Ann Arbor Farmers Market

Throughout my time here at Ann Arbor, I had heard about the Farmers Market several times but for some reason never gone myself. It was an intriguing concept to me: How could a Farmers Market survive in an age where everything is mass produced and industrialized in order to be more cost efficient and convenient? I very stereotypically assumed that only health nuts or hipsters who wanted to take cool Instagram photos shopped at the Farmers Market. But when I went for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to see all sorts of people including families, students, and several people shopping solo. Another shocking aspect was how inexpensive a lot of the produce was. Since everything is grown local, I thought that the prices would be higher, but my roommate bought an onion for just $0.75!

I had seen adverts for the Ann Arbor Farmers Market online and so I was curious to know how they ran their social media system. In order to discover more on this topic, I spoke with Sarah Dewitt the Market Manager. Listen to the interview below, or view the written transcript:

Sarah at her office, ready to assist customers!

Sarah at her office, ready to assist customers!

AC: Hi this is Alice Choi, and today we’re joined by Sarah Dewitt, the market manager at the Ann Arbor Famers Market. Welcome Sarah!

SD: Thank you for having me.

AC: If I could ask you some questions that would be great.

SD: Sure.

AC: How has social media affected the market?

SD: So we’ve actually seen a really great use of social media with the market. We post updates about what’s available at the market on any given market day on Twitter, so we talk about what’s fresh, and we highlight about ten items per market day that gets a lot of attention. And then we also post on Facebook on market days and answer questions for customers about hours or who’s there and things like that, so it’s nice to be able to give a visual to people. In the time that I’ve been here in the last 2.5 years, we’ve grown our Facebook population from 3,000 to 11,000 followers.

AC: That’s really cool, I noticed when I went online I was really impressed.

SD: Yeah we have a good following!

AC: Do you think you can give me an example of a marketing strategy used involving a new technology?

SD: Sure, so this year actually we used our Instagram account and had a Wednesday evening market intern do short videos on Instagram featuring our Wednesday evening market vendors- just little snippets to get people interested in what is our newest market time. So that market is only 4 years old so we’ve used social media a lot to get people interested in new vendors and people they haven’t necessarily seen elsewhere. Again we had a really big uptake; we had about 50 followers previously now we have over 400, might even be 600 at this point. (731 Instagram followers as of date!)

AC: Wow, that’s really impressive especially since you guys have just started it too. Can you tell me about your market tokens? Has this resulted in a noticeable increase in sales?

SD: Sure, so we do credit card tokens for people who don’t have cash with them at the market, with a $20 minimum because we don’t charge any administration fee. The tokens work like five dollar bills so they work like cash so if you don’t spend the whole five dollars you get cash change. They don’t expire; you can use them on any market day. Almost all the vendors here choose to participate, it is an option for them; basically they work in lieu of cash in the market so it’s just a nice way in case you didn’t get to the ATM in the morning to make sure you can still shop. We have secured over $100,000 in credit card token purchases this year, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we have $100,000 more in sales because we don’t know how much of that was in cash previously, so its hard to measure the growth. But it is $100,000 of money that’s supposed to be focused in the market so it’s really excellent.

SD: The second piece of the token program are that we process SNAP benefits in our office so that’s federal food assistance dollars. SNAP stands for supplemental nutrition assistance program so anybody using federal food assistance can come to the market and also get tokens. They’re different than our credit card tokens; they are limited to food products only. You could also buy vegetables and fruit starter plans as well to take home, so that gives people a nice option if you know they’re on a tight budget and they have a Bridge card which is the Michigan version of the federal food assistance card to be able to spend that money at the farmers market otherwise they would not be able to do so. We also participate in a grant incentive program along with those tokens that allows people using their food assistance to double that amount of money up to $20 for market day, so if you spend $20 off your card we give you $40. The extra $20 is just for fruits and vegetables and that program currently runs June through the end of October so it really stretches people’s food dollars which is really awesome, and we’re happy to participate

AC: Yeah for sure sounds amazing! What do you see happening for the market as technology continues to advance?

