Farmers’ markets are one of the easiest ways to buy fresh, locally grown produce – and for farms and related businesses to sell directly to local people. But what is a farmers’ market?
A farmers’ market is a location where farmers and other local producers come together at a set time to sell directly to customers. It may be an indoor or outdoor venue with stalls or tables dedicated to each farm and business. Some farmers’ markets only include locally grown food, while others include other locally made products like preserves, baking, and crafts.
However, it is important to remember that not all farmers’ markets are a good choice for all farms. Some farmers’ markets are too small and attract too few people to make it worth attending.
You need to have a vehicle to transport food and you need time, as selling at farmers’ markets means long days – early mornings to harvest, driving to the market to set up, selling directly to customers, and then packing up to head home.
You may need to diversify your vegetable offerings to attract customers and you may end up with a lot of produce that didn’t sell.
It’s also important to note that not all farmers’ markets limit themselves to local farms or organic produce. This depends on the farmers’ market regulations, as some may allow people who buy vegetables from wholesalers.
Farms may be pretty far away from the market, especially if you’re in the middle of a large urban city. Nor are all products organic, although customers may assume so.
The great thing about a farmers’ market for farmers (especially if you’re just starting out) is that a farmers’ market gives you the opportunity to talk to your customers and share your values and how you grow your vegetables or raise your animals.
You can learn what types of vegetables your customers like best. And you can build personal relationships with customers, which is something that large corporations can’t manage no matter how many farmer portraits they put on their packaging.
Ready? Let’s begin.
What Is A Farmers’ Market?
A farmers’ market is a place where farmers and other local producers come together to sell their products directly to customers.
This usually means that most of the stalls sell food products like vegetables, fruit, eggs, and meat, although a market may also include vendors for crafts, baked goods like bread, pies, and cookies, and canned goods like pickles and jam.
Local organizations may also have tables to promote their causes or services, like a local non-profit or a library.
Purpose Of A Farmer’s Market
The main purpose of a farmer’s market is to allow farmers to sell their goods directly to customers. This cuts out intermediaries like distributors and grocery stores, and cuts down on transportation.
Farmers can build relationships with their customers, and customers can get to know the people who grow their food. Farmers can also get a higher percentage of revenue than selling to wholesalers and deliver fresher food.
The benefits of local farmers’ markets include:
- Rebuilds local economies and supports local, family businesses. Local farmers just can’t compete on price with large-scale corporate farms, even if they have fresher, higher quality produce. Farmers’ markets give farmers an affordable way to sell their goods at competitive prices, since they don’t need to give a large cut to wholesalers and retailers. And when people buy locally, 68% of the money spent stays in their community, as opposed to only 43% when spent at a national chain.
- Makes farming more financially sustainable. Farmers make the least amount of money when selling to the conventional system of distributors and retailers. At a farmers’ market, farmers can cut out the intermediaries for the cost of a table and a day away from the farm, while selling their produce at competitive prices.
- Reduces transportation and your carbon footprint. When food doesn’t need to be driven across the country or flown in from overseas, you eliminate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. And that’s just from travel. You also avoid storage and refrigeration, and cut back on food waste from spoilage.
- Offers fresher, tastier food. Farmers can grow tastier vegetables because they can choose varieties based on taste rather than how they stand up to transportation. Vegetables taste better the fresher they are, so instead of buying vegetables that were picked two or three weeks before, customers can buy vegetables picked within 24 hours.
- Encourages sustainable and regenerative agriculture. You can buy certified organic food from corporations at the grocery store, but those corporations are regenerating the land and they’re actively lobbying to make certifications harder for non-corporations to get while getting regulations lowered. And while not all the food at your local farmers’ market is grown regeneratively or organically, customers can ask directly, and farmers can educate people about their values. Sustainable agriculture tries to keep the land from degrading further, while regenerative agriculture tries to rebuild agricultural land into better ecosystems.
- Puts farmers front and center. You don’t know who actually grew the food when shopping at a grocery store, even when they put a photo of a farmer on the package. Customers at farmers’ markets can meet the people who grew the food they eat, learn their values, and how they grew the food.
- Supports other local businesses. Produce stalls may be the big draw, but other local people can rent stalls to sell the things they produce, like bread and pie, handmade crafts, and their preserves. A farmers’ market stall gives people a low-cost way to start their own business, when they may not have access to put their products into retail stores.
How Is A Farmers’ Market Different From A Grocery Store?
A farmers’ market is a location (usually for one or two days a week) where multiple farmers can bring their goods to sell directly to consumers, while a grocery store is a retail store that brings in goods from many sources and locations to sell to consumers.
