2003 New York State Farmers’ Market Conference

Farmers’ market managers get a feast of practical advice at recent conference.

By Brian Moyer

For more on the Farmers' Market Federation of New York. . .

Check out their website at




"Vendors need to establish a farm identity with samples, visuals and color . . . it could make the difference between $150 a day or $1000."


















"Market planners need to identify . . . a mission statement . . . without a meaningful mission, your rules won't help you achieve your goals."







































For more market development details,

See the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York web site at:

Or, ATTRA has a web site for
starting a farmers’ market:







Brian and Holly, his wife, operate Green Haven Farm near Fleetwood, PA. They raise pastured livestock and make cheese. They market through two CSAs, two farmers’ markets, restaurants and on-farm sales. Their leadership has established two successful farmers’ markets in the past two years.

February 14, 2003
Despite snow, icy roads and subzero temperatures, the place to be for farmers’ market managers the last weekend of January was Saratoga Springs, New York. The event was the 2003 Farmers’ Marketing Conference. Both seasoned managers and newcomers went home with a wealth of how’s and why’s.

The event was hosted by the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York and sponsored by The Northeast Farm Credit AgEnhancement Program. The sessions covered developing rules and regulations, food demonstrations and sampling, vendor mix and recruitment, writing business plans, writing grants, market promotion and market assessment.

Vance Corum, co-author of The New Farmers’ Market, brought more than 20 years of experience working with farmers’ markets to his four presentations. Corum said that creating a classic marketplace is an ancient Athenian idea of building a true democracy. By welcoming everyone’s ideas, managers can bring the community into a market that is truly democratic.

“Start big,” says Corum. “Each season is like a new market.” He said to use off-season time like you were starting a new market in the growing season ahead. Plan and arrange promotion and make plans early. Every dollar spent in preparation will save you two dollars later, he said. Corum also encourages communities “to think bigger than you’ve been thinking.”

Integrity, identity and quality
Markets are a long-term commitment to build a sense of community. The vibrancy of a market depends on the connection between the consumers and the farmers. Key to any market is the integrity of the vendors. Farmer/vendors should have top-quality products with excellent signage. Vendors need to establish a farm identity with samples, visuals and color. Corum said it could make the difference between $150 day or $1000. Such things as distinctive farm signs and a 100-percent guarantee will establish identity and build market share.

In a session titled “vendor mix and recruitment,” Corum gave some creative and valuable advice. Vance believes that recruitment starts with attitude. You need to bring a positive and energetic attitude to your market ideas. You need a vision of what the market will be. To make your recruiting successful you need to build relationships and have a network of people who
can help you. Recruiting tools include a booth at regional farming conferences, a mailing through your local extension office, talks with local civic groups and communication with your state’s department of agriculture.

Corum recommends that you know your target community’s demographics, i.e., who lives there and what are their likely food shopping characteristics. Are there any ethnic groups that could benefit from some specialty products you can offer? What is the income level of likely participants?

Regarding the more unpleasant topic of “the challenging vendor,” Corum gave some sobering advice: Start by realizing “It may be me.” Complaints issued by a vendor may really be caused by other things, such as trying to avoid an inspection of their own stand. Perhaps the complainant may be having a personal problem that is unknown.

Corum suggests complaints be written, that the manager sign them and that they be handled by a review committee and with an appeals process. Keep a log of market situations. Remember that the market is bigger than any one farmer.

Evaluating your market
For Corum’s final session he outlined how to do a Rapid Market Assessment (RMA). These tools provide information to help market managers understand participants at the markets and improve their experience.

Knowing how many people shop at your market is a valuable but generally uncollected piece of information. Vendors want to estimate potential sales, area businesses are interested in spill over sales and community leaders want to know how important the market is as a social center.

One way to count attendance is to have volunteers use click counters as people enter the market. He says to count for only 10 minutes per hour and only count potential shoppers (adults). Take the 10-minute count and multiply it by six for a reliable count per hour.

The “dot” survey is a method that draws participants to give accurate assessments of consumer preferences. This is a “self-service” research approach using a limited number of questions. You set up several large pads on easels. Each pad has a survey question on it with four possible responses. Consumers place a colored dot on their response for each question.

The third portion of the RMA is called the CCO (constructive comments/observations). This kind of assessment requires the greatest amount of preparation and coordination. It uses a team made up of market managers or board members from different markets and community leaders. They study a specific market. Using the results of the RMA, the market can benefit from the insights of outsiders. The RMA team conducts the attendance counts, dot surveys, and they assess this information along with the market atmosphere, layout, vendor mix and products.

Enforcing rules begins with a mission
Trina Pilonero from Silver Heights Farm discussed developing and enforcing effective rules and regulations. She is a member of the board of directors of the Sullivan County Area Farmers’ Market Inc. in southwestern New York.

She said the market planners need to identify the farmer recruitment radius, customer base, market goals, regulations and – most importantly – a mission statement. She says that without a meaningful mission, your rules won’t help you achieve your goals. Start with these questions: Why is this market being created? What is the purpose or philosophy of this market? Who will benefit from the market? Organizers need to identify the sponsor of the market, the board, the vendor fees, stall sizes and guidelines for selling.

Once everyone is agreed on the mission, market rules provide the opportunity to define eligible products. The larger the market, the more important the parameters become. A market with three or four vendors needs as much product as possible to remain viable, so flexibility is at a premium. A 20-vendor market needs to ensure that all vendors have the opportunity to make money while avoiding intense competition on a few products.

Pilonero says rules are critical to set a framework and procedures for the day-to-day administration. The application process creates a legally binding agreement between market and vendor. Simple rules that are reviewed regularly can guide a market to success. A copy of the Sullivan County group’s 2003 guidelines will soon be available at

Sampling tempts the senses
Olivia Hill of Solomon’s Rose gave tips to turn product sampling into market sales. She uses a display tray and positions herself in front of her stand to offer samples to the customer instead of waiting for them help themselves.

Hill said to encourage relationships between growers at the market by using samples with other vendors’ products. She suggests using cooking demonstrations to show the versatility and uses of a product. Sales rise as the cooking aromas draw people to your stand.

Farm inspections verify compliance
Steve Miller from Cornell Cooperative Extension talked about how to perform farm inspections of participating farmers. He discussed what to look for, how to correlate crop size with what’s being sold at the market and why this is important. In a survey of various markets, he found that 90 percent of the respondents said that their market required a specific amount of product (between 50 to 100 percent) be grown on the farm.

If New York markets participate in the state’s Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), the farmer needs to produce at least half of what is sold at any given time. Miller explained how managers could provide this verification.

He provided a checklist for inspections along with a sample chart for average crop yields in New York State. Some items on the checklist were:

  1. Give rules in writing to each farmer.
  2. Assure that rules should describe what an inspection consists of and who will do it.
  3. Develop an appeal process.
  4. Require a crop plan early in the season.
  5. Carry out inspections during the growing season.
  6. Give the farmer a receipt that verifies the inspection took place.
  7. Give written warnings when infractions take place.

Bob Weybright, also from Cornell Extension, went through the steps of writing a business plan for your market. These include knowing the market objectives, its mission statement and how it will measure success. A good business plan is critical if you wish to seek economic assistance from local organizations or the business community. For more detailed information on business plans, e-mail