SD: That’s a great question. So technologically speaking, we will probably move away from these token programs in the next 5 years and that will be because the WIC program, which is women infants and children at a federal level, has a mandate that by 2020 everything will be electronically transferred. So a program that we currently offer includes vouchers through the WIC office, and some markets process WIC dollars off of what looks very similar to a federal food assistance card for WIC participants. Those will all have to move to electronic so probably what will happen is at the same time they will move federal food assistance dollars to electronic system as well so what that will mean for vendors—and there’s already a pilot going on in Kent county in the Grand Rapids area right now for that program—so what will happen and what’s happening in that pilot is that vendors have been given, through the pilot, i-devices, so iPhones, iPads, iPods, and they have apps on there to process credit card tokens, food assistance benefits, WIC benefits, double up tokens, which is the grant incentive program. So there’s a whole host of things going on to transfer that stuff to electronic systems that will be quite a change of pace and vendors here will eventually have to invest in their own device to participate in this program but because tokens and federal food assistance are such a major source of revenue, there’s going to be a lot of incentive for them to participate. Basically technology will push us out of what is very old school tokens and allow us to move towards digital systems in that way

AC: How do you plan to keep up with an increasingly mass produced and artificial market?

SD: By staying true to our mission, which is that we’re a producers only farmers market so we only accept vendors who grow, make, raise the food themselves or make the artisan products themselves. So by staying true to that mission, you know we’re supporting businesses that are not moving in those directions and helping our community to have a central place to access those kinds of goods that aren’t moving in that direction. So by staying true to our mission and also by making sure that our mission is well known, those are two really good ways for us to stay ahead of that game and offering what is a completely alternative product to a lot of what is out there.

AC: Wow that sounds great, thank you so much for your time!

SD: Sure thank you for having me!

(Reach Sarah at SDeWitt@a2gov.org)

10532426_765321633519681_2219560578171419124_oThis infographic was interesting to me because it’s aesthetically pleasing at first glance, and then highly informative upon further inspection. I thought it was smart to show how Farmers Markets can be beneficial to both sides (consumers and vendors), because who doesn’t want to participate in a win-win situation? Also, I thought that the social interactions was a very accurate point, because it’s completely true that when i go to a grocery store I interact with max 1-2 people- sometimes not even that since the invention of the self-checkout lane. Whereas, when I went to the Farmers Market, I talked to all of the vendors because I was curious about their produce and products. They were all friendly and happy to share their expertise because they’ve personally created that product while grocery store workers are just waiting for their lunch break. Furthermore, I was pleased to see the SNAP benefits included in this infographic, because I had learned about the program through my interview with Sarah. It was eye-opening to learn exactly how much these food stamps help people in shopping at Farmers Markets. And lastly, I was surprised to see the extreme increase since 1996 to 2013 in the number of Farmers Markets, since I had previously thought that it was a dying field.

4.5 stars on Yelp!

4.5 stars on Yelp!

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Examples of

Examples of fresh produce available at the Market

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Showing followers current available goods at the Market

Even though the Ann Arbor Farmers Market had their own Instagram page, I was also interested in customers’ pictures of the Market on their own Instagram pages. If you click on the location, you are able to see all the pictures that people have uploaded and chose the Market as the location. This works out well for consumers in that they are able to see what’s currently at the Market, and since the pictures are uploaded by other consumers, there is more credibility without a hidden advertising agenda.

IMG_7832   IMG_7833

Overall, I really enjoyed this project because I was able to experience what it’s like to shop at a Farmers Market firsthand. Even though it was a cold day, the customers and vendors all exuded happiness and cheer especially with the holidays coming up. Even though the old-fashioned idea of a Farmers Market seems like it would be completely separate from technology, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market proves that idea wrong. Sarah told me prior to our interview that the Market has been running for over 95 years. That’s practically a century this Market has been around, and it’s still evolving. Even over the past several years, the Market has utilized social media very effectively and garnered a large faithful, following audience. The Ann Arbor Farmers Market will continue to adapt with newer technologies while never losing the character that makes it unique: simple transactions directly between the consumer and producer.

 

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Social Media is Making us Dumb and Socially Awkward

Social media can be a wonderful tool, if used a certain way. It helps people keep in touch with friends and family miles away, allows businesses to advertise and promote their services/products, and informs citizens about news and current events as soon as they happen. However, many people, specifically teenagers, don’t utilize social media in this way.

