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The Grinnell Farmer's Market

A summary of my findings after spending an afternoon at the Grinnell Farmer's Market:

I started off by attempting to give people a survey containing the following questions (for buyers):

How do you value locally produced foods compared to goods produced elsewhere?

About the same--- Slightly more --- Much more ---Only buy locally produced food

How important is the price of the food that you buy?

Not at all important ---Somewhat important ---Very important --- Price is the only thing that matters

If Grinnell's grocery stores sold locally produced food, would you buy it?

Yes --- No --- Maybe

Why do you buy locally produced food (circle one or more)?

Prefer the taste --- Want to help local economy --- Enjoy the Farmer's Market---

To support local farms ---For health reasons ---To protect the environment---

Other ______________________

How old are you?

Under 10 --- 10-19 ---20-29 --- 30-49 --- 50 or over---

For sellers:

What foods do you sell at the Farmer's Market?


How important is it to you that locally produced foods are a part of the local economy?

Not important --- Somewhat important --- Very important

What do you see as the main advantages of locally produced foods?

They taste better ---Buying them helps the local economy ---They're healthier ---

They are produced in ways that don't harm the environment --- Other ______________________

This survey was intended to assess the overall values of those who sell and buy goods at the farmer's market. My efforts to give people this survey, however, were not well received. After asking about 20 sellers and 20 buyers to take the survey, I gave up having received four responses from sellers and one from a buyer. Each of the four sellers, as might be expected, chose "very important" in answer to the second question ("how important is it to you that locally produced foods are a part of the local economy?"). Three of the four circled every possible answer in response to the third question ("what do you see as the main advantages of locally produced foods?").

Having been unsuccessful in obtaining responses to my survey, I concentrated by efforts on verbally conversing with people at the market. Again, despite being as polite and friendly as I could be, most people seemed uninterested in speaking with me. I did succeed in speaking to several people, however; among the pieces of information I picked up:

  • Without me even prompting her, one woman started telling me about her dislike for the many people who sell non-homemade good at the market. She pointed out a vendor who was selling onions which she says were "definitely store bought," and continued to say that many of the sellers at the market bought their products from stores and re-sold them at the market. She also mentioned that she found it inappropriate that there were people selling store bought jewelry; everything sold at the market, she emphasized, should be homemade.
  • One of the questions I asked to everyone I talked to was "how strongly do you believe in the importance of locally produced food." The universal answer was "very strongly." The older sellers, who had been around the longest, answered particularly strongly.
  • A few of the sellers at the market have been selling there for a very long time. One woman had been selling her baked goods for 30 years, while another couple – who operated the largest station at the market, called "Sojourn Farm" – had been selling their wide variety of produce for 33 years.

I also found it valuable to stand back from talking to people and simply observe the structure and goings-on of the market. A few key observations include:

  • There are, as the woman I talked to pointed out, many people re-selling store bought items. There were two people selling store bought jewelry, and another selling blankets, which clearly were not homemade.
  • There was a wide variety of people selling things at the market. There were several elderly people, many middle-aged women and a few middle-aged men, some teenagers selling alone, and several single parents selling with a young child.
  • While some of the people who had been around the longest sold from under tents or on top of desks, there were many people selling out the backs of trucks. There was a high turnover rate among these people, which might be expected, given the ease of moving a truck full of goods compared to a desk or tent set-up.


This is very interesting. You had a very typical experience in terms of trying to take a survey. Although the experience was clearly frustrating, you learned a great deal - which I will get into later.

Do not take what happened here personally.

Since you were clearly not a buyer, and since the goal for the seller at the market was to make sales, you may have been perceived as an impediment to seller's sales.

If you "model" the moment -- there were buyers, sellers, products, transactions, exchanges -- and you were the fly who was buzzing around the real business at hand. You were brushed away. Your informants did not see any utility to them in what you were doing. You were not part of the "model." (Think on this and look for that "aha" insight for next time!)

There are ways to engage people in providing information you are interested in knowing even in this kind of situation. But from your experience here, the approach you used was clearly not one of the more successful ones. More on this later.

For now, keep re-evaluating this experience and come up with some alternative approaches to getting this same kind of data. Write them up here.

Before you come to the Fairfield market, you should have developed several different approachs to use....and Plans B and C as alternatives.

Let's keep discussing this issue here and see if we can get some insights. When you start delving into research already done or being done in this buy local foods arena, you should particularly look for how others gather(ed) their data.