During Virginia (and National) Farmers Market Week — proclaimed as Aug. 4-10 — farmers market operators across Virginia including the Downtown South Boston Farmers Market will count their visitors as part of Visitor Count Week organized by the Virginia Farmers Market Association (VAFMA) and supported by the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC).

This is the nation’s inaugural Visitor Count Week, highlighting the data-driven mindset of farmers market operators, encouraging volunteerism and resulting in simple graphic-friendly numbers that are useful to a wide number of stakeholders to show the diverse effects of markets.

VAFMA will compile the visitor counts from all participating markets and share the insights with the markets and their stakeholders. While visitor counts are regularly conducted by many market operators in the state, there has not been a concurrent statewide effort to collect and share this information.

“At nearly every meeting I attend, someone asks ‘how many people go to farmers markets?’” says Kim Hutchinson, executive director of VAFMA. “Local officials, state leaders, funders and support professionals want to understand the impact Virginia’s farmers markets are having on their communities.”

Since 2011 VAFMA has offered educational programs, events and resources for market managers and vendors to ensure the economic sustainability of farmers markets in Virginia. In response to the growing need for data, VAFMA, supported by funding from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Services, began offering FMC’s Farmers Market Metrics program to its members in 2017. This program allows markets of all sizes to collect useful data to analyze their own operation, as well as offering dynamic data to share with the market’s stakeholders.

“The job of the modern farmers market manager is absolutely data-driven,” said Darlene Wolnik, senior advisor at FMC. “They use data to successfully run, fund, and promote their markets,” she said, “and visitor counts are essential for them to know how their markets are doing.”   

The state’s farmers market managers who collect and use data regularly say they find visitor counts an incredibly useful part of their operations.

“Williamsburg Farmers Market has been counting customers since the first market bell rang in 2002,” explained Tracy Frey, executive director of the market in Williamsburg. “Counting customers allows us to learn how weather, vendor attendance and special events impact the overall market.”

Lisa Dearden of RVAgriculture, a non-profit organization running five farmers markets in the Richmond area, agreed.

“I’ve been counting customers at every market I’ve managed for the last 14 years. Without this information, it would be impossible to know how much the average customer spends, what the average sales is per vendor, how much we grow each year and how our advertising dollars are working. This is information any business would need to be successful.”

“Independence Farmers Market has been counting customers since I was hired as market manager in 2013,” said Michelle Pridgen of Grayson County. “It was a requirement of the metrics we needed to report for our Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant and having those customer numbers and other metrics that showed the growth and success of our market was a huge factor in being awarded a second FMPP grant in 2016. Having customer numbers allows us to track the effectiveness of our advertising dollars and the popularity of events and lets us utilize limited resources to their fullest.”

“We are thrilled that 53 market managers from across the state have committed to participating in Visitor Count Week” said VAFMA’s Hutchinson. “National Farmers Market Week is an especially busy time for them with special events and children’s activities, however, they recognize the importance of data to their markets.”

The Virginia Farmers Market Association is still accepting participants and volunteers.

Registration and helpful resources may be found at https://vafma.org/farmers-market-week/.