Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Successful Farmers' Market: 3 Defining Aspects

In the United States, there are currently 8,144 farmers' markets.  However, how many of them are truly enjoyable, entertaining, and exciting?  What defines a good market from a great one?  After visiting many of the local markets in the Bay Area, I came up with these defining characteristics:


Kika's strawberries are the best in the valley.  Photo via realtimefarms.com.
One key ingredient is a variety of exclusive offerings. A few years ago, when it was impossible to find pluots at grocery stores.  People had to go to the farmers market or a farm stand to buy them.  Some may think that this idea is limited to specialty crops, or even prepared and processed foods -- after all, a strawberry from the farmers' market is the same as a strawberry from the store, right?  Wrong.  Just having a special variety of fruit will draw people in and keep them coming back.  At a local market, there is a strawberry grower that everyone looks forward to seeing when strawberry season starts; their strawberries are have such a great berry flavor, and are so sweet.  Unusual offerings, even if only a bit special, will expand customers' horizons and keep them thinking about the market.


Farmers Market Under an Overpass
Baltimore Farmers Market and Bazaar -- Under an overpass.  Not the worst location, actually.  Photo via examiner.com.
Yes, yes!  Location, location, location.  This might seem silly, but it's really not.  I've seen enough markets placed in inconvenient and confusing locations to know that this is important.  Sometimes this is because of finances; it's cheaper to place a market somewhere a little out of the way.  At the same time, if a market isn't well marketed, no one will know it's there.  If it's difficult to find, then less hardy prospective customers will turn around and go to Whole Foods.  Even those that do arrive may do so in a less than happy mood -- I know, I've been there.  Similarly, close and plentiful parking are important, though less so if the area is metropolitan enough.  Another aspect of this is permanence; a market that's constantly moving just creates confusion.  One local farmers' market has moved nearly every year its been in existence; this means, every year, the market has to work hard to inform the community of its new location, and convince them that its still worth going to.  Customers shouldn't have to question whether a market will be there the next week, so a sense of permanence is extremely important.


Create spaces for people to socialize.  Photo via missioncommunitymarket.org.

This is perhaps the hardest aspect to develop in a market, but nonetheless, the most important.  It's a touchy-feely, ever-shifting point that depends very heavily upon the participation of those who come to the market, both the vendors and the customers.  Having vendors who truly understand and believe in their product helps significantly; it means that they can create real dialogue with customers, which helps build relationships.  Entertainment and events can help build a sense of community, too; chef's demonstrations, sampling days, a children's area, and holiday celebrations are all events that can foster a sense of community.  If the market has hot foods or other offerings that are ready to eat there, then a cafĂ© are with tables and chairs would be beneficial to encouraging people to gather and socialize.

Planck, N. (2004). Some thoughts on selling at farmers' markets.  Rodale Institute.  Retrieved from http://www.newfarm.org/features/0504/farmmarkets/index.shtml

USDA (2014).  Farmers Markets and Direct-to-Consumer Marketing.  Retrieved from http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/farmersmarkets

Saturday, April 26, 2014

What-What?! Week of April 27th

Yesterday was my first day working the Kidzone area for the YMCA.  The Kidzone is a childcare area that parents can use while they work out or take a class at the YMCA office.  It was pretty low key, and I spent most of the time working on things for a special event the office was having that day.  To be honest, getting paid to paint banners is pretty fun, and I also spent some time looking through books, so now I have some great ideas for upcoming curriculum.

Earlier this week, I did a post about concept artwork from Disney's Frozen, and how it looks similar to a lot of other Disney films.  If you missed it, check it out: Disney's Frozen Concept Art versus Other Disney Films.

News:  Amazon, in Threat to UPS, Tries Its Own Deliveries via WSJ.com

Amazon is now testing a plan to take over delivery services of goods in the "last mile"; that is, the final part of the journey from warehouse to consumers' homes.  This bid to forward integrate has advantages and disadvantages to it; on the one hand, it can help facilitate the goal of more efficient 1-day shipping, and helps Amazon control shipping delays, preventing some of the customer service pain that happened this past Christmas.  The biggest advantage is cost; with the United States Postal Service and UPS increasing prices by 3-5 percent a year, it gives Amazon an incentive to invent cheaper modes of delivery.

The disadvantage is the risk itself.  Amazon is just not very good at making profits.  If this doesn't work out for Amazon, and that is a big if, the company stands to lose a significant amount of investments that it doesn't have the ability to absorb.

It'll be interesting to see how it works out for Amazon.  I don't expect it to become a widespread service for at least a few more years, even with the company already in the testing phase.