In this video, teens are interviewed on their thoughts about social media. It’s really interesting because they grew up with technology, so their childhood experiences were completely different than previous generations (“the iPhone came out when I was in 3rd or 4th grade”). When they reach the topic of Social Media Anxiety, the girls talk about a correlation between “likes” and self-worth. They all admit to feeling better when their pictures, statuses, and comments get more “likes” because they feel like they’re being acknowledged by their friends and peers. Whereas, when they get less “likes” than expected, they feel disappointed. Why should teenagers’ self-confidence rely on social media “likes?”

facebook-like

Furthermore, a recent phenomenon is FOMO, or fear of missing out. Everyone I know, knows what this means because they’ve all experienced it. When you’re home alone and you go on Facebook to see all your friends at a restaurant or a party, you feel sad and left out even if you couldn’t have gone anyways.

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ironic because they’re missing out on the time they could be spending together

Face-to-face conversations have also become strained among many today due to the nature of online chatting. People have gotten so used to being able to write and rewrite their responses, taking all the time they need, that it leads to uncomfortable awkward silences during real-life conversations. This can also be applied to texting vs. talking on the phone. A lot of my friends prefer texting over talking because they find it more comfortable, even though it’s less practical sometimes.

Social media has become so addictive that people can’t separate themselves from it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone to restaurants and seen friends eating together, but staying on their individual phones the entire time. What’s the point in specifically meeting up with a friend, if there’s going to be zero interaction the whole time?

Cellphone-etiquette-pic

Not only does social media make you socially awkward, but it can also decrease your intelligence. A study published by the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, showed that people with a greater network of friends are more prone to “copying” answers when given a cognitive reflection test. Although this can lead to more correct answers, in the long run there’s no improvement in actual cognitive skills; instead those skills are actually decreasing because there’s no need to get information on your own when it’s offered by others.

In no way am I denying that social media has its uses. I’m just stating that a large portion of society is not using social media in an effective way. If we’re only using it to find out who got a new haircut or who’s dating who, it’s not actually benefiting us.

 

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CBS Evening News

Although I don’t read a lot of news, the amount I watch is even less. When I started this assignment, I originally planned on watching it on TV, but I didn’t know at all what time and on what channel the news plays. My roommate told me everything starts at 7PM, so I turned on the TV at 6:55PM, and was shocked to see that all of them were almost finished as they started at 6:30PM. So I decided to find an online version, and I chose to do this assignment for CBS.

CBS’s evening news for 11/17 starts with a preview of what’s entailed including the protesters on the grand jury decision for the Ferguson case, an arctic invasion, a new heart study, and a civil rights honor. Right from the start, I know I’m most interested in the Ferguson trial because it’s a huge topic as of late. Furthermore, I can tell it’s more important because it was announced first and the description for it was the longest.

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I hadn’t been following the Ferguson case very well, so this was my first time actually seeing pictures of Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown. I was surprised to see how bad the quality is on Wilson’s picture in comparison to Brown’s, and this made me wonder if this was intentional on CBS’s part. This continued on showing pictures of Officer Wilson (seemingly healthy even though he claimed he had a broken eye socket) and short clips of the protesters. Then it ended and continued on to weather, which was jarring because it seemed to me that they brought up this hugely controversial issue only to cover it for a couple minutes and to switch off to weather of all things. I would have appreciated more information or even context on the Ferguson case, but I can understand that perhaps their target audience is someone who keeps up with the news regularly and would find constant back stories to be redundant.

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When they moved on to the weather, I immediately felt like the hard-hitting news was over and the rest will be simply fluff. However, I did appreciate this colorful map with easily differentiable colors. I didn’t understand why this needed to be covered on the evening news but I assumed it was due to the extreme weather all around the nation and not just in the north. (For instance, I have never known Texas and Florida to reach a low 20s.)

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I was really surprised when they showed a segment interviewing a homeless man, named Brian Anderson, who was huddled at a bus stop in Kalamazoo, MI. The interviewer asked if he had any extra blankets and Anderson responded that he only had the one he was sitting on. Then, the newscast continued on to other weather issues in Indianapolis. This left me wondering if they helped Anderson or simply thanked him for the interview and left. I didn’t completely understand why that segment was included, because we received no back story or context, and it didn’t serve any purpose in their cold weather story other than the fact that he, as a homeless man, will now suffer more.

