In the United States, Farmers’ Markets were common until the mid-twentieth century. At this time, supermarkets and other forms of convenient, indoor grocery shopping arose. Despite the convenience, by the late 20th Century, many people were becoming concerned about the quality of processed foods and other products available in supermarkets. When this concern grew, Farmers’ Markets began to pop up. Many of these were informal affairs, wherein farmers would simply gather in a parking lot and sell their items directly to the public from their trucks. Others have become well-organized, permanent community resources.
In this article, we discuss the value of Farmers’ Markets and provide information to help you start one where you live. Read on to learn more on how to start a Farmers Market in your town and how to successfully (and profitably) manage it.
What You'll Learn Today
- Why Should You Start a Farmers’ Market?
- Is It Hard to Start a Farmers’ Market?
- 1. Seek community support
- 2. Scope out locations
- 3. Look for interested farmers
- 4. Start your advertising campaign
- 5. Establish rules, guidelines and bylaws
- 6. Determine whether you will want or need to become a nonprofit organization
- 7. Establish a formal market manager
- 8. Set up a Board of Directors
- 9. Get insured
- Farmers’ Market Q&A
- Patience & Careful Planning Bring Success
Why Should You Start a Farmers’ Market?
A Farmers’ Market has a number of positive impacts on any community. Farmers’ Markets bring fresh, locally grown produce to people in underserved areas.
Additionally, farmers profit by being able to sell directly to the public, cutting out the middleman. Additionally, many people rely on the Farmers’ Market as a place to meet with other members of the community, relax, socialize and enjoy a day outdoors.
Farmers’ Market Set Up and Strategy
Is It Hard to Start a Farmers’ Market?
You might think that you could simply find a vacant lot and start selling, but this would be a big mistake. There are a number of steps you must take to lay the groundwork for starting a successful, legal, ongoing Farmers’ Market.
Here are some important topics and steps you should explore.
1. Seek community support
Before you choose a location or try to sell any item, make local contacts with residents, surrounding businesses, community organizations and the local government.
Many local governments seek out Farmers’ Markets. City planners actually include good areas for Farmers’ Market set-up because this type of activity helps build the local economy. It also provides a path to preserving historic heritage and keeping parks, public squares and other desirable areas open, active and well maintained.
- Who would I need to talk to make certain that local authorities are in line with my ideas?
Remember to involve community service agencies such as the local fire department, the local police department, the office of Public Works and the Public Health Department. Be sure to keep them informed of your plans and seek their input. You will need their full support in your endeavors.
- How do you approach local governments to set up a Farmers’ Market?
You’ll need to write a mission statement. The more clearly you’re able to express your goals and purpose, the better chance you will have of acceptance and support of your idea.
Present your goals and then follow up with a clear and concise list of tasks that must be done to get started. After the presentation, take questions and then ask for volunteers to accomplish your tasks.
- Who might help with your Farmers’ Market?
There are many different organizations that may be very interested in helping you among them are:
- Your Community Economic Development Office
- Your County Co-Op Extension Service
- Your Local Chamber Of Commerce
- Senior Citizens Organizations
- Local Horticultural Societies
- Your County Farm Bureau
- Community Developers
- Growers Association
- Local Garden Clubs
- Local Churches
It’s wise to take your idea to a City Hall meeting and address the general public. You may also want to pound the pavement and talk with local social organizations and businesses that may be willing to provide you with word-of-mouth advertising or even such tangible assistance as copies of flyers, volunteer administrative support and more.
- What are some good reasons for starting a Farmers’ Market?
If you are a farmer, starting a Farmers’ Market will help you open up marketing opportunities and improve your business. If you are a local community group, you may find that starting a Farmers’ Market encourages positive activity in your community. If you are a resident in a food desert, organizing a Farmers’ Market will benefit you directly and your community in a multitude of ways.
Other reasons for starting a Farmers’ Market include benefiting people with low income, making specialty vegetables available at affordable prices, promoting local agriculture, encouraging community involvement.
2. Scope out locations
After you have asked around, made connections and garnered support, begin looking for a good location. Be sure to seek suggestions from your newfound friends. The more input you have the less conflict you are likely to encounter.
A successful Farmers’ Market location should (at minimum) have:
- Seating areas so that people can picnic, chat and socialize
- Shelter from inclement weather
- Public transportation
- Restroom facilities
- Wheelchair access
- Good foot traffic
- Ample parking
- Running water
These days there are many urban areas that are considered food deserts. These are areas that have no supermarkets and little public transportation.
For this reason, it’s very difficult for residents to get fresh, affordable food. Setting up in an urban area that is considered a food desert is a win-win situation. Vendors are bound to be successful, and the community will surely benefit.
- How important is location?