(img via aim.org)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Art Thursday -- April 24th

This one was drawn by Corwin, and I'm particularly proud of it because of the word "pom" (pronounced "poom!"), which he spelled and sounded out by himself.  I'm really pleased with how far he's come in phonics, letters, and reading in the past few months.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Disney's Frozen Concept Art versus Other Disney Films

I was looking through some of Frozen's concept art, when I was struck by how similar some of it was to scenes out of the other Disney films.  I assembled a few of the most notable ones, and made this:

Photographs from Rebloggy, Covering the Mouse, Fanpop, Disney Wikia, and Animation Source.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What-What?! Week of April 20th

The husband and I have both had this week off from work and school, so it's been a pretty nice week.  We canned a double batch of strawberry jam, as well as getting a good start on packing.  Peter mailed off the last of his work papers, handed over the keys to the truck, and that kind of thing.  He slept in yesterday, too.

We're all ready for Easter here; the kids have been counting down to bunny day, and later today we'll be going to the farmers' market to take part in the egg hunt, for the first time!  This year was also the first time my husband has decorated eggs with the kids, which was a lot of fun.  We might do even more in a couple of days.  I see potato salad in my future, nom-nom! :D

News: At-Home Mothers on the Rise, New Research Shows via Yahoo! Shine

The Pew Research center just released a study finding that the number of stay at home mothers has grown to 29 percent, compared to 26 percent in 2008, and 23 percent in 2000.  The researchers connect these results to increases in immigrant mothers, more mothers who are unable to find work, and a greater prevalence of the attitude that women with young children should stay home, rather than working.

There are probably many factors creating this trend, but one that works against it is definitely the cost of housing, especially for young families.  In the comments section, one gentleman was describing how investors have bought up all the starter homes in the area he lives in, renovated them, and are now selling them for around $100,000 more than they were previously.  This exactly mirrors my experience.  About 18 months ago, my husband and I were looking at houses in the Scotts Valley area.  There was one house we were really interested in, and had put an offer in, only to lose the house to an investor.  This investor purchased ten foreclosed homes from the area.  Ten.  This area is not densely populated, so ten is pretty substantial.  When you have events like that, it is very discouraging for those just starting out, and many, like us, get blocked out of the market entirely.

Of course, working for this trend are childcare expenses.  For families with young children, infants especially, the cost of care is deeply prohibiting; when you spend nearly all of your income just paying for childcare, it follows that you start to question what the point of working is.  What's sad, is on the flipside, daycare workers are generally poorly paid, and that tends to translate into poorly educated.  I know that many of the people I've worked with in afterschool programs had the job as a step on the way to doing something else, like teaching, social work, or something completely unrelated.

(image from theyoungmommylife.com)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Art Thursday -- April 17th

"Person with an Apple Tree".
I have a huge bag of foam shape stickers that the kids have enjoyed creating with.  Saffron makes these pictures with people and things, while Corwin tends to make space pictures with starships and planets.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What-What?! Week of April 13th

For the past five years, my husband has worked at the farmers' markets, for the first 18 months as an assistant, then as a full-fledged manager of the fourth largest market in California.  Tomorrow is officially his last day as a manager for the California Farmers Market Association, and today is possibly the last time he works at a farmers' market.  Yesterday, I went up to see him manage the Saratoga market for the last time.  It was kind of bittersweet; I've loved having my husband work at the markets, but it's definitely time to move along.
His last day of work marks the beginning of really, really preparing to move up to Washington state.  I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't concerned about the future, but I think this is what we need to do, and that, in the long term, it'll be for the best.  The husband and I have all ready started on packing, sorting, and cleaning, which has made it clear that we've continually decluttered enough that we don't have much more to get rid of before we move.

In other news, you may have noticed that I've updated the color scheme of the blog.  I'm not entirely sold on the blue, but I liked it best of the options I considered.  I also posted an article early last week, 4 Funniest Non-Show-Accurate Toys Ever, which discusses some of the most ridiculous TV and movie toys I've seen.

Cooking:  Carrot Mash with Brown Sugar and Cayenne Pepper

This was inspired by a very similar dish on Yahoo! Food, but because I was missing ingredients, it became something different.  The children and I really liked this, though I cooked it especially because my husband wasn't here, because he doesn't like boiled carrots.

1 pound Carrots, washed, peeled, and cubed
2 tablespoons Brown Sugar
Dash of Cayenne Pepper

Boil carrots until tender, then drain and mash with a fork or potato masher (my kids were calling it a "carrot musher" :P ).  Add brown sugar and cayenne pepper to taste.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

4 Funniest Non-Show-Accurate Toys Ever

It seems like every time I turn around, I'm finding more ridiculous movie and TV show toys and collectibles.  I've collected my favorite finds here.