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When covering the traffic accidents in Indianapolis (numbered over a dozen), the traffic chopper polite was very obnoxious in the voice over shouting “Slow the heck down people!” and “There goes another one- BOOM!” when a car slid off the highway. I found this extremely unprofessional and disgusting that someone could sound so excited and playful about a car sliding through the snow, when it could be life-threatening to the passengers inside.

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I was interested to learn that the FBI had been the target of 4 hackers from China, because that is sensitive information that can be detrimental to US citizens. However, it made me doubt the quality of the program when they inserted pictures (shown above) that I could have Googled because they look so old fashioned and cheesy.

Towards the middle of the newscast, was when they covered topics like Ebola and ISIS, which I found interesting because I didn’t even know those topics would be included since they weren’t in the short preview at the beginning. I felt that these were more important topics (at least for millennials) of interest that they should have mentioned at the beginning.

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Overall, I didn’t particularly enjoy the newscast but I didn’t hate it either. I found it to be informative, albeit confusing at times. If I could change one thing it would be the order of the stories. I just felt confused as to how it went from a national story to a fluff piece to an international crisis, and I feel like this could be worked upon.

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Ree Drummond – An Accidental Country Girl

By now, you are probably aware of my fondness for the Pioneer Woman. Through her cooking show on the Food Network, she has become widely known, at least among the foodie community. However, I consider myself to be somewhat of an original follower, as I’ve been following her blog for over 7 years.

Ree Drummond created her blog in May 2006, under the name Confessions of a Pioneer Woman. She later updated the title to simply The Pioneer Woman, as she expanded her site to cooking, confessions (lifestyle), entertainment, homeschooling, and home/garden. Looking at her today, Ree is wildly successful with a Food Network show, 3 cookbooks, 3 children’s books, 1 autobiography, 501k Twitter followers, and 2.4M Facebook fans.

Ree's first cookbook, published in 2009, #1 NYT Bestseller

Ree’s first cookbook, published in 2009, #1 NYT Bestseller

Ree's second cookbook, published in 2012, #1 NYT Bestseller

Ree’s second cookbook, published in 2012, #1 NYT Bestseller

Ree's third cookbook, published in 2013, #1 NYT Bestseller

Ree’s third cookbook, published in 2013, #1 NYT Bestseller

However she wasn’t always this popular. Like everyone else, she began as a nobody. Ree originally started uploading recipes to her blog in order to share tips with other bloggers, like how to cook a steak. But her original style of taking descriptive step-by-step photos turned out to be extremely popular among viewers, and her blog began to rapidly grow. Furthermore, her blogging skills also improved. Her photos are much brighter and more visually appealing now, all of her recipes can be easily printed, and she offers many giveaways due to her numerous sponsors.

One of Ree's earlier recipes: The Marlboro Man Sandwich

One of Ree’s earlier recipes: The Marlboro Man Sandwich

Ree's most recent recipe: Sesame Chicken Salad

Ree’s most recent recipe: Sesame Chicken Salad

Example of the easy customizability of Ree's recipes

Example of the easy customizability of Ree’s recipes

Following her large success, Ree created another site called Tasty Kitchen, where people can find and share recipes of their own. Furthermore, the site offers endless combinations of specific tastes and dietary conditions.

Tasty Kitchen header

Tasty Kitchen header

Ree made her first television debut in 2010 on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay, where she competed with Flay, and proceeded to win. Her own show, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, premiered on Food Network on August 27, 2011, and she is still continuing to shoot more new episodes today.

Although Ree started blogging later in her life, she has accomplished a great feat with her blog. She admits that she doesn’t know code or web design, but she does know how to appeal to an audience. Her honesty and goofiness attracts viewers, as she takes the audience into her daily life on a cattle farm. She self-diagnoses herself with “middle-child syndrome” and easily shares her embarrassing stories and old photographs. Her openness combined with her ability to cook and photograph food is what brought her blog to where it is today: a foodie’s essential on the internet. Viewers are no longer willing to settle for blurry pictures or even one picture at that. Those who have gotten used to Ree’s vivid step-by-step pictures are unable to go back to the old-fashioned style with one picture and the recipe. This style is boring and can often lead to errors while cooking. Ree has changed the food blogging game.

