Growers who sell at farmers markets in Ohio have found benefits from working together rather than individually and have formed a cooperative to share their ideas and expertise.

Through the Ohio State University South Centers in Piketon, the Farmers' Market Management Network Inc. was formed.

Tom Snyder, the university's Center for Cooperative Development program manager, says that the main drive to form the cooperative was the concept of being more successful working together as a group rather than individually.

"When you have vendors across Ohio participate, on average, in 20 farmers' markets, the potential economic impact for a community is much higher when you can pool those farmers' markets, rather than dealing with them one-on-one," he says. "Other states have such cooperatives in place, but there was no organization in Ohio that provided such a service, so we felt it was time to form."

With the help of the development center, the Farmers' Market Management Network

  • links farmers markets, agencies and community resources;
  • educates its members and others on food safety, market management and effective marketing strategies;
  • identifies best practices for market managers, board members and vendors; partakes in surveys and research to improve farmers' markets in Ohio;
  • pools resources for cost-effectiveness;
  • and works with the Ohio Department of Agriculture for consistent and reasonable regulations to maintain a high level of food safety for consumers.

    Christie Welch, an OSU Extension farmers' market specialist at Piketon, says that lack of consistent regulations from one farmers' market to the next is one of the main focuses of the cooperative.

    "As most vendors who attend multiple markets are aware, regulations can vary from location to location," she says. "What the cooperative will do is to work with ODA [Ohio Department of Agriculture] and local health departments to try to bring some consistency to the regulations."

    Welch says that the production of a farmers' market manual also is a focus of the new cooperative.

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