By DAN SMALLWOOD
Capital News Service
LANSING – As farmers markets in Michigan continue to grow in size and popularity, a new initiative to train their managers is underway.
The new Market Managers Certificate Program aims at educating farmers market operators on how to do more for their vendors to increase sales and participation.
Maggie Smith, administrative assistant at the Michigan Farmers Market Association in East Lansing, said 36 managers were certified in March after six training sessions
The program helps communities and local economies with farmers markets work better, she said.
Topics covered include business planning, market growth management, human relations and conflict management, market governance, policy, regulations and fundraising, Smith said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Market Promotion Program provided a $92,440 grant that partly financed this year’s training.
Smith said most managers are part-time or seasonal employees and many have less than two years of experience. She said the certificate program could greatly benefit those with less experience.
A speaker at one session, Randy Hampshire, of Hampshire Farms in Kingston, said the program greatly assisted newer managers to “learn what to do to make their farmers market better,” including how to reach out better to participating farmers.
“All you have to do is pick up on a couple things and that makes all the difference,” he said.
More seasoned managers share their experience through the program. “There’s some history they can share,” he said.
Hampshire said market outreach is essential and suggested training managers to emphasize how relationships with their vendors would improve markets. Not reaching out, he said, can hurt those relationships.
In Pontiac, market managers “took 15 years before they visited farmers,” said Hampshire, whose farm no longer participates in the Pontiac Farmers Market. He advocated surveying vendors to see if they are making money and how markets could improve their profitability.
Hampshire also said making market visits a family-focused activity, with events like petting zoos and corn mazes, could attract more customers.
He said a higher quality of food sold and friendlier atmosphere are distinguishing characteristics that more farmers markets could capitalize on.
“The big companies can’t compete with that,” he said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.