UW research project aims to expand farmers markets’ customer base

Federal officials have announced nearly $640,000 in new funding for a Wisconsin-based project aimed at helping farmers markets reach new customers. 

The national nonprofit Farmers Market Coalition and UW-Madison were selected for this funding by the USDA Agricultural and Food Research Initiative grant program. Their project’s main goal is to help farmers markets attract new consumers to buy products from small and medium-sized farms, according to a university submission. 

Through a partnership with communication researchers, the coalition will identify current and potential market segments through a national survey, with a focus on those that are currently underrepresented among farmers market customers. 

“Informed by those findings, we will test messaging strategies on social media through partnerships with diverse farmers markets,” researchers wrote. “This innovative approach will allow us to examine the efficacy of message frames at increasing interest in farmers markets among audience segments.” 

Results will be incorporated into the coalition’s existing message resources for farmers market organizers around the country. And the FMC and UW-Madison will hold a series of webinars to share their findings through food systems networks. 

The researchers say their work will “encourage a new generation” of customers to buy their food directly from local farms, many of which rely on farmers markets for marketing support. 

Bret Shaw, a professor in the university’s Department of Life Sciences Communication, is the principal investigator on the grant. In a statement on the federal award, he notes this project will conduct the first national survey about farmers market participation in 20 years. 

“Our results will inform more effective strategies to promote farmers markets,” he said. “For example, the reasons why people go to farmers markets — and the reasons why they may not — may differ in urban versus rural settings. By understanding the needs of different communities, we can communicate more effectively about the value of farmers markets in ways that resonate most with them.”

As part of the project, UW-Madison is also partnering with state farmers market leaders in Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin, where new messaging informed by the survey will be tested. 

Wisconsin has more than 300 local farmers markets, according to Travel Wisconsin. The Dane County Farmers’ Market, held on Madison’s Capitol Square from June to November, is the largest producer-only farmers market in the country. 

See the release: https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/university-of-wisconsin-and-fmc-awarded-usda-afri-grant-to-grow-customer-base-at-farmers-markets/ 

See project details: https://portal.nifa.usda.gov/enterprise-search/ss/1505 

Find information on farmers markets in Wisconsin: https://www.travelwisconsin.com/things-to-do/food-drink/farmers-markets 

–By Alex Moe