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Q&A with Market Doctors

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Emily and Sarah were part of a team students who set up an award winning student-led farmers' market at Sutton Bonington. Today, they're leading a workshop on the benefits of a farmers' market for the student community, and how other unions can set up something similar on their campus. We spoke to them ahead of their session to ask her a few questions.

Why did you start up Sutton Bonington farmer’s market?

After studying and living on the rural campus for 2 years, it had always struck us as odd that there was such a lack of local produce available. Sutton Bonington campus is home to the University of Nottingham’s Food, Plant, Environmental and Veterinary Science departments, together with its agricultural heritage, a farmers’ market seemed like a no-brainer. 

We started the market for a number of reasons. We wanted to:

• increase the availability of local produce, for the benefit of both campus and local communities

• help local producers by providing an affordable and informal platform for them to sell direct to their customers

• make local produce more accessible and affordable to students, with traders offering discounts and sharing advice about preparing and cooking their products

• encourage integration between the students living within the campus and the villagers in the community outside it

You say that similar markets are possible at every university – is that really true?

There's no reason why other universities can't start student-run markets like ours. 

We realise that we had a uniquely 'foodie' environment at Sutton Bonington, which may have improved our chances of success, however farmers' markets held on city campuses can be just as well attended, as proven by the likes of Birmingham and Bristol.

And a market doesn't have to be big, you can have a handful of traders selling essentials like meat and veg, and be just as effective. 

In our experience, the key to a market’s success lies with the team who make it happen - and if you've got a passionate group of students behind it then anything is possible!

What’s the first step for a students’ union who wants to set one of these up?

The first thing to do is to conduct some market research. You need to find out who your target market is and whether they want or need a farmers’ market in the first place. If there is a consumer demand for a market then you need to establish what sort of stalls and products are desirable and what day of the week and time of day is best for them.

The quickest and easiest method to find this kind of information out is to create and distribute a questionnaire. However, your target market cannot be your only deciding factor as to whether to start a market or not, you also need to contact your local council to see if there are any associated fees for running such an event and whether there are any other competing markets nearby that may affect the number of stallholders available for your event. 

On the other hand, you could also get in touch with the Market Doctors! We are a market consultancy business who aim to aid universities in setting up their own markets.

What can these markets do to promote student entrepreneurship?

An easier question to answer would be what don’t they do to promote student entrepreneurship! 

Not long after we launched the market, we started the Farmers’ Market Society as we realised the key to safeguarding the future of the market would be to give the ownership of the market over to the students, as that way a new committee would be elected every year. After equipping them with some guidelines in the form of a market handbook, we left them to run it as a business. 

Like in a lot of student societies, there are certain roles and responsibilities that can easily translate to the business world: you have a treasurer who keeps an eye on the finances, a marketing officer who deals with promotion etc. Needless to say, there's a wealth of experience to be gained from running a farmers’ market. 

As for ourselves, you could say our success with the market has led us down the path of becoming true entrepreneurs, as since graduating from our PhDs we have set up two businesses which we run concurrently: our market consulting service ‘Market Doctors’, which specialises in helping other Universities start their own markets, and we are in the process of setting up our own street food business which will stand at markets in Leeds and Nottingham.

Can farmers’ markets have benefits which extend beyond the campus? Can it bring students closer to their communities?

Local communities can benefit from a farmers' market as it brings fresh local produce to their doorstep. It also benefits the local producers as it gives them an opportunity to build up their customer base. As a result of selling their produce at the market, stallholders now receive orders and deliver goods direct to locals; a service that is especially handy out of term, when the market is not running.

There's no denying there can be a divide between campus and local communities and we think that a campus market can go some way to bridging that gap. A well publicised market can bring people onto campus that would have never otherwise have visited, demystifying university life. It makes the campus and students feel like they are part of the local community, as you will often see locals and student interacting and sharing common ground such as recipes.

For further information about the Market Doctors services please visit www.marketdoctors.co.uk or contact Emily and Sarah directly at marketdrs@gmail.com




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