Earlier this week Tower Grove Farmers' Market co-founder and president Patrick Horine sent a plea to the group's email list. Despite having a record number of people visiting the market this year, their donations are the lowest they've been since 2006, which puts the market's future in limbo.
We talked to Horine to get more details on the situation.
Gut Check: What do you think has caused the disparity between the market's record number of shoppers this year and the lack of donations?
Patrick Horine: The market is hugely successful on many levels and in the eyes of many shoppers it must look like it's doing just fine. They may not think that with thousands of shoppers and lines at the farmers' booths that a donation is really necessary. But the number of shoppers and dollars spent at the market each week does not impact our organization's finances.
What costs do the donations cover for the market?
The ironic part is that with more vendors and more shoppers our expenses actually go up, so when our fundraising is down, it's felt even more. Our yearly budget covers rent, equipment, insurance, and staffing. About two-thirds of our annual needs come from vendor fees and the other one-third comes from donations. The amount we need to operate for a year is $60,000, so when we are short $10,000, it makes a big impact. What fundraising methods has the market used?
We have tried many things in the past including special events, fundraising barbecues, sponsorships, and straightforward donation requests. I thought I had a great idea this year, and that was to encourage 2,000 of our shoppers to give ten dollars each, which would cover our fundraising for the year. The idea was to get a large group of shoppers to donate a small amount and relieve the burden from some of our larger donors. Unfortunately, we've had about 300 donors so far this year.
What methods are you exploring for the future?
Our idea for next year is to pursue more sponsorship opportunities. We have crowds of 5,000 shoppers on any given Saturday and we feel like we would be a market for the right businesses to sponsor.
If donations don't increase, what will happen?
The market is here to stay. Worst case scenario, we will have to scale back our staffing during market hours and the winter planning will go slower with less man hours. This season we've already had to scale back our labor outside the market and cut off our community programming. Basically, the only thing we can cut back on is labor. Rent, insurance, and the other expenses are unavoidable.
How can people help in the immediate future?
We'd like for people to give what they can truly afford. I understand a donation is not feasible for many of our shoppers, but for those who can, I'd like for them to see the market as an investment. An annual donation of $10 or $20 or $100 is their investment in the Tower Grove neighborhood and the overall good that comes from the farmers' market. Our budget is small and we do a lot with a little.