Food Policy Council seeks participants for focus groups on county’s farmers’ markets

The Douglas County Food Policy Council wants to hear from county consumers as it looks for ways to strengthen the county’s seven farmers’ markets.

Helen Schnoes, food systems coordinator for Lawrence-Douglas County Sustainability, said marketing consultants with SCALE Inc., a Virginia-based firm that specializes in services for sustainable agriculture, will offer four focus group opportunities next week. The reasons consumers shop or don’t shop at the markets will be explored at the gatherings, she said.

The two focus group meetings for those who do shop at the farmers’ markets will be from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 1 at the Lawrence Public Library’s Meeting Room 1, and from 9 to 10 a.m. Sept. 2 at the Dreher 4-H Building on the Douglas County Fairgrounds. The gatherings for those who rarely or never shop at farmers’ markets will be from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 1 at the Lawrence Public Library’s Meeting Room 1, and from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in third-floor Alcove B of the Kansas Union at the University of Kansas.

The focus groups are part of a marketing study SCALE is conducting for the Food Policy Council through a $53,600 U.S. Department of Agriculture Marketing Service Grant, Schnoes said. The gatherings will look to develop the kind of market research private industry uses to guide decisions.

“Essentially, the desire is to have data on what makes markets successful, not only from the farmers’ experience, but from the point of view of the people of Douglas County,” Schnoes said. “As we look to attract more customers and make changes, the more we have data behind proposals, the bigger the chance for success.”

Free refreshments will be offered to entice consumers to the focus groups, Schnoes said. There will also be door prizes.

“I can’t reveal what they are, but I’m sure no one who attends will be disappointed,” she said.

SCALE representatives have already been to the county to interview farmers and vendors who supply the county’s farmers’ markets, Schnoes said.

SCALE is to use the information gathered from vendors and consumers to develop improvement plans for the county’s seven farmers’ markets, Schnoes said. Those market include the Saturday downtown Lawrence market, the Tuesday market at the Lawrence Public Library, Cottin Hardware’s Thursday market, the Clinton Parkway Nursery market on Wednesday and those in Baldwin City, Eudora and Lecompton.

Those improvement plans are scheduled to be shared with the individual farmers’ markets in November, which will allow them to plan the implementation of proposals during the off season, Schnoes said. SCALE personnel with also return to the county to offer advice and direction to organizers of the county’s markets, she said.

SCALE’s final report is to be delivered near the end of the year, she said.