Our Tent Talk guest this week is Sagdrina Jalal, founding Executive Director of the Georgia Farmers Market Association. Sagdrina works hard to provide support and education for farmers’ market managers in Georgia and across the country as a member of the board of directors of the Farmers’ Market Coalition.
In our conversation with Sagdrina we discuss the pros of participating in a farmers’ market association, some of the challenges market managers face, and the importance of education for farmers’ market managers and vendors.
Sagdrina calls herself the “quintessential Georgia girl”. Born in Fort Gordon near Augusta, raised in in Savannah, attended college at University of Georgia in Athens, and now lives in Atlanta, Sagdrina knows Georgia like the back of her hand. And though she never imagined she’d end up in the farmers’ market business, it makes sense that she works with the GFMA to improve food-access across her home state.
After experiencing a health crisis a few years back, Sagdrina began a quest for fresh, nutrient-rich food. This quest led her to the farmers’ market where she quickly struck up a friendship with a few local farmers. “For me trying to address my health, it was like an answer to a prayer, and from there my love affair and appreciation for all things local started,” explains Sagdrina.
She had been working as a health and wellness coach and started to blog about her visits to markets and experience with farmers. Eventually she paired up with one of her clients to launch an organization and soon after, Sagdrina was approached by a group of market managers and farms that need help developing an organizational structure. They joined forces, applied for and received a Farmers Market Promotion grant, and the Georgia Farmers Market Association was born!
Successful by association
The GFMA operates as a community. By banning together, they can share information and support that is specific to their region. Currently GFMA has 50 participating farmers’ markets and about 200 members total.
Standard GFMA membership provides access to Georgia Grown branding materials and connects them to shoppers looking for markets in their area. Participating members also receive membership into the Farmers’ Market Coalition and access to GFMA’s free and discounted training.
GFMA encourages their members to develop partnerships in their communities and provide educational services like food demonstrations at markets in order to increase sales. Each summer they conduct a 12 week program to collect data and gauge success. Over the years participating markets have seen an increase in shoppers, overall sales, and use of SNAP and EBT since joining.
For farmers’ markets that may not have access to an organization such as GFMA, Sagdrina suggests taking advantage of the resources provided by the national Farmers Market Coalition. There are also many online tools like Facebook groups and chatrooms that are often free. And when in doubt, ask for help from other farmers’ markets in your region! “It’s really important to not try to go at it alone,” says Sagdrina.
Strong market managers to lead strong farmers’ markets
A big part of Sagdrina’s role at GFMA and FMC is training farmers’ market staff. She believes a thriving farmers’ market requires a strong leader and doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to the difficulties faced by market managers. “From ever-changing political climates and regulatory changes you have to be agile and willing to shift seamlessly with a smile on your face,” says Sagdrina.
So what does it take to be a rock star farmers’ market manager? Sagdrina believes it’s all about the having the ability to pivot. “I think that’s the single greatest and most important attribute a market manager can have,” says Sagdrina. In fact, she believes it so much she wants to get a “pivot” tattoo on her wrist as a reminder in moments of farmers’ market-induced stress. She also admits having a good sense of humor comes in handy. “Don’t take yourself too seriously and have teflon skin!”
Where can I listen to Sagdrina’s full episode of Tent Talk?
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Do you have a farmers’ market question you’d like us to answer on air? Got an idea for a future episode topic? Is there someone you think we should interview? Please let us know!