June 23, 2017
The Farmers Market is a great place for local farmers and artisans to come together, sell their products and interact with their communities. Growing for market can be very rewarding, and the farmers market model is a great place to exchange ideas between small business owners and farmers. There are a number of things a grower should keep in mind when getting ready for a farmers market, and following these guidelines will help to create a successful market operation.
Use the market as an opportunity to sell your brand. Get business cards with farm information, like websites, social media addresses and business hours. Use social media to reach customers each week and remind them of what will be sold at which markets. Having a sign made with the business name and logo adds professionalism to a market stand and helps customers associate visually with your farm.
Making sure to have a quality product to sell at market is very important. Farmers markets can be pretty competitive, especially for vegetable growers. Many growers try to have something new each week to keep their displays from becoming static. Growing seasonally is a great way to manage growing many varieties of vegetables. Some folks find they do much better with a bulk of a few staple crops. Being known as “The Beet Guy” can easily spread and soon customers will be coming to you for all their beet needs.
Which brings me to my next point: be charming. Some people were made to sell, while some need to train themselves or recognize it is not their strong suit. Maybe someone is better suited for the fields, where plants just listen and don’t complain about how expensive they are. Going to market takes the farmer away from the field during vital hours of the work day. If a farmer has the option to hire someone who is charming to run their market, it allows them more time in the fields. It is worth having someone behind the table at market who draws people in. As they say, you catch more bees with honey. Make sure whoever does run the market is educated on the product, knows the farm’s growing methods, pricing and is a dependable person who will get to know their customers. Sometimes, growers prefer to handle markets themselves and hire people to work on the farm. Regardless, you want your best field workers in the field and your most charming workers at market, even if both of those people, happens to be you.
Creating an atmosphere as a vendor is important. If the market doesn’t have live music, it’s a great idea to set the market mood with some family friendly tunes. Displaying products in an efficient and attractive way is a huge advantage. A standard 10 x 10 pop-up tent, folding tables, a scale and cash are basics for a market. Prominently display a sign with varieties and prices, so customers can browse without interrupting transactions to ask how much an eggplant costs. Chalkboards are great, because you can redesign them every week to keep up with seasonal crop changes. Use wooden crates or galvanized buckets to add height levels and rustic charm to any set up. Tablecloths, burlap or tapestries are simple ways to add character to the table.
Flower bouquets are not only an amazing season-long product that can bring in significant profits, but they also draw customers to your display and fill out a table during smaller harvests. Bouquets are a really easy gift for customers to buy, but try to cut them the day before market and keep them in water in the farm fridge. This allows the flowers to perk up and look their best for market, and it lets growers get a cash crop harvested in advance.
Harvesting and Packing
Many varieties of produce lose nutritional value from the time they are ready to be harvested. This means that the longer food has to wait before getting to customers, the less nutritious it will be. Harvest as close to market time as possible, while still allowing time for washing, weighing and packing produce. Bring extra produce to market to keep the tables full throughout the day, but make sure to keep coolers in the truck to prevent wilting, especially if selling greens. A few hours of high heat can make for a sad looking pile of greens, and nobody wants that.
When packing up the truck for market, consider unloading. Everything that is packed at the farm will need to be unloaded and repacked after market. Leave plenty of time for the drive to market as set-up can take longer than expected some days.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
Check out the competition by seeing how they utilize different display styles, what kind of vehicles they use, what they sell, how they price their products and how much they bring to market. Remain focused on your own display, but pay attention to how folks are competing in the marketplace and how they find success. You may need to adapt as a newbie, and it can take time to find your niche.
Contributed by Amanda Williams