Posted February 16, 2006: If you are trying
to start or turn around a farmers’ market, it’s
easy to get distracted by all the possibilities of signage
and events and promotions. Before you order your banners,
though, make sure you’ve mastered the basics. Each step
should set the foundation for the next to make sure things
unfold as planned on opening day—and finish strong at
The following are the basics to start or save your farmers’
- Every business needs a business plan, and that includes
your market. You should write your bylaws and vendor application
as soon as your plan is complete. Review all three documents
to make sure there are no conflicts. Remember the bylaws
are the rules you use to achieve the goals set out in your
- Find a minimum of eight qualified venders (producers
who can make a living selling their products).
- Offer a broad spectrum of products (honey, baked goods,
fruit, flowers, meat, eggs, milk, cheese and produce).
- Try to balance the number of vendors with the anticipated
number of customers. A good balance will keep both customers
and vendors coming back.
Okay, you already had these four steps in mind. So when do
you write your business plan? How do you find the qualified
venders with a broad spectrum of products? What is the right
number of venders for each type of product?
At your first market meeting, you must decide what you are
trying to accomplish. Your primary goal may be to supply fresh
produce to inner-city residence or it may be to provide the
freshest high-quality produce to suburban customers with more
disposable income. Different distinct goals such as these
will greatly shape your planning and recruiting.
Once planners agree on a goal or set of goals, it’s
time write your business plan. Make sure to set major milestones—determining
the location of your market, minimum number of vendors—and
the timeline to reach each.
Follow up by creating market bylaws—the set of governing
rules that will assure the market operates in a way that will
allow it to achieve its goals. The rules need to enable vendors
to be successful individually so that the market succeeds
Finding the vendors
How are you going to locate the types and number of vendors
you need? Not all farmers’ markets are open on the same
days, so pick some that are on different days than your market.
(The USDA has a great website for locating farmers markets
in your area.) Take the time to go to those markets and talk
to their vendors. Ask if they know of anyone looking for additional
market days. Search the web for sites that list producers
New Farm Locator) and contact vendors in your area. Call
the agricultural associations and extension agents in your
state and ask them if they can help you locate possible vendors
for your market. Run an advertisement in your local agricultural
newspaper. Visit any agricultural colleges in your area to
see if you can place a notice on their bulletin boards. Check
with local stores that carry produce from the community and
Why vendors should chose your market
Just as customers are looking for a good selection of fresh
local produce, potential vendors are looking for a constant
flow of customers during market hours. You must convince producers
that selling through your farmers market will offer them a
greater opportunity than other forms of marketing.
Once the vendor is convinced that a farmers’ market
is the right place to sell their products, you must persuade
them to choose your market.
potential vendors what you are doing to attract customers,
and be specific about how you plan to support your producers
throughout the season in ways that other markets in the area
have overlooked. While many farmers’ markets have a
market web site, your market’s site could offer each
vendor their own web page on its site. They could list their
available products, pricing and availability on the page you
Show marketing plans—Let
potential vendors know how you are going to promote the market
so that it will attract a large number of customers each week.
Show them the handouts you have for customers that address
issues like buying local.
need to know what makes your market different from the others
markets in the area. They need reasons to believe that it
may pay for them to invest time away from the farm and other
markets to try your market. Give them a copy of your market
rules and vendor application. Show them how the rules were
set up to help each stand be as profitable as possible.
Open the process—Invite
potential vendors to your next planning meeting to enable
then to communicate with other vendors. When they come to
your meeting, make sure you ask them for their ideas. You
want potential venders to know that you consider their input
and ideas important.
Once they decide they want to join, request that they fill
out an application that tells you everything you need to know
to determine whether whether fit the quality, product and
character role of the market. Make the form just long enough
to work, and allow them to express the individuality of their
Which vendors should you chose
You found a number of possible vendors and you can convince
them to choose your market. How do you select which ones you
Think about what your market needs to be successful in attracting
and satisfying customers throughout your season. Give serious
consideration to establishing your market as producer only;
in other words, you can only be a vendor if you grew it or
made in yourself. This model supports the local economy and
offers customers a face-to-face relationship with the person
who grew their food, two primary reasons more and more people
are supporting farmers markets with their food dollars. Produce
resellers, aka hucksters, tend to bring down the prices for
the products they sell. Remember, your farmers need to make
a profit if they are going to stay in business. And you can
exercise better overall quality control when the producer
of a product is the person selling that product at your market.
The following should help you to set up your criteria:
- Determine which products your market needs, so your customers
feel they have the diverse selection they want.
- Estimate how many vendors it will take to provide the
quantity of each product your market will need.
- Review the applications. If a vendor has a product you
need, are they able to supply your market from the beginning
to the end of your season? If so, can they meet your demand
for quality and presentation?
Find out if the vendor is selling at any other markets and
which ones. Ask people at the other markets if the vendor
is dependable and cooperative. What’s the quality of
their products, and is it consistent? Farmers’ market
customers like to talk to vendors. Make sure the vendors you
are considering are friendly and willing to engage your customers
when conditions allow.
Once you’ve got the people with the products you need—willing
to work creatively within the rules you set that will accomplish
the market’s goals—you’re ready to launch
the season and find out if you have market that works.
Now, go ahead and order that banner!