Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Farmers’ Markets – How to Choose?

Many beginning farmers look to the farmers’ market as one of the best ways to market their local produce. Farmers’ markets are great because they have very low costs of entry, they allow a lot of experimentation with products, you can get immediate feedback on your products – and best of all, with over 5,000 markets across the US there is a market near you! However, as a beginning farmer, you really need to stop and evaluate which market will suit you best. Large markets – such as the Saturday markets at Columbia Farmers’ Market or the Greater Springfield Farmers’ Market – attract a large number of customers – but both have large numbers of existing member vendors and waiting lists for new ones. In 2009, the Columbia Farmers’ Market had one Saturday with 6,700 customers passing through in a four-hour stint. That means lots of exposure for your product, but a lot of competition from experienced farmer vendors who have built up strong customer bases over the years.
While customer traffic is a very important consideration when thinking about which market to join, you might also look at your product mix and see if there is a market with fewer customers – and vendor competition – which still might be a better match for you. If you can supply a large amount of product in a smaller farmers’ market, you may end up with a better profit position at the end of the day. You also have to consider how much time you will spend driving to the market – it may not be worth driving over 100 miles to a larger market unless you have very special, unique products that are in demand.

You also need to consider how much the market charges to sell – some markets may charge a flat membership fee that guarantees a spot for the whole season, some may charge a daily booth fee, or some may do both. Another factor that may affect your decision is the market’s position on allowing non-local produce to be sold. Some markets require farmer vendors to sell only what they produce, while other markets allow in certain products that aren’t yet in season but are regionally produced. Be sure to read the rules for the farmers’ markets before joining so that you can evaluate which market will best fit your needs.

Finally, make sure to carefully read any contract that you sign to sell at a particular farmers’ market. The contract should clearly set out the rights of vendors at the market, and their corresponding responsibilities. (Farmers Legal Action Group has a great fact sheet on farmers’ market rules.) Most of these contracts will specify who is eligible to sell, how the market is managed, how disputes will be resolved, if inspections are required and how they will be done, fees, contract termination, and insurance.
(by Mary Hendrickson)

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