FRESHFARM’s Market Tracker Helps Organizations Measure Data & Impact
In an era where farmers market organizations across the country are focusing all their energy on making their markets safe, accessible, and efficient for shopping during the pandemic, you may think that data collection is a low priority. Due to a variety of factors, including lack of staff capacity, time, and consistent collection methods, data collection is notoriously difficult at farmers markets, even during pre-COVID times. In response to these challenges, FRESHFARM has developed an open-source tool called the Market Tracker to track, measure, and evaluate data from each of our nearly 30 markets every week. The Market Tracker allows us to record vendor sales, redemption of federal nutrition benefits and matching programs, vendor attendance, and more.
We aim to eventually offer the Market Tracker as an open-source tool and database to farmers market organizations across the United States. Currently, FRESHFARM is sharing the Market Tracker with partner organizations across our region to help them manage and evaluate their own markets and food access programs, like Crossroads Community Food Network’s farmers market in Takoma, MD; and the state-wide food access incentive programs Maryland Market Money and Virginia Fresh Match, run by Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC) and the Local Environmental Agriculture Project in Roanoke, VA, respectively.
In collaboration with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, FRESHFARM recently published an Innovation Brief highlighting how the Market Tracker improves accounting procedures and enables information sharing among the farmers markets in our network.
The Market Tracker is an open-source database that FRESHFARM developed to collect data about every farmers market we manage. Each week, vendors record their sales, and market managers track the amount of SNAP, WIC, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program benefits spent at market, as well as FRESH Match redemption, our dollar-for-dollar matching program for federal nutrition benefits. The data collected weekly in the Market Tracker helps vendors monitor their sales from week to week, and helps FRESHFARM measure the financial health of the market, maintain clean finances for grant reporting, and better serve our shoppers as well as our farmers and producers.
We know that FRESHFARM is not the only organization that faces challenges in tracking these important data points, and we intentionally built the Market Tracker so that we could easily share the tool with our partners. The tracker is a Google Sheets-based platform designed to meet the specific functionality needs of farmers market managers and other organizations. It’s simple to use, share, and customize, whether an organization runs one market or 100.
Several regional partners are currently using the Market Tracker for their own work to make fresh, local food more accessible and affordable. Crossroads Farmers Market in Takoma Park, MD was the first farmers market in the country to launch a “double dollar” incentive program to match nutrition benefits spent at the market. The Market Tracker is “not only an incredibly useful tool for tracking farmers’ weekly sales, but has also been the primary data collection tool I use to provide information for grant proposals and reports,” says Sara Servin, Program Manager at the Crossroads Farmers Market. “Utilizing the Market Tracker, I am able to determine which zip codes many of our SNAP and WIC shoppers come from in order to apply for county, state, and federal grants. Ultimately, these funds have helped to support our matching SNAP program at market, special events, and healthy eating food demonstrations.”
State-wide organizations also benefit from the Market Tracker. Maryland Market Money, the Maryland program that matches federal nutrition benefits at farmers markets, uses the tracker to manage their incentives programs at 25 participating markets across the state. LEAP, a food systems organization based in southwest Virginia, uses the Market Tracker to monitor SNAP transactions and the use of Virginia Fresh Match, a statewide matching program that is available at 65 farmers markets and 5 brick-and-mortar food retailers in Virginia. LEAP’s data collection has helped Virginia Fresh Match better implement their programs across the state and secure state support for the federal grant that partially funds the program. Finally, in the coming year, we will work with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service on an economic study to evaluate the data collected with the Market Tracker and identify historical trends in the regional economy.
FRESHFARM is proud to be a leader in our regional food system, and we are eager to provide this tool to our partner organizations to help improve data management and better understand the impact of farmers markets on local economies. We have plans to partner with even more farmers market managers to implement their own Market Trackers in the future. We look forward to expanding the use of the Market Tracker with farmers market organizations across the country to help us all work towards a vibrant and sustainable food system.