Your location can make or break your Farmers’ Market. You need to be certain that the zoning laws of your location are in line with your goals and activities. You must also be sure that people are able to see your Farmers’ Market and access it.
Foot traffic is quite valuable, and there must also be ample parking for people who drive to attend your market. Remember that wheelchair accessibility is a must these days.
Of course, farmers will need to be able to get in and out easily with large vehicles. They must be able to turn around and get into position for good set up and display. You’ll want to make sure that the pavement of the locale can support the weight of heavy trucks.
It’s important that the flow of traffic around your setting be easy and consistent. You must be able to keep the fire and police runs clear, and people who are not interested in your market must be able to get past it without hindrance.
3. Look for interested farmers
After you have found community support and established the location, begin looking for vendors. Quite a few months before you plan to open, and well ahead of the growing season, you must begin contacting farmers and explaining what you have in mind and what you need. The farmers will need some lead time to plan their seed orders.
A good place to start your search is your County Extension Office. They may have a list of small farmers who will be happy to participate in your Farmers’ Market project.
Contact your potential vendors online, through your Facebook page and/or website, by old-fashioned snail mail and by getting in touch with your Department of Agriculture and Farm Bureau to let them know what you have in mind. These agencies can put information in their newsletters to call out to farmers who may be interested.
Contact growers associations in your state to help you alert farmers to your upcoming market. Be sure to advertise through newsletters and newspapers well in advance so that local farmers will know what to expect.
You may also want to physically make the rounds of Farmers’ Markets, to talk with potential vendors personally and spread word-of-mouth information.
- How many farmers do you need?
If you can start out with at least three farmers who sell very different types of produce and products, you can be fairly sure of being able to supply the needs of your potential customers.
- Do farmers always have to sell their own crops?
Generally speaking, the purpose of a Farmers’ Market is to provide fresh produce straight from the farmer the customer; however, can be difficult in some climates and locations, and there are some Farmers’ Markets that allow vendors to purchase fruits and vegetables wholesale and sell them to the public.
When this is the case, it must be made very clear to the customers. Additionally, your market manager must make certain that vendors who do this have acquired all of the correct licenses and permits resale.
- What should you do if you suspect a farmer is reselling produce rather than selling his own without disclosure?
The market manager must make certain that all vendors sign an agreement indicating what kind of produce they are selling. If customers or the market manager or any other entity believes that a farmer is not living up to the agreement he or she has signed, the dispute must go before the board of directors to be settled. Many times, this sort of violation is met with a warning, and if the farmer is warned three times, he or she will be banned from the market.
- How do you know what to offer at the Farmers’ Market?
As with opening any business, you’ll want to do some market research to get a good idea of what the local community wants and needs. Follow this up by reviewing and surveying local farmers and other suppliers to see what’s on offer and to make sure that you can accommodate the local demand.
Scope out local competition and offer other things and/or better prices. If there are convenience stores, grocery stores and supermarkets nearby, check to see what they have and what sorts of prices they have. Strive to compete.
4. Start your advertising campaign
With local support, good location and plenty of vendors in place, you’re ready to advertise. Strive to get your case before the public in every way possible including:
- Newspaper Articles
- Online Advertising
- Sandwich Boards
- Colorful Banners
- Bumper Stickers
- Newspaper Ads
- Social Media
- Radio Ads
- Your Blog
- TV Ads
In addition to formal advertising, remember that the way you look says a lot about you. Make certain that your market is well maintained and well-kept, easy to navigate and pretty to look at. It’s also a good idea to establish some loose dress code guidelines for your farmers.
The Ins And Outs Of Managing A Farmers’ Market
5. Establish rules, guidelines and bylaws
To avoid conflicts and confusion, before your first market, you should be sure to have rules and bylaws in place.
- Why is it necessary to have bylaws?
Having clear bylaws in place eliminates awkward questions. When you have bylaws, you are clear about such important topics as:
- When will meetings, elections and the like take place?
- How much are dues in your association?
- Who can be a member of your co-op?
- What do directors and officers do?
Be sure to check with your local health department to find out what guidelines and rules you must establish and follow regarding sales of fresh poultry and meat and other food products. There may be licensing requirements that your organization and individual vendors must fulfill.
No matter what rules you set up, you must be certain to keep them consistent and always enforce them.
6. Determine whether you will want or need to become a nonprofit organization
There are ample government resources available to help you make this determination, including:
Here, you will find information about accepting food stamps or other food and nutrition programs for people with low incomes, children and seniors.
- Should a Farmers’ Market be a nonprofit or a co-op?
Registering as a nonprofit organization is less expensive than registering as a for-profit organization. Additionally, as a nonprofit organization you can receive tax-deductible donations and you are exempt from paying taxes.
