Farmers markets are not recent phenomena. They go back to the Ancient Egyptian era when farmers and local artisans would come together to sell and exchange goods.
In the United States, they date back to the 1600s. The modern-day version of these local markets offers customers a welcome break from supermarkets with never-ending aisles, where it’s hard to tell what product has come from where.
It gives its shoppers access to nourishing, flavor-packed produce in its freshest glory. If you want to become a farmers market vendor and are looking for tips for a smooth-sailing selling experience, you’ve come to the right place. So let’s dive in!
What is a Farmers Market?
As the name suggests, a farmers market is a place where local farmers, growers, bakers, and other vendors gather to sell directly to consumers. These events are typically planned in recurring intervals on fixed days of the week or month. While most markets operate between spring and fall, some stay active all year round.
Most of what’s sold here come from within a 50-mile radius, making it the perfect place to buy produce at the peak of its freshness. It’s no secret that locally-grown and seasonal produce is healthier and less traveled than what you’d typically find at a supermarket.
What do we mean by less traveled? Well, a supermarket stocks produce from different vendors from across the country as well as the globe. Anything from far-off places goes through a long commute, leaving a huge carbon footprint behind.
If the item still manages to look fresh even after being transported thousands of miles, it’s because they’re artificially ripened and chock full of preservatives. In contrast, over 60% of local market vendors travel less than 20 miles, and many grow their produce with healthy cultivation practices.
Why are Farmers Markets Becoming So Popular?
According to USDA, farmers markets in the U.S. have grown by a whopping 400% between 1994 to 2017. Want to know what’s fueling the rise of these community-led markets? Here are some of the many benefits that are drawing people to these markets and why you should consider selling there.
Access to Fresh, Locally-Grown Produce: Fruits and vegetables lose 30% of their nutrients within three days of harvest. So, the sooner we eat them, the better. In supermarkets, produce arrives after traveling for days and spending weeks in storage. Simply put, these items cover a long journey before making it to our tables. At the farmers market, food is fresh from the neighboring farms, picked when fully ripened.
Helping Local Economies Grow: A well-knit and thriving community has each other’s backs. Well, shopping at a farmers market is one of the ways to support local farmers and business owners. Compared to big-box grocery stores, what’s earned at a farmers market directly boosts the development of the local community.
A Wide Variety of Seasonal Produce: In-season fruits and vegetables taste better because they ripen naturally under the sun. They contain more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals than out-of-season items. At a local market, farmers sell by season, giving people access to newly-picked, sweet, crispy, flavorful fruits and veggies. Shoppers flock to these markets to find out what’s in the season and discover varieties they never knew about.
Supporting Sustainable Living: Food shipped from far consumes a significant amount of natural resources in the form of fuel and additional packaging. At a farmers market, produce comes from within a 50-mile radius without needing layers of protective packaging. That’s not all. Most of what is sold there is cultivated with eco-friendly practices such as energy-efficient and non-toxic organic farming.
A Socially Engaging Way to Shop: Many shoppers who walk into a farmers market already have an eco-conscious mindset. But there might be others who don’t know about organic and eco-friendly farming practices. Successful vendors use this opportunity to showcase what differentiates their products from store-bought. They also share cooking tips, recipes, and meal ideas about the food they sell. It all adds up to a fun and highly-interactive shopping experience.
What Can You Sell at a Farmers Market?
Fruits and Vegetables: People visit farmers markets mainly to buy the freshest and tastiest fruits, veggies, and greens - even better if organically grown. These markets are the best places to sell unfamiliar varieties of produce, like white, purple, and yellow carrots or strange-looking Kohlrabi, because shoppers here come with the mind to try new things.
Baked Goods: Nothing draws a crowd of hungry shoppers more than the smell of freshly baked bagels and the lip-smacking taste of sweet treats. You can sell anything from homemade cakes to croissants to sourdoughs. Be sure to highlight any organic or novel ingredients used to increase your sales.
Cheese and Dairy Products: Cheese, milk, butter, and other dairy items sell like hotcakes at a farmers market. Why? Because almost all dairy products here come from the milk of grass-fed, pasture-raised livestock. You can also share the living condition of animals on your farm to reassure your buyers.
Herbs and Spices: If you sell homegrown spices, your booth will thrive at a farmers market. You’ll find many people on the lookout for fresh culinary herbs. You can also increase your sales by connecting with other local business owners like chefs and restaurateurs looking to source hard-to-find herbs for their food service setup.
Handmade Products: Farmers market isn’t just a place to buy fresh produce. It’s also becoming a popular hub for local artisans and small business owners to display handmade products. From organic soap bars to handcrafted festive décor to pottery, you can sell plenty of thoughtfully-made things at a farmers market. You can also buy wholesale tea towels and tie dye or custom print them to sell at farmer's market stand.
Related Article: 25 Ideas for What to Buy at Farmer's Market.
