Board of Directors Best Practices

Dear FMNS,

What does the ideal Board of Directors look like in a farmers’ market setting?

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How to make farmers’ markets even better – Inclusiveness vs Control

Most Farmers’ Markets in our region have boards of directors that consist of all or mostly primary producers. However most farmers’ markets that are more stable and successful have boards of directors that consist of vendors, customers and community supporters. While it is possible to have a successful market with a board of directors made up only of primary producers it needs to be acknowledged that the obvious consequences of this are

1. Farmers’ are very busy during the growing season and therefore cannot contribute as much as active board members need to.

2. You have a very limited pool to draw from and often board members get elected because there is no-one else who wants to do it.

3. This is not an inclusive model that takes into account the ideas, resources and needs of customers and the wider community.

4. It can be very challenging for board members to remove their ‘other hat’ when they sit down at the board table and make decisions that are truly for the benefit of the market as a whole and not just their own business; having a variety of people at the table provides checks and balances for this kind of behaviour.

Ironically, farmers’ markets often hold themselves up as examples of inclusiveness while simultaneously excluding form their board of directors, people who could contribute a great deal to the growth and stability of their market.

While there is a fear of losing control of the market to crafts people or resellers, these kinds of issues can be managed through primary producer friendly policies and ensuring the that board hiring process is open and broad so that the best people get elected by the membership.

There are examples of Farmers’ Markets in Nova Scotia who manage to put the primary producer first while also having a board of directors that is not necessarily primary producer controlled.

  • The Yarmouth Farmers’ Market board of directors contains representatives from the municipality, community and business organizations because they recognized that in order to gain support from the wider community they need to include them. And just look at the fabulous location they have as a result!
  • Hubbards Barn has a board of directors that includes some market vendors plus the wider community because it is a multipurpose venue. The vendors are consulted regularly about the market to ensure that their ideas are included. This market is well known for it’s great product diversity and is a thriving, healthy farmers’ market.

Ultimately, markets who have control issues have to ask themselves what it is that they are controlling, why they want the control and whether, if the market is facing challenges that they are too busy to solve, they are as ‘in control’ as they think.