Because Farmers’ Markets are typically set up as a service to communities, farmers and consumers, it is easy to see why and how they may qualify as nonprofit organizations. Additionally, as a nonprofit, you may not need to incorporate. You can find the details of all of the possibilities in information obtained from the office of your Secretary of State.
An informal Farmers’ Market run by a group of farmers may incorporate as an agricultural co-op. A farmers co-op must be controlled entirely by farmers. Such a co-op may offer other services aside from establishing a Farmers’ Market. Examples include processing of produce, farmer education, produce storage and a variety of other services.
If you want your Farmers’ Market be a farm co-op, you can find out more about establishing it by contacting:
US Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Cooperatives Services
7. Establish a formal market manager
The market manager is the supervisor of the market. You may want to manage your Farmers’ Market yourself, or you may want to delegate the duties to a paid or volunteer manager.
The manager registers vendors, assigns spaces to participants and collects fees. He or she may also help with advertising, alerting the press of special events and liaising with the community.
Your market manager may be responsible for recruiting farmers, attending public hearings and meetings, obtaining insurance and permits, redeeming SNAP benefits and generally carrying out the wishes of the Board of Directors.
- What kind of registration form agreement are vendors be required to fill out?
A good registration agreement may include the following:
- Vendors Name, Address and Phone Number
- Vendors Email Address
- Vehicle Identification
- License Plate Numbers
- Amount of Fees Charged
- Stall Number Assignment
- Miscellaneous Charges
If there are cars that need to be towed, the market manager calls the tow truck. If there are disputes the market manager is called in to settle them. The market manager may also handle complaints about prices, quality of produce and the like.
- Should a Farmers’ Market be incorporated?
Incorporation is a good idea, especially with a large market. Doing this is a way of relieving the directors of financial liability in the event of accidents on the premises. Talk with the office of your Secretary of State to learn more about applying for corporate status. You may also wish to talk with the lawyer.
- Are most Farmers’ Markets incorporated?
Many are not and simply rely on their marketing committees to act as their governing body. In this case, the marketing committee makes decisions and outlines the rules, goals and objectives of the market. In a small association, this can be adequate; however, incorporating is a good way protect all involved.
8. Set up a Board of Directors
Having a board of directors made up of a diverse sampling of your community will help establish rules and guidelines that will work for all involved. Having these decisions made by one person can soon result in a situation that is perceived as a dictatorship. This can naturally cause loss of both vendors and customers.
As your board of director establishes policies and goals, they may want to keep the following in mind:
- How will we guard the safety and the health of our customers and our venue vendors?
- How will our market manager handle disorderly conduct for loitering?
- What kind of products can we sell in our Farmers’ Market?
- How much will we charge in fees and on what basis?
- What kind of promotion and signs will we use?
- Who is allowed to sell at the Farmers’ Market?
- What will our market manager’s duties be?
- How will we handle quality control?
- How are prices established and set?
- How will we handle parking?
- What hours will we operate?
- How will space be assigned?
In addition to these kinds of concerns, the board will handle hiring and firing, establishing job descriptions and creating general guidelines and foreseeing potential problems.
9. Get insured
You’ll need to have insurance for your organization and your location. Talk with your insurance agent to determine exactly what sort of insurance is best for your situation. Some good resources for this type of insurance include:
- The USDA Risk Management Agency
- The USDA Farm Service Agency
Both the owners of the market and individual farmers should talk with their insurance providers to determine exactly what is necessary in a given situation. At the very least a good liability insurance policy can help protect you against lawsuits stemming from on-site accidents.
Farmers’ Market Q&A
1. Where can I get ideas for starting a good Farmers’ Market?
One very good way to get inspiration is to simply visit other Farmers’ Markets in the area or further afield. Take a few days to walk through successful markets and take notes.
2. When is the best time to start a Farmers’ Market?
Because beginning a Farmers’ Market is a multi-step process that involves a number of legal and logistical steps, it’s a good idea to get started in autumn. This gives you several months to get organized before the growing season begins. In this way, you can be open throughout the spring, summer and into the fall.
3. How much rent should you expect to pay for a Farmers’ Market location?
It’s very often possible to find locations where you don’t have to pay. Many open air markets are held on public squares, town commons, vacant lots, side streets and parking lots. If this is not possible, you may have to pay a fee for use of a public venue. This will vary from one community to another.
4. What hours of operation are best?
Your study of your local community will inform you as to the best hours of operation for your market.
5. How many months of the year should the market be open?
There is no set guideline for the numbers of months of the year when a market can be open. It really depends on the local climate and the availability of the goods you intend to sell.
Patience & Careful Planning Bring Success
It can take quite a while to establish a Farmers’ Market. It will take a great deal of patience and persistence on your part, even if the market is a desired addition to the community. With the passage of time, your market will gradually become a valued addition to your town or city.