Building Community Around Farmers’ Markets

Dear FMNS,

We have a fabulous, thriving weekend farmers’ market and want to take the opportunity to build even more community around our market. We have asked a number of community groups if they want to make use of our space at a reduced cost. This both fits our mandate and would start creating a mid-week buzz which we hope will result in a second weekly farmers’ market, possibly on Wednesday evenings. However, the uptake has been really low. We have a great facility, what are we doing wrong?

Sincerely,

Community Champion
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Dear Community Champion,

You aren’t doing anything wrong, but you are asking people to break old routines and start new ones, which takes time, effort and commitment on your side.

There are 3 basic rules when encouraging people to make use of free or low cost resources in their community.

  • Make the resource easy to use. Is it in a convenient location? Is parking clearly indicated? Is the facility easy to book (is there someone standing by to answer the phone or emails?) Do people know where to call? Do you have information on your website about this resource? Can people book the space for several weeks or months? Is it easy to make payment for the resource? Is there someone on site who can let people into the facility or do people have to drive out of their way to pick up the key?
    Anything that is less than simple will result in people not making the change, even if they benefit in the long term, so do everything you can to simplify the process.
  • Offer many reasons to make use of the facility. Do people come to the area to do other things? Can you add additional services that would make single purpose trip into a multipurpose trip? Can you offer a drop off point to a local CSA? Do you offer facilities for making tea and coffee? Do you have a large, regularly updated community notice board? Are there play facilties/ toys for kids? Do you offer wireless internet? Are you a community newsletter or newspaper drop off location?
    Give people as many reasons as possible to come by.
  • Do people feel comfortable in the facility? Do they feel like they have the right to be there? Are they sure what they can and cannot do there? Have you made it clear what the rules are even if there are no or very few rules? Are there clear signs indicating the location of tea/coffee, washrooms, extra chairs, cleaning products (in case of accidents!) etc? Is the wifi pasword clearly posted? Does the space feel empty and cavernous when there are very few people there? Is the seating comfortable or everyone (including seniors)? Do you have pictures on the walls (it’s a great idea to include photos of all the groups who do use the facility)? Are there speakers for peole to plug their iPods into to create some ‘background noise’. Are your staff courteous and helpful or do community members feel like they are ‘bothering them’. If you are offering the facility for free or at low cost, do people feel pressured to offer something in return?
    Make sure that people understand that there is no hidden ‘catch’.

Community isn’t built overnight. Even if you are doing everything right it can take a while to build up to the tipping point when everything just seems to happen naturally; in the mean time you will need to engineer things a little, for example doing what you can to make the space feel cozy even when only a few people are there and making sure that a group of 5 people feels just as welcome as a group of 50.

Good luck, be patient and don’t give up. It’s worth it in the long term.