The History of Farmers Markets in Vermont
Farmers markets started being organized in Vermont in the 1970s. They began in the larger cities and towns, and by 1986 had spread throughout the state. When NOFA-VT first formally surveyed farmers markets in 1986, 19 were active. Their numbers have been rising steadily since, and the 2008 survey reported a total of 64 markets.
The seeds of the Vermont Federation of Farmers Markets (VFFM) started in 1980 when a group of marketers met in Randolph to share ideas and technical support. The VFFM was incorporated in 1982 to"promote the marketing of Vermont products and to promote farmers markets." The VFFM provided information and assistance to markets and individual vendors on the "nuts and bolts of organizing and running markets." In addition, market liability insurance was provided through the organization. Jay and Janet Bailey of Brattleboro provided important leadership of the VFFM until 1995 when Joe Newell was elected as President. The Vermont Federation of Farmers Markets disbanded in 1998 due to a lack of coordinated leadership.
In 2000, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Market (VAAFM) and NOFA-VT partnered to administer mini-grants. Funded by the VAAFM, these grants were awarded by NOFA-VT from 2001-2004. As part of the evaluation of the mini-grant program, we asked the farmers what role NOFA-VT could play to support the development of farmers markets in Vermont. A majority of those responding asked for NOFA-VT to reinstitute a network of farmers markets in Vermont, and to reexamine the role of a Vermont Farmers Market Association. With that call, we started holding networking meetings of farmers who direct market (farmers' markets, farm stands and Community Supported Agriculture) in 2003.
In the winter of 2004-2005 NOFA-VT held regional meetings in Norwich, Hardwick, Manchester and Bristol for market managers and board officers to ask, "What steps need to be taken to elevate farmers' markets in Vermont, and what role could an Association take to get us there?" Based on the input from those regional meetings, a 2005 Farmers Market Work Plan was drafted and presented at a statewide Vermont Farmers Market Forum in the end of January 2005. This work plan is still being used to direct NOFA-VT's work to support farmers' markets in Vermont.
In 2006, NOFA-VT contracted with the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) to meet with representatives from farmers' markets (managers, vendors, board members) and market supporters (non-profits, state agency representatives, researchers, educators) to design an organizational framework for a Vermont Farmers Market Association (VTFMA) and draft by-laws. In 2007, the markets in Vermont were asked to formally vote to create an Association, the first meeting of which was held in January 2008. At this meeting, the VTFMA voted in favor of a 13 member Board of Directors and ratified the organization's purpose. In February the Board of Directors held their first meeting, which established project priorities, committees, and board officers. The VTFMA Board of Directors elected to continue to operate under the umbrella of NOFA-VT, with NOFA-VT providing fiscal sponsorship until the VTFMA becomes an autonomous organization.