Starting a Farmers Market
Most farmers markets begin with a few visionary and committed individuals with a shared vision. When launching a farmers market, you should have distinct goals that you can clearly communicate. What is your vision for the market? Is it to support local growers, community health, food security, economic development or any combination of the above?
To be successful, a farmers market must have the interest and support of the community. You should be able to clearly articulate answers to questions like, “Is there a need for a farmers market in your area? Why do you want to have a farmers market?” You should also evaluate if there is a sufficient farmer and customer base in your community to support a market.
It is a good idea to visit other markets and talk to market managers/vendors to learn what has and hasn’t worked for them. As you start measuring support for a farmers market, be sure to contact residents as well as community groups and organizations. Organizations can help you identify and connect with potential growers/vendors.
Growers / Vendors
Locating farmers and gardeners can be the most difficult part of establishing a farmers market. The best candidates are usually small-scale farmers and large-scale gardeners. It is important to find out which farmers are interested, what crops they grow and when the crops will be ready for market. If you want specialty processed foods and crafters at your market, begin contacting those sellers to gauge interest. Face-to-face contact is best, but you may have to rely partly on well-placed posters, radio announcements and word of mouth.
Hold at least three well-organized meetings (with agendas) with interested community members, potential growers/vendors and government officials. It may take a significant amount of work to organize these meetings, but this is often the turning point that marks the official formation of a market. Properly facilitated meetings allow plenty of time for discussion, help gauge the group’s level of buy-in, and identify potential committee leaders.
Managing the Market
A farmers market can be formally incorporated as a nonprofit or business, managed by an outside entity as an owner, or have no official management structure. Either way, a detailed Guiding Document is crucial for providing clarity about the mission, vision, rules of operation, vendor/product guidelines, etc. Finding a business professional to help draft a business plan can build a successful market. Most established markets have a board of directors, formal by-laws, market rules and a paid manager (part-time for smaller markets). The board oversees development and creates the market rules, enforces bylaws, hires the market manager and manages the budget.
Your location should be visible, easy to get to and accessible by all ages and audiences. The market’s success depends partly on how well you select your location. One common reason consumers don’t shop at farmers markets is the perceived
lack of convenience. Ideally, the site should be selected by a committee since there are many things to be considered, such as:
- Easy access for vendors to set up their tables
- Easy access for shoppers — plenty of parking, room for bikes, close to public transportation
- A location that provides shade over vendor tables with perishable products
Keeping accurate records is important for both the market and vendors. Records include copies of all permits, licenses, correspondence, legal paperwork, expense reports and meeting minutes. Vendor sales data is a great marketing tool and way to gauge success and make future adjustments.
Knowing the market’s total expenses and income over the course of the season is necessary. Vendor fees are the main source of a market’s income. If established as a non-profit, it may be possible to get many products and services donated or at a discounted rate.
It is a good idea for the board to evaluate the market at least once per year to review its initial goals, continuing or new vision, customer and sales numbers, and logistics.
Creating a report at the end of every season will help track changes and market growth. In addition to statistics, it should include a narrative of the market – sustaining local/family farms, improving access to healthy foods, expanding entrepreneurship, building community, etc.
Permitting, Licenses and Regulations
Before the market begins, make sure you have all required permits and that all vendors have the necessary licenses to conduct business. Consult with city and state officials to ensure you comply with rules and regulations regarding taxes, licenses, structures, insurance and health and sanitation. Plan in advance! Don’t wait until the last minute to obtain the necessary permits, certificates and licenses. Give yourself several weeks as a safety margin, and keep in mind that some will require fees, such as liability insurance.
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