With the first market season already more than two months behind us, the question I’m often asked is what I do with my free time in the off season. The answer is planning for next year. Once we examined what worked in the first season and what we wanted to improve, the focus shifted to next season. At first it seemed like an overwhelming task; with the weekly pressure of putting the market on out of the way, I slowly realized just how much there was to tackle: volunteers, fundraising, policies, regulations, retaining and recruiting vendors, improving the SNAP matching program, developing kids’ activities, equipment, storage, logistics, and of course marketing, marketing, marketing.
But a plan has emerged, and I’d like to outline a few of my primary market goals in order to make season 2 bigger and better (who doesn’t love a good sequel?!)
#1: Get more shoppers to the market
Last season was a big success for an inaugural season. We were really grateful for all the community support and the strong patron turnout from the very start. Vendors who were wary of a first season quickly signed up within the first few weeks once they saw that we were indeed pulling in a decent turnout. And we were very happy to see that even as patron attendance dropped off drastically when fall hit (due to school year commitments, some unfortunate weather, and the ever earlier sunset), sales remained steady enough to show that we had developed a solid core group of shoppers. It was a strong start, but it was still just a start. This year I’m working hard to find ways to draw more people to the market. So how do we go about doing this?
- I’m incredibly excited to announce that we will be working together with Parkland College’s Applied Media Promotions, a student staffed strategic communications firm operated out of the Fine & Applied Arts department (where I also happen to teach public speaking). We’ll be working with Parkland students on developing a strategic communication plan and marketing materials to accomplish three primary goals: (1) changing the perception that a farmers’ market is an expensive place to buy produce, (2) promoting our SNAP matching program to encourage more shoppers to come double their benefits and buy fresh, local food, and (3) recruit much-needed volunteers for market day, so that Stephanie and I can put more energy into market programming and advertising. This opportunity will not only help the market, it will provide valuable real-world experience to this talented groupd of Parkland students, and we’re really looking forward to working with them.
#2: Get those shoppers shopping!
Attendance isn’t enough, we need to get our patrons shopping, we need to turn the Champaign Farmers’ Market into a regular staple of our customers’ food shopping routine. We’d also like to expand our educational offerings for all ages, with a special focus on cooking demonstrations. Our farmers grow a great variety of produce, which means that you might encounter something unfamiliar. We’d like to remove that uncertainty and help show shoppers what they can do with our fabulous offerings.
- This year we’ll be producing another series of our Farm Fresh Now recipe cards, now featuring nutritional information in addition to delicious, easy recipes (and gorgeous pictures).
- We are also hoping to purchase equipment to hold cooking demonstrations out at the market to help patrons understand even better the many ways the can use our products.
- Another goal is to expand our offerings. A strong goal of The Land Connection is to support new and smaller farms, who sometimes simply don’t have the volume of production that makes permits feasible, especially for products like meat and eggs. If we can purchase equipment to operate a “community fridge and/or freezer” we can help smaller farmers share space and sell their products, which will be a boost for everyone. The more we can help our farmers grow, the more our market will grow, the more delicious food will be available, and more and more money will go directly back into our local economy.
#3: Make the market a destination
Another focus is turning the market into an even better family destination, so that parents can shop easily while their kids learn about local food, explore the wonders of the natural world with the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, or play in a safe environment.
- Last year we set up our Kids’ Table with chalk, jumpropes, hula hoops, and bubbles. Next season we’re hoping to expand this play area with more activities and more durable equipment to entertain the little ones while their parents pick up fresh fruits, veggies, and more.
- We plan to once again partner with the Orpheum to offer children’s activities, and we’d like to also partner with local artists and educational groups to offer hands-on activities that will make the kids drag their parents back every week.
- Another aim is to make the market a fun place to gather and enjoy a nice spring, summer, or even fall afternoon. We’re hoping to purchase equipment to set up a shaded seating area where patrons can take a break and chat. We would also like to keep up the variety of live music at the market. If you know budding talent around town, send them our way!
#4: Help the market operate more smoothly
We may look cool, calm, and collected on the outside, but some market days can be more than a little hectic. To help everything run more smoothly and safely this year, we’re hoping to accomplish the following:
- Recruit more volunteers for set-up, tear down, and in-between. More hands on deck helps everything go faster, especially if the weather isn’t cooperating.
- Purchase better storage and transportation equipment, so that we can keep tents, tables, and all the rest of it in one easy location and make our set-up and tear down more efficient.
- Build up a stash of additional safety equipment, such as tent weights, to make sure that we can withstand whatever Mother Nature sends our way.
If you would also like to see us accomplish these goals, please consider helping sponsor the market with a donation towards our Market Wish List. With community support from local businesses and individuals, we hope to invest in equipment that will keep our market going strong for years to come! For more information, visit the Market page on our website, or contact me at email@example.com