A Perfect Pair

How do park and recreation agencies and farmers markets fit together? Farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs provide opportunities to promote access to healthy foods and provide families with nutrition education. And as trusted providers of accessible health and wellness opportunities, park and recreation professionals and their agencies are well-suited to expand local agriculture initiatives.

This webpage contains a host of resources on how park and recreation professionals can integrate farmers market and CSA programs into their community offerings. Additionally, we have produced an interactive story map as an additional resource to walk park and recreation professionals through partnership considerations.


Farmers Market Story Map

  • Open or CloseResources to Support Market Strategies

    Local park and recreation professionals often provide the only affordable and accessible health programming available to low-income and historically marginalized populations. As such, park and recreation agencies play a critical role as a central location and hub of health and wellness opportunities in all communities. They can build on this foundation by creating new food access points that bridge gaps across the community, while building partnerships with other social service and healthcare providers. As local government entities, park and recreation agencies are also well-suited to work collaboratively with other municipal departments, including transportation, schools, planning, etc., to create cross-sector solutions and collective impacts.

    Farmers markets and CSA programs are a win-win for local government, community partners, producers and consumers. They serve as venues for community engagement and cultural reflection, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and providing an opportunity to engage with key stakeholders and community members across multiple generations. Farmers markets also stimulate local economic activity by encouraging purchases from local small businesses and farms, and bringing shoppers to neighborhoods where they can shop at other stores.

    Resources to support park and recreation-hosted or -sponsored farmers markets:

    ●   The Farmers Markets — Parks and Recreation Connecting Communities to Healthy Foods report explores the role park and recreation agencies play in bringing farmers markets to their communities. The report explores product and services offerings — from fresh produce and protein to entertainment and educational programming. It also recommends organizations agencies can partner with to make their markets successful, and explores common challenges and how to overcome them.

    ●   The Farmers Market Coalition has a rich, peer-to-peer resource library with hundreds of best practices organized around a series of easy-to-search categories.

    ●   The Michigan Farmers Market Association has a comprehensive resource database for all markets — not just Michigan specific. Many other state associations host conferences and resource sites for farmers markets.

    ●   The Farmers Market Coalition, in partnership with USDA AMS and University of Kentucky, hosts a clearinghouse of COVID-related farmers market resources.

    ●   Tent Talk is a podcast from farmers market practitioners about common issues and strategies, with a new episode posted every Monday.

  • Open or CloseHow Markets Can Support Food Access

    According to Feeding America, 1 in 6 children and older adults in the United States experience the daily struggle of food insecurity. These families are further challenged by unfair policies and systems that result in socio-economic disparities and limit access to the social determinants of health (SDOH) — including access to transportation, quality education, and safe and healthy environments — which can decrease life expectancy up to 30 years. Food insecurity is reported as the biggest unmet social need by 35 percent of communities and is highest among people of color, households below the poverty threshold, and households with children.

    Partnerships between farmers markets and parks and recreation agencies are a unique way to meet community members where they are by creating food access strategies and connecting people to benefit programs. Federally funded programs, such as USDA child nutrition programs and SNAP/WIC benefit programs, help close the hunger gap for food insecure households. However, while these programs have been instrumental in advancing food security, decades of systemic barriers and stigma prevent millions of eligible households from obtaining these nutrition supports. Research shows that affordability, time, poor experiences and distrust of doctors and social services prevent many low-income families from accessing primary care, hindering their ability to obtain food insecurity screenings, referrals and benefit enrollment assistance.

    Accepting SNAP/WIC benefits and leveraging incentive programs at farmers markets can support food access in communities. Park and recreation professionals can assist WIC/SNAP initiatives through food assistance programming.

    For example, park and recreation professionals at West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation and Community Services in Wisconsin, support their local farmers market WIC voucher program by allowing online orders for farmers market food that can be paid for by WIC benefits. The team then packages and delivers the food to those who ordered it.

    In Connecticut, park and recreation professionals at the New London Recreation Department, provide farmers market vouchers to their WIC and SNAP customers. This program, supported by NRPA’s Parks as Community Nutrition Hubs grant program, allows WIC and SNAP customers to get more bang for their buck while increasing their access to nutritious, locally grown food.

    When addressing equitable food access, consider other opportunities your market can offer, such as:

    ●   A mobile market program that meets community members where they are and eliminates transportation barriers.

    ●   Online ordering methods, where orders are placed online and delivered to community members.

    ●   A voucher program, perhaps to program participants or in partnership with the local SNAP/WIC/Aging or Seniors’ office, to increase the amount of funds available to be spent at a market.

    ●   Meal programs through the USDA Child Nutrition Programs during market hours, perhaps paired with a family meal program to encourage community members of all ages to share a healthy meal.

    Resources to support SNAP, WIC and seniors’ benefit acceptance at markets:

    ●   Explore the benefits of and steps toward accepting SNAP and WIC benefits at your market.

