SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY: 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
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
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 www.scafm.org.
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:
- Give rules in writing to each farmer.
- Assure that rules should describe what an inspection
consists of and who will do it.
- Develop an appeal process.
- Require a crop plan early in the season.
- Carry out inspections during the growing season.
- Give the farmer a receipt that verifies the inspection
- 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 email@example.com.