Growing Our Farmers Market Family
The 2021 full market season is underway, and we’re thrilled to welcome this year’s cohort of new FRESHFARM farmers and producers! Over the past several months, we’ve built a brand new application and evaluation system from the ground up with a goal to be more intentional in our recruitment efforts, more transparent in our evaluation process, and more equitable in our vendor selections. The result is an incredible cohort of new vendors who will be joining our farmers market family this year. We’re proud to see this growth in our network, and we will continue to build on these efforts to create a vendor network that is diverse, inclusive, and representative of the amazing food businesses across our region.
So how do evaluations work? Our new application and evaluation platform, The Info Tent, allows for multiple staff members to evaluate and grade applicants on a key set of criteria, including sustainable growing practices, local sourcing, distance from the market, and product mix at the market, among others. While we’ve always considered these criteria when evaluating applications, The Info Tent provided a formal process to provide grades in each category from multiple staff members. And for the first time, we offered business owners the opportunity to select various identities in their application including BIPOC, immigrant or refugee, LGBTQIA+, veteran, first generation farmer, or fill in their own identity. This is helping us better understand how our vendor community identifies and will provide us a baseline to grow a network that is more diverse, inclusive, and representative moving forward.
Applicants go through several rounds of evaluation, with all reviewers using the same set of criteria to make their grades. Applications were reviewed by FRESHFARM market managers who are familiar with the needs of their specific market community, and by the senior market team who continued evaluations based on consensus. All told, our team has made 12,000 grades on individual application criteria for 319 applicants this year! After decisions are made, each applicant receives a summary of their final grades so they can see how they scored on strengths and areas of growth.
To include the community’s input in our selections, we piloted a community-based review board this year. With our partner the Mount Vernon Triangle CID, we convened community representatives to review vendor applications and provide recommendations. Participants had a positive experience, and this could become a model for community input at other FRESHFARM markets.
In tandem with the new evaluation process, we prioritized improving our outreach and diversifying our applicant pool. We asked our current vendors to make recommendations, especially for underrepresented groups at market, and tapped into their broader farmer and producer networks. We collaborated with organizations working with small and beginning farmers and BIPOC businesses to connect us with farm and food businesses who were new to us. These efforts resulted in a rich pool of diverse candidates, and we have some truly stellar new vendors joining our market lineup this year.
The new market application and evaluation process is a foundational building block in helping FRESHFARM become a more equitable, inclusive, and representative organization. We’re proud of the progress we’ve made this year in building a system that is more intentional, transparent, equitable, and aligned with FRESHFARM’s values, and the significant growth it has brought to our farmer and producer network. But the work is ongoing, and this is just the beginning. FRESHFARM is committed to continuing these efforts to cultivate vibrant market spaces where all are included and welcome, and to grow opportunities for Mid-Atlantic farmers and producers to connect with our market community.