Farmers' Market or Farmers Market? Examining How Market Ownership Influences Conduct and Performance
Keywords:Comparative Analysis, Farmers Markets, Governance, Local Food, Market Managers, Performance, Ownership, Qualitative
Over the last two decades, farmers markets have been widely recognized for their contributions to local economies, support of small-scale farmers, and ability to reconnect consumers and producers of food. Farmers markets vary substantially in both the goals they set and the outcomes they achieve. By conducting a comparative analysis, this study examines whether and how market ownership influences outcomes. Additionally, our study focuses not on determining which ownership type is "best," but on highlighting how markets differ, and more importantly, the limitations that need to be overcome for each type. The research uses Henry Hansmann's (1996) ownership of enterprise framework and Muhammad Yunus's (2010) social business framework to analyze whether differences in ownership lead to variations in market governance, conduct, and performance. Interviews were conducted with managers of Oregon farmers markets representing various ownership structures. Data were analyzed using the inductive thematic analysis approach to understand how ownership influences market goals and mission, general operations, and performance outcomes. The three major market ownership types, vendor-led, community-led, and subentities, have distinct benefits and challenges associated with them. Our findings indicate that vendor-led markets have strong ties back to their vendors but have weaker links to the communities that host the market and are less able to enhance the market by adding activities and pursuing additional fundraising. We found that community-led markets benefit from strong community ties and are often able to draw upon the energy and expertise of board members and volunteers. Their links back to producers depend on vendor representation on the governing body. Finally, markets that function as subentities of broader organizations have the potential for access to greater financial and managerial resources but are often relatively poorly linked to their vendors. These results provide useful insights both for those who are considering starting a market and for those who wish to improve the performance of existing markets.
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