Why You Should Sell at a Farmers Market
Low Start-Up Cost and High Returns: The overhead costs of setting up a booth at a farmers market are fairly low, making it an attractive option for small growers and vendors to sell. It’s also a great place for medium to large farmers to increase their sales. By allowing you to sell directly to the consumers, you get a higher share of the dollar vs. a grocery store.
Connecting with Other Business Owners: These local markets are the best places to meet up with other business owners in the community and get to know them. If you’re lucky, you can also lock down some wholesale deals by selling to chefs looking to buy local and seasonal ingredients for their restaurants.
Getting Feedback from the Customers Directly: Just as a customer learns where his food comes from at a farmers market, a seller gets to meet their potential consumer. Interacting with your customers and hearing what they have to say about your products is invaluable. It helps you iron out any flaws your products may have and also help build stellar customer-relation skills.
How to Sell at a Farmers Market - 8 Amazing Tips
1. Decide What to Sell
A farmers market can get really busy, packed with vendors trying to get their booths noticed. Of course, if you’re a farmer or produce handmade products, you already know what you’ll be selling, but having something unique to draw the crowd to your booth always helps. You could display eye-catching assortments of fruits and veggies that are a mix of common produce (tomatoes, carrots, apples) and exotics (dragon fruit, heirloom tomatoes, aromatic herbs). If you’re a baker, display your best-selling goods and make them look more appetizing by adding seasonal ingredients or cutting them into fascinating shapes.
2. Set the Prices
The tricky part comes once you’ve sorted out what you’ll sell. You can really rake in a good profit if you price your goods correctly. As a homegrown business owner, you can demand a fair price by including all your costs and overheads and adding a decent margin. You can set different prices for different markets depending on the type of shoppers the place attracts. Do not get into the race of dropping prices to win over the competition, or you might end up losing money. Instead, offer discounts to encourage bulk buying. Finally, keep the prices easy to add and subtract and make sure to put up little price tags for the benefit of the customers.
3. Choose the Right Market
There are over 700 certified farmers markets in the state of California alone. Getting the market right is important. You need to consider the distance from your farm, customer base, footfalls, competition, advertising, and if it fits your work schedule. Who you’re selling to is crucial information as it’ll help you choose the right product selection, create an attractive display, and make good pricing decisions.
4. Apply for Permits, Licenses, and Insurance
You may need permits and licenses depending on what you’re selling and where you’re selling. It’s a good idea to get in touch with the market organizers for help as well as visit the government’s website to check which laws apply. You may need health permits to sell prepared foods or proper certifications if you’re labeling your products ‘organic.’ Most farmers markets require their vendors to have a specific amount of liability insurance coverage to cover the damages related to injuries and illnesses caused due to your business.
5. Fill Out the Application and Sign the Contract
When it’s time to apply, you’ll need to share information such as the crop plan, liability insurance, and requisite permits. Organizers look for vendors that’ll make their event successful. So, be sure to share enough information about your goods and what sets them apart to compel the organizers to accept your application. Once you’re in, you’ll be asked to sign a contract to confirm your spot. This document details the market rules related to disputes, insurance, and penalties.
6. Create and Follow a Checklist
Setting up your booth at a farmers market for the first time can be daunting. It’s good to plan the logistics related to transportation, refrigerators, setup, and cleanup. You’ll also need to list down all equipment you’ll need on the big day. We recommend checking with the organizers first on what they already provide for the vendors and carrying along any additional items you might need. Here are some essentials to bring along: tables, chairs, containers, labels and price tags, a cash box, small bills and coins, business cards, signage, packaging supplies, and a weighing scale.
7. Make Your Display Stand Out
This is an important one. It would help to design an attention-grabbing display for your target customer. You’ll obviously start with a tent and some tent weights to keep the structure stable. You can then get really creative if you want your booth to stand out. Here are some ideas: Plan a neatly laid out display with easy-to-read signs, produce arranged in beautiful baskets and containers, colorful table cloth, clever lighting, and using cloth bowl covers for prepared food.
Another surefire way of standing out is stocking up on reusable farmers market bags. Available in a wide variety ranging from mesh produce bags to linen bread bags to roomy cotton totes, organic cotton mart’s bags promote sustainable living - not to mention the extra revenue you can earn by selling them to like-minded customers.
8. Interact with Customers to Make a Sale
Not everyone visiting a farmers market would know the benefits of choosing organic, sustainable, and locally produced goods. Besides selling your products for a handsome profit, you can use the opportunity to educate customers about these eco-friendly practices and how by buying from you, they’re saying yes to sustainable living.
If you have staff helping you out, make sure they know everything about the goods, down to how they’re grown and the ways of cooking with them. Hand out samples if you’re selling prepared goods or handmade beauty items. Sharing marketing material about your farm in the form of brochures will also go a long way.
In their attempt to transition to sustainable living, more and more people are now buying fruits, veggies, flowers, herbs, seeds, and baked goods from farmers markets. As an aspiring farmers market vendor, we think you’ve made the right decision and hope our guide will be useful in helping you get started.