PIKETON, Ohio -- A new statewide cooperative has formed to address the business needs of farmers' markets while raising their visibility with consumers interested in local products and foods.
Through the Ohio State University South Centers Ohio Cooperative Development Center, the Farmers' Market Management Network, Inc., was established to encourage farmers' market managers and their vendors to collectively pool ideas, experiences and resources, while sharing knowledge to better their businesses.
Tom Snyder, OCDC program manager at OSU South Centers at Piketon, said that the main drive to form the cooperative was the concept of being more successful working together as a group rather than individually.
"When you have vendors across Ohio participate, on average, in 20 farmers' markets, the potential economic impact for a community is much higher when you can pool those farmers' markets, rather than dealing with them one-on-one," said Snyder. "Other states have such cooperatives in place, but there was no organization in Ohio that provided such a service, so we felt it was time to form."
The Farmers' Market Management Network, Inc., through the assistance of OCDC, networks and links farmers markets, agencies and community resources; educates its members and others on food safety, market management and effective marketing strategies; identifies best practices for market managers, board members and vendors; partakes in surveys and research to improve farmers' markets in Ohio; pools resources for cost-effectiveness; and works with the Ohio Department of Agriculture for consistent and reasonable regulations to maintain a high level of food safety for consumers.
Christie Welch, an OSU Extension farmers' market specialist at OSU South Centers at Piketon, said that lack of consistent regulations from one farmers' market to the next is one of the main focuses of the cooperative.
"As most vendors who attend multiple markets are aware, regulations can vary from location to location," said Welch. "What the cooperative will do is to work with ODA and local health departments to try to bring some consistency to the regulations."
Welch said that the production of a farmers' market manual is also a focus of the new cooperative.
"The manual will cover identifying best practices for starting a farmers' market, from needed resources to effective structures and bylaws to the responsibilities of market management," said Welch.
The Farmers' Market Management Network, Inc., launched last spring. So far it consists of 20 farmers' markets throughout southeastern/central Ohio, making up roughly 500 vendors. The goal is to eventually bring all farmers' markets across the state into the program, roughly 140 markets with over 3,500 vendors.
The cooperative is still in its early stages, and farmers' markets throughout Ohio are invited to join. A meeting of the Farmers' Market Management Network, Inc. will be held on Oct. 27 at 10 a.m. at Ohio Department of Agriculture, 8995 E. Main Street in Reynoldsburg.