    ●   The Farmers Market Coalition has developed a step-by-step guide to assessing your market’s needs, implementing SNAP, attracting customers, and implementing an incentive program.

    ●   The Farmers Market Coalition developed a series of questions a market can work through to decide if offering EBT (electronic benefit transfer) services is right for them. Supporting resources include:

    ○    Overview document on EBT point of sale devices
    ○    Tech Bytes mini-webinar on EBT point of sale devices

    ●   The Nutrition Incentive Hub, created by the GusNIP, provides training, technical assistance, reporting, and evaluation support to current and potential GusNIP grantees to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables.

    ●   For those new to designing SNAP and incentive programs at farmers markets, these Practitioner Papers offer a concise history of how they have been designed and used.

    ●   The USDA Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) issues coupons to eligible WIC participants to buy food from farmers, farmers markets or roadside stands that have been approved by the state agency to accept FMNP coupons.

    ●   The USDA Seniors Farmers' Market Nutrition Program is designed to provide low-income seniors with access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey and herbs.

    ●   The Michigan Farmers Market Association has an overview of SNAP, as well as resources to support market acceptance.

  • Open or CloseConsiderations for Starting and Sustaining a Market

    Park and recreation professionals manage critical infrastructure, including parking lots, lawns and storage areas, that can be put to good use for farmers and local vendors who want to bring their produce and goods to local community members. Park and recreation profressionals have “captive” audiences — the children and families who attend your programs, recreation center patrons, and many others who use your facilities to gather, play and be social. Think about “bringing the farm” to all of these folks.

    Before starting a market, consider:
    ●    Conducting a community needs assessment to find out what community members want in a farmers market. Community needs assessments are surveys and their results can give you a sense of how your community currently engages with your agency. They also can provide data on residents’ satisfaction with park and recreation agency offerings and identify community needs and priorities. This combination of a satisfaction survey plus a laying-out of priorities makes needs assessments uniquely powerful feedback mechanisms.
    ●    Listening to the experiences of other park and recreation sites that have farmers markets to learn what their challenges and success were.
    ●    Identify community-based partners who can support you in this work.

    Additionally, consider the “Four M” approach shared by the Farmers Market Coalition and derived from Market Umbrella. The strategy of the “Four Ms” helps structure work, organize resources, focus mission, and measure results. Key questions from this approach include:

    ●    Is this issue or strategy covered in your current mission (or values)?
    ●    Does your management structure allow you time to handle this, or is there another organizational partner to help?
    ●    How will you communicate to others about this issue or strategy (marketing)?
    ●    When and how will you measure the impact of this issue or the completion of this strategy?

    Resources to support starting and sustaining a market:

    ●    This resource’s four steps will help you create, administer and act on a high-quality community needs assessment.
    ●    Celebrate National Farmers Market Week the first full week of August every year. These resources can also be used year-round to increase community engagement strategies.
    ●    This guide provides some suggestions for getting started with farmers markets at park and recreation sites, including sample questions for surveying your community.
    ●    A community supported agriculture (CSA) program creates a unique way to connect nonfarmers to the farm-community. This guide provides some suggestions for starting a CSA at your site.
    ●    The Farmers Market Coalition has a full database of resources to support starting a market in your community.
    ●    Evaluation resources to know how, when and what data to collect is vital. The Farmers Market Metrics site has free, downloadable templates as well as information about becoming a subscriber to the data reporting software.

  • Open or CloseIdentifying Partners to Support Your Market

    A June 2019 NRPA survey report found that while many community farmers markets take place on park and recreation agency property, it does not mean the local agency operates the market. In fact, just over half — 51 percent — of park and recreation agencies that host farmers markets on their properties manage those markets. For the other 49 percent of park and recreation agencies that host farmers markets, a separate entity manages some or all of them including:
    ●    A local nonprofit
    ●    A private company/organization
    ●    Some other local government department/agency
    ●    Faith-based organization
    ●    The local chamber of commerce
    ●    Hospital or healthcare clinic

    Additionally, the survey indicated that of those park and recreation agencies who host markets, four in five work with partners to ensure they are successful. Nonprofits are common partners, working with 44 percent of park and recreation agencies that host farmers markets. A third of park and recreation agencies work with different types of partners, including:
    ●    Farmers/rancher organizations
    ●    Other departments/agencies of the local government
    ●    Community development organizations
    ●    Local extension offices

    Resources to support partnership building:
    ●    The Farmers Market Coalition has a full database of resources to support building market partnerships in your community.
    ●    NRPA partnership guide: coming soon

    Resources to support farmers markets are ever evolving, but the power of local markets remains consistent. Park and recreation professionals and their agencies play an important role in community health and well-being by supporting food access through local agriculture programs such as farmers markets.

Additional Resources


From the Field


    Thank you to the team at Fitzgerald Canepa Consulting, led by Kate Fitzgerald, and the team at the Farmers Market Coalition, led by Darlene Wolnik, for their role in creating this resource page.