The Pioneer Woman blog header

The Pioneer Woman blog header

 

(pictures are all links)

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Effects of Yelp

Yelp

Whenever I’m with a group of friends and we can’t decide on a place to eat, we always turn towards Yelp for recommendations. I can’t remember when Yelp became the go-to website, but I do remember prior to its conception, new restaurants would be introduced by word of mouth or through carefully constructed advertisements in the mail or on TV.

A flyer one would expect to receive with the rest of their junk mail.

A typical junk mail flyer

I felt like the older forms of advertisement could only be successful to a certain extent, because it’s efficacy lasts for short periods of time. A person will want to go to a restaurant when they see the ad on the TV, not a couple days later because it’s likely they’ll forget about it. However with smartphones, this issue becomes void. Anyone can be out and simply Yelp a restaurant when they’re hungry.

But this is only a positive form of advertisement to the restaurant if the reviews are positive. I cannot even count the number of times I was about to try a new restaurant only for terrible reviews to turn me away. Or for me to enter a restaurant with certain expectations due to previous reviewers.

One day while I was on Facebook, I saw a link to an article called “As a Chef, I Wish Yelp Didn’t Exist” on my newsfeed and was intrigued to see a restaurant owner’s point-of-view. The anonymous author talks about how Yelp has ruined many of his experiences with customers who leave ignorant and negative reviews, such as a woman who referred to Maldon sea salt as “big ass salt chunks” or another reviewer who said the restaurant didn’t live up to the hype by his “prominent New York chef friends.” I found this interesting because as a consumer, I tend to accept the reviewers’ comments as truth, simply because we’re on the same side of the exchange. But this bandwagon mindset can cause grief and unsettled anger in many restaurant owners.

Maldon sea salt

Maldon sea salt

This leads me to wonder how useful and effective a review website such as Yelp can really be. I will still continue to use Yelp whenever I’m looking to try a new place, but I will take the reviews with a grain of salt. After all, the ones who tend to leave reviews on a restaurant are the ones who had a particularly bad experience. Furthermore, even with 4 and 5 star restaurants (according to Yelp), I’ve left feeling dissatisfied. This simply furthers my point that these reviews may or may not be accurate and reflective of everyone’s experience, since everything changes from day to day, including servers, chefs, food quality, food freshness, and countless other factors.

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Data Visualizaton

Recently there’s been a lot of controversy around school lunches and many have been compared to the meals served in prison. There are countless mothers angry with the government, and rightly so, for allowing this quality gap where prisoners are served heather and more well-rounded lunches than growing children. In this infographic from Good magazine, we get a visual on the typical meals in our schools and prisons.

School-food-vs-prison-food

At first glance, I had already decided that I loved this infographic. It’s very visual and the side-by-side depiction of the food in the actual tray, made it easy for me to understand and it’s also fun to look at. It’s obvious to see that the prisoners receive larger and healthier portions. For example, students only get 1/2 cup of vegetables OR fruit, while the prisoners get 1/2 cup of vegetables AND a serving of fruit. It makes no logical sense for the prisoners to be better fed than growing students, who are the pivotal future generation.

Then, on the left and right sides of this visual, we get to see specific numbers and statistics to further implement the difference between the two lunches. Surprisingly, the school lunches are provided with a larger budget and cost per mouth. This greatly contrasts with the large depiction of the lunch trays. The average calories for the two are also very similar, which can be seen as good and bad. Should adolescents be receiving the same amount of calories for one meal as full grown adults? Another interesting fact shown in this infographic is how they imply that school lunches are actually worse than fast food since many fast food chains test their ground beef 5-10 times more often than schools. It’s common knowledge that fast food is unhealthy to eat even once in a while, so why is it okay for our government to feed students worse food on a daily basis?

This is different from traditional journalism in that the reader gets to pick which facts to read first. Of course the eye is guided by the size and colors of the infographic, but compared to a traditional article, the reader gets a lot more freedom. It’s also more interesting to visually see a tray of food rather than reading about how “prisoners receive 3/4 cup of starch, one beverage, one bread item, etc…” However, some shortcomings include the lack of context provided by this infographic. How did they come up with this data? Did they sample ALL of the schools and prisons in the US? Or did they randomly pick several per state? Does this include private schools, or just public? The infographic is very visually appealing, but it leaves a lot of questions to be asked.

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