Grocery stores are convenient. They’re often open 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, so people can shop whenever they want.
They also have a wide variety of goods, from vegetables, to frozen food, to cleaning products, and sometimes even clothing. Grocery stores offer vegetables and fruit that are out of season, or can’t be grown locally.
While some grocery stores and chains are attempting to feature more local food, most of the food sold comes from big distributors and has traveled thousands of miles to get to the store.
Farmers’ markets can provide access to fresher, healthier food, but are less convenient. They’re usually open only one day a week for a limited number of hours, and may not operate year-round, so customers need to plan their visits. They mostly offer only in-season fruit and vegetables. Customers will need to visit grocery stores to buy food and products not available at the market.
Grocery stores aren’t necessarily cheaper than farmers’ market prices. While farmers’ markets won’t have bargain basement prices, they do often sell at similar prices to comparative food at the grocery store (like comparing organic to organic).
Produce sold at a farmers’ market is usually fresher and will last longer in a fridge than produce bought at a grocery store, and also offer other benefits for the price, like contributing to the local economy.
What Is Sold At A Farmers’ Market?
The products sold at a farmers’ market depends on who the vendors are, and may change from week to week. Not all vendors attend all the dates, and what they sell may come in and out of season.
More popular items (like eggs) may sell out early. The farmers’ market may also limit what can be sold to farm-grown crops, or include processed goods grown or not grown on the farm, or include arts and crafts.
Some typical things sold at farmers’ markets include:
- Honey and beeswax candles
- Preserves like pickles and jam
- Wine, mead, and cider
- Kefir, kombucha, cheese, and yogurt
- Pre-made frozen meals (like frozen soup)
- Baked goods, like bread, cookies, and pies
- Fiber crafts, like crochet or knit items, or even skeins of yarn
- Sewn crafts, like aprons and tea towels
- Roasted coffee and hand-blended teas
- Seedlings and houseplants
- Flower bouquets
- Art, like paintings, photographs, greeting cards, and sculptures
- Bath and beauty products (especially soap)
- Food trucks
How To Be In A Farmers’ Market
So you’ve got a product, and you’re ready to become a vendor at a farmer’s market.
The first step is to find a farmers’ market. You can usually just google farmers’ market in your location, as most farmers’ markets have some sort of online presence.
Second, check the requirements and read any handbooks. Some markets limit vendors to locally grown produce, while others may allow any products made, baked, grown or designed in your area.
If you’re selling baking or pre-made meals, you may need to be assessed by a Public Health Inspector and/or cook in an inspected kitchen (not your home kitchen). You may need to rent a commercial kitchen, but you can also look at kitchens in community centers and churches, which are often also inspected (ask to see a permit).
Eggs may need to be graded and meats officially inspected. Depending on local legislation, you may not be able to sell unpasteurized dairy products. If you sell by the pound, you will need a certified scale. The market may also have policies regarding product presentation and labeling.
Once you know that your business satisfies the requirements, fill in and submit your application. The earlier in the season, the better. If you’re applying to partake in a tiny farmers’ market, this might not be a problem, but if you’re applying to a larger farmers’ market, there may be other similar businesses competing for the same space.
Farmers’ market committees may screen applications to keep a variety of vendors and not end up one giant craft sale. The size of the location may also limit the number of vendors.
Once submitted, the committee will review your application. Depending on the farmers’ market, they may invite you to an interview before they make their final decision.
You will also need to pay a fee for your vendor space, either by table or by linear footage. How much will depend on the farmers’ market. Fees will go towards funding the market, including marketing costs and personnel.
What about once you’ve been approved? While your Farmers’ Market will have its own code of conduct, here’s a few good guidelines to follow:
- Maintain a neat appearance. You may have been working over a hot stove or spent the early hours harvesting, but it pays to wash up and change clothes before heading to the farmers’ market.
- If not provided, bring your own table and canopy. The canopy will keep the sun and rain off of you and your products, while a fold-up table will bring your display off the ground and into the eye line.
- Post prices neatly and bring a sign or banner with your farm or company name. This will help customers recognize you and your business so they can come back to buy from you again. You may also want to bring leaflets to describe your growing philosophy to help educate people.
- Be courteous and helpful. A farmers’ market is about increasing the connection between farmers and consumers.
- Bring a cash box and keep it just out of sight, or wear an apron to store change. While cash is the primary payment at farmers’ markets, you may also want a way to take credit card and debit payments as well, especially if you’re selling higher priced items.
A farmers’ market is a great way for farmers and ranchers to sell directly to customers, cutting out distributors and retailers for a bigger slice of the pie, while also sharing your values and contributing to the health and wellbeing of your customers.
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