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Visitors critique Saturday Market

For a down-home market, it was a high-falutin' name for a survey.

"Rapid Marketing Assessment."

But what Oregon State University Extension Service did at a recent Hood River Saturday Market was a grassroots kind of project, despite the long name.

The survey asked people what brought them to the Hood River market.

"This is participatory research," said economist Larry Lev of Oregon State University, who led a group of volunteers Saturday in the two-prong Rapid Marketing Assessment.

Lev and representatives from other farmers' markets around the state talked to market visitors and helped them do a self-service, hands-on survey, answering four questions:

Where do you live?

How did you learn about the market?

What products brought you here -- crafts, agricultural products, or a mix?

How much do you plan to spend today?

Lev set up four easels, one for each of the questions. Participants were given four orange stickers to affix to one of the multiple-choice options for each question.

This scientific method was paired with anecdotal information gathered by Lev and the volunteers.

"This program is making it possible for people to collect information that's so important in planning their markets and going for funding," Lev said.

"It brings other farmers' market people into the marketing process," Lev said. "They become their own researchers."

The Rapid Marketing Assessment is the only one of its kind in the nation, and it was developed to be user-friendly and easy for volunteers to learn and apply in their own markets, Lev said.

"It's right here, and you can pick and choose. There's no pressure," said Jean Hadley of Mt. Hood, who did the sticker-survey along with Angela Bridges of Mt. Hood. Both took a break from the Master Gardener booth to take the survey.

The self-service stickers "make it more likely for people to be honest," Hadley said.

Lev will present the full results to manager Lisa Conway and the market board later this, but Conway gained some preliminary information from the survey:

Most people who attend the 10th-season market are from the Mid-Columbia, the next largest group is from out of state, and the smallest segment is from Portland and the Willamette Valley.

Most people like the mix of crafts and agricultural products, rather than preferring one over the other, Conway said. The survey also revealed that the average Saturday expenditure is $20-$30, and most people hear about the market via word-of-mouth, Conway said.

The full survey results will give specific suggestions for how to improve the market, based on the other farmers' market workers conversations with visitors, Conway said.

"They'll be able to tell us where we have some liabilities, the things we don't see because we're here each week," she said. "The outsider's point of view can be very helpful, that critique from the farmers' market people. They can tell us things we don't anticipate."

The other farmers' market folks said the Hood River market brochure was one of the best in the state, and they liked the music.

"They said they really wished they could get musicians as good as ours," Conway said.

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