An Abstract - of &Quot;To Everything There Is a Season:&Quot; a Photoessay of a Farmers' Market


Deborah D. Heisley, Mary Ann McGrath, and John F. Sherry, Jr. (1990) ,"An Abstract - of &Quot;To Everything There Is a Season:&Quot; a Photoessay of a Farmers' Market", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, eds. Marvin E. Goldberg, Gerald Gorn, and Richard W. Pollay, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 39-40.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, 1990      Pages 39-40


Deborah D. Heisley, U.C.L.A.

Mary Ann McGrath, Loyola University at Chicago

John F. Sherry, Jr., Northwestern University

[The authors are listed in alphabetical order. The first two researchers spent each Saturday, with the exception of three, from June 28 through November 1, 1986 in attendance at the Midville Farmers' Market. The third author made occasional visits to the site, served as a resource and sounding board for the ideas of the other two authors, and audited the research process.]


On June 28, 1986, three researchers embarked upon their own Odyssey along a two block strip in a midwestern city, as they spent the first Saturday of the selling season at the Midville Farmers' Market. This first day of the market was the first step in an ethnographic journey that would last nineteen weeks. They would witness the emergence of a variety of recurring themes, the reinforcement of several theoretic constructs specific to marketing, and the development of relationships with vendors, customers, and city representatives. They constructed a richly documented natural history of the market from participant observation, directive and nondirective interviews of customers, development of key informants, reflective journal entries, audio recordings, photographs and audio/video recordings.

One thousand three hundred and seventy seven photographs were made during the project. This photoessay includes 47 of those photographs. Captions and field notes supplement these photographs to provide a richer understanding of the visual insights provided by the photographs. Due to its heavily photographic nature, only an abstract of this photoessay will be included in these proceedings.


The essay focuses on three cycles: the market day, the season, and a cycle of long term field immersion. The market day is marked by vendor, consumer and city representative's rituals. A consumer typology is developed. The growing and selling season is characterized by increasing complexity and abundance over spring, summer and fall. The third cycle is habituation, through which the researchers gain trust and access to informants and acquire deeper holistic understanding of the market and its participants.


A market day's cycle, especially customer and vendor behaviors, as it proceeds from set up to close, is illustrated and documented with photographs and accompanying field notes from the first market day. The essay carries the reader through arrival, set-up, display, vendor interaction, consumer interaction, consumer-vendor interaction, peripheral activities, stock depletion, and the end of the market. Consumer segments are differentiated by the time of day they visit the market, giving a distinctive cycle to the day.


Photographs of the first market of the season document the transformation of an empty street into what may appear to be a cornucopia of abundance. While researchers perceive bounty and abundance in the marketplace, the vendors speak of anticipated bounty nearer the late summer and fall harvest time. The researchers better understand the significance of vendors' remarks through observations of abundance and more complex assortments and displays at the late summer and autumn markets. A series of photographs visually documents significant changes in assortment, abundance, and complexity of display.


As the market season matured, and the vendors' wares ripened and increased in bounty and variety, the relationships between the researchers and key informants developed from cautious exchanges to comfortable, sometimes humorous and teasing, interactions. Several vendors and customers became key informants during the course of the study. Journal entries and photographs of the informants on the first day of the market are contrasted with ones made near the conclusion of the study. The comparisons reflect the levels of trust that developed between participants and researchers, that in turn led to a negotiated or collaborative interpretation of marketplace behavior.


While the researchers observed and recorded a myriad of happenings on June 28, true understanding and insight into these events came later, as familiarity with the Midville market became more intimate. In retrospect, the first market is exceptional in that customers and vendors appear to know and act out a script without question after an eight month hiatus. It is the researchers who do not fully understand the plot and significance of the activities unfolding. After several months of building trust in relationships with informants, the researchers are able to document and interpret this script. It is this longer term orientation that sets the ethnographic approach employed in this local study apart from the naturalistic approach of the Odyssey umbrella project. The ability to compare and contrast findings on various days, and to document findings over time, became a notable benefit of long term field immersion.

This essay illustrates how impressions formed early in an ethnographic study can, when viewed later in context, provide useful insights into the processes of interest to researchers. The changing relationships with key informants clarified and enhanced several of the initial impressions formed by the researchers. These established bonds helped produce a negotiated interpretation of marketplace behavior. That ethnographic research is a labor intensive process that emerges over time is demonstrated in this essay.



Deborah D. Heisley, U.C.L.A.
Mary Ann McGrath, Loyola University at Chicago
John F. Sherry, Jr., Northwestern University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17 | 1990

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