method was successful because the Linden Farmers Market ran independently the second year. Columbus Public Health was able to utilize a small amount of grant funds in 2019 to supplement coupons, but this was not necessary for the market to operate.
The Linden Farmers Market was a larger success than the project team anticipated. A combination of great partners, established relationships, political backing, timing and the wave of strong support for the local food movement positioned the market to be successful. There were concerns that after the pilot season, the community would lose interest in the market. However, with one fewer market day in the second year, there was an equal dollar amount of SNAP and incentive coupons redeemed, attendance remained consistent, the percentage of Linden based businesses increased by 3% and women, minority owned businesses increased by 22% and plans are being made to continue into the third season in July 2020.