Resilience and Renewal: Strategies for a Sustainable PCFMA
Last month, as PCFMA marked August as Farmers Market Month, we published a series of essays called “The Stakeholder Series.” These essays, available at pcfma.org, explore the important contributions made by four groups – community sponsors, farmers, customers, and local businesses – that make our farmers’ markets successful.
Last month also marked my 15th year at PCFMA, a significant milestone, as I have now been a part of PCFMA for half of the organization’s 30 years in existence. So much has changed since I showed up to work that first day. At that time, PCFMA was opening its second farmers’ market at a Kaiser Permanente facility, bringing PCFMA’s market list to a grand total of 21 farmers’ markets. Today, PCFMA operates more than 50 farmers’ markets including more than a dozen at Kaiser Permanente facilities. This purposeful growth has increased access to direct-from-the-farm fruits and vegetables while creating more opportunities for California farmers.
As I look forward to PCFMA’s next 30 years, I recognize that it is unlikely that I will still be in this same role at PCFMA in 2048. Instead, I hope that I am happily enjoying retirement and shopping regularly at my local farmers’ market where I can stay connected to the many friends that I have made while doing this work. Until then, my responsibility is to ensure that PCFMA and the essential role that it plays in connecting farmers, customers and other stakeholders, remains sustainable. Like my predecessor before me, I hope to strengthen PCFMA so that whoever steps into this role next has a strong foundation on which to continue to build.
Working to build a sustainable PCFMA requires a focus on two equally important factors: resilience and renewal. Resilience represents our ability to adapt to outside conditions over which we have limited control. This might be a long, hot summer during a drought or a stormy, wet winter during an El Niño. It also represents our continued evolution to respond to the changing demographics of the communities we serve and adopting new forms of communication to best engage with our farmers’ market customers.
Renewal is the harder challenge. It represents our willingness to let go of the way that things have always been done to create a new way of working. Over the past several years we have reinvented our internal systems to improve our data tracking and provide our farmers’ market managers with better tools. We have transitioned to a two-tiered stall fee system to allow the farmers’ markets we operate at Kaiser Permanente facilities and other corporate sites to remain affordable for our farmers. And we have built a new system for tracking the various forms of market scrip that we distribute to provide the best possible service to our farmers’ market customers while accurately tracking the financial liabilities associated with providing this service.
Throughout all of these changes, we have remained focused on our ultimate goal: to help California farmers be successful. Today we are able to support nearly 300 farmers in our 53 farmers’ markets. By continuing to focus on our sustainability as an organization, we hope to also support that young boy or girl who today is digging in their backyard, but who in 15 or 30 years will turning the soil on their own California farm, growing food for a new generation of California consumers.