Best-Lock Stargate "Lego" Toys

Photo via 8of5multiverse.blogspot.com.

First up, these terrible Lego knockoffs that I featured on my blog a few months ago.  At first blush, they look good; the vehicles, DHD, and stargate are accurate enough.  However, when you start looking at the figures, something horrifying appears:

For whatever reason, the artist decided to use old man faces for all the characters.  Did the artist ever look at pictures of the characters, or the actors?  Did they just guess?  I do appreciate that Daniel's expression is a bit incredulous, as it seems most appropriate in this instance.

Hasbro Muscle-Bound Star Wars Figures

Muscle man Luke versus original issue Luke.  Photo via Razyor of nightfallunlimited.com.
These are undoubtedly a classic.  Released in 1995, these action figures came out when I was a kid, and I was admittedly pretty excited about them.  Compared to the films, and even the original figures, these "heroic" sculpts are just ridiculous.  Why does Luke Skywalker have muscles on his muscles?  The "force" is really just steroids?  ...Yeah, didn't think so.

AHI Parachuting Spock

AHI Parachtuing Spock
Spock... with a parachute!  Photo via plaidstallions.com.
I've included this mostly because I think the very idea is funny.  Just think of all the ways that the Star Trek crew could use this to their advantage: Need to escape from ravaging monsters in a hurry?  Use your parachute, Spock!  Have to escape from the Genesis effect (The Wrath of Khan)?  Use your parachute, Spock!  Infiltrating behind enemies' lines?  Use your parachute, Spock!

Limited Edition Harry Potter Dolls

Undead Harry versus Alive Harry.  Photos via ebay.com, listal.com.

Last, but not least, undead Harry Potter and drunk Ron Weasley.  Seriously, Harry's lips are blue.  The above picture isn't the best, but you can still see that the skin tone is also off, making him look kind of pasty, while his glasses have been enlarged by an errant spell.

Drunk Weasley versus Wistful Weasley. Photos via entertainmentearth.com, harrypotter.wikia.com.
Undead Harry Potter is then followed by the drunken Weasley.  I do appreciate that the doll maker at least attempted to get his hairstyle right (much more so than Harry, above), but the expression on his face just makes him look drunk.  What was the artist going for?  Ambivalence?  Embarrassment?  Apprehension?  Of course, if I went to a party in that getup, I'd probably have a few drinks beforehand in order to start ahead of the game, so to speak.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What-What?! Week of April 6th

This week has been crazy.  Thursday was my boss's last day with the YMCA, which is pretty sad for those of us staying.  She will be missed (actually, she all ready is).  The new site coordinator was previously our onsite tutor, so it's nice that she knows the staff, kids, and routine all ready.  Things will be different for sure, but I don't think it will necessarily be good or bad.  Just different.

Poetry: Skeltonic Verse

I decided to do a poetry exercise at work a few weeks ago, using skeltonic verse structure (AABB rhyming); this activity had mixed success.  I did have some kids who were actually interested, and some of their poems were pretty amusing ("what rhymes with pokemon?" was a real question).
A few days ago, I happened to find my example poem:
Salami sandwich, you are so nice,
Salami sandwich, I'll take a slice,
Bread, mayo, salami, and cheese,
I'll take two, if you please.
Because salami sandwiches are the best, hands down.  Where most people had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as their childhood staple, my family had salami sandwiches.  At one point, my older brother wrote an entire essay about them.  Nom, nom. :D

Fashion:  KNAPP The Post-War Collection

I saw this collection first on Fashion It So (the Star Trek: The Next Generation fashion blog), then followed the link to this much more substantial collection of photographs.  Some of these pieces are really captivating, while other are sort of hoo-hum, or even a bit dorky (hello, giant protruding pants pockets?).  I like the futuristic military Renaissance faire look, with the heavy fabrics and jewel tones.  Not to mention that all the princess seams are very flattering (even though I think the model has too long a torso for some of the fashions).
I particularly like this asymmetrical hip pocket thing that appears in several of the designs.  I have a few pairs of pants that are lacking in the pocket department, so this is something that I might really wear.

This one has a great 1960s feel to it.

Probably my favorite piece.  This design would look brilliant on a battlemech, too, I bet. :P

I love this neckline.
Really great texture on this top, and those sleeves are so romantic!
Check out the rest of the pieces by following the link above.  You'd be surprised at how many more there are in addition to the ones I've posted here.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Art Thursday -- April 3rd

Penguin on the Beach

"Penguin on the Beach".
A shifty looking penguin hanging out on a beach.  I have no idea what inspired this picture.