Starting a neighborhood farmers market has been one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done this year. While we don’t exactly live in a “food desert”, it is difficult to find good local and organic food in this city. I’m better at talking than I am at working with my hands, so a farmers market seemed to be a good solution. Here are a few things worth knowing:
1) Start Early. Planning for a farmers market needs to happen in the winter. Farmers are not so busy that time of year and they are planning their spring season.
2) Find Out What People Want. After polling our neighborhood, I was really surprised that people wanted to see fresh flowers at their market. Flowers continue to draw people in and and make our market attractive. Meanwhile, there was almost no interest in arts and crafts. Doing a little market research saved everyone time and energy.
3) Location, Location, Location. Keep your vendors happy by finding a spot with high visibility and good foot traffic. Corners and intersections can be good. Farmers and bakers also appreciate locations that are shaded, which keeps produce from wilting and baked goods from melting. Many vendors will bring their own tents, but a sheltered location can be helpful.
Also, check with your municipality regarding the legality of setting up a market. We found a perfect location, only to find that our city did not allow sale of goods in the right-of-way (i.e., public sidewalk). Some networking enabled us to find a privately-owned sidewalk at the other end of the block.
4) Work With Your State’s Department of Agriculture. These guys are here to help you (really!). Whether you are looking to find farmers for your market, or if you need to write a vendor’s agreement, you’ll get plenty of assistance. And yes, they will also help you understand the appropriate rules and regulations…
5) Get Used to Rejection. While it may be a surprise, not everyone wants to participate in your market. We had difficulty finding a baker who didn’t mind working nights. In this case, we had to interview four candidates before we found a good fit.
6) Find Allies. Extend your networking beyond just farmers and producers. Community associations, churches, and local businesses are all interested in improving the neighborhood. They can help you find a location, vendors, and free publicity.
7) Quality Counts. People shop at farmers markets in part because they want quality and authenticity. At our market, vendors are only allowed to sell what they grow or make – no middle men are allowed. We also promote our market as a source of heirloom, regional, and organic foods.
The amazing thing is the freshness. I’ve seen salad greens that are so fresh that they almost glow. Food purchased at a farmers market stays fresher, longer. Plus, you know where it comes from.
We’ve been eating better since our market opened just a few weeks ago. Shopping for fruit, vegetables, flowers, and bread is now something that we look forward to each week – both as a social event and a way to support our local economy.