Because you’re such a good millennial, you enjoy visiting your local farmers’ market. Supporting the local farmers and artisans who make your area unique is fine.
Your weekly farmers market transaction may have gone awry, however. Who’s to say you can’t sell your wares at your neighborhood farmers’ market?
Your local farmers’ market doesn’t require you to plough your own fields each spring or milk your own cows each morning. Fresh produce, animal products, or value added goods are all you need. As long as you have access to a small farm plot or urban farmland and a safe method of producing value-added food or non-food products, you can open a farmers’ market stall. In theory, at least.
For committed vendors, the reality is more complicated, but not insurmountable. We’ll look at: in this guide:
- Markets typically accept vendors from the following categories
- Farmers market vendors who have a good track record
- Making your first appearance at a farmers’ market near you and getting started.
- Farmers’ market tips and tricks for a better shopping experience (and earnings)
Determine if you’re a good fit for a farmers’ market first.
A Farmers’ Market Is Right for You?
Farmers’ markets don’t require you to own or rent farmland, as previously stated. It is possible to maintain a low-volume stall throughout the season with a well-tended backyard garden, livestock operation, or (legal) foraging enterprise. Your chances of success increase if you produce value-added products like preserved fruits and vegetables, prepared foods or non-food crafts (if market policies allow).
Product categories widely accepted by U.S. markets and relatively easy for small-scale sellers to procure are found in every farmers’ market.
- To the extent that your area is suitable for growing fruits and vegetables, the options are nearly endless. All kinds of greens, radishes, chives and more are among the fresh vegetables that farmers’ market customers love to buy. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples, pears, peaches, melons, peppers, tomatoes, and rhubarb (technically a vegetable, but it’s really only edible in fruity jams) are some of the most commonly consumed fruits in the United States. As long as the weather permits, exotic fruits such as figs, dates, and citrus fruits can also be used.
- Growing your own fresh animal products is much simpler than you might think. You can even raise your own small livestock (anyone want to try goats?). Keeping bees is a doable hobby with a little time and preparation, as well as the proper gear. The trusty chicken egg is the most popular small-farm animal product. A healthy flock of crows should lay one egg per day on average, with a few bad days thrown in for good measure. Bees take longer to produce usable honey because they are so busy, but even a small operation can provide you with enough jars to make ends meet. Nothing but meat and lawn-mowing skills can be obtained from rabbits. Even though your small backyard operation won’t produce enough meat to sustain a market stall on its own, they reproduce quickly enough to keep regular customers happy.
- Produce that can be kept for a long time: I’ve done it more times than I care to admit, and I’m not even close to being a good housewife. (As a comparison, brewing your own beer at home is more difficult.) Potatoes, gourds, turnips, rutabaga, and other root vegetables that can be stored for a long time can be sold. These come in handy in colder climates where markets remain open over the holidays.
- It is possible to sell a reasonable amount of homemade value-added food products without getting bogged down in red tape in most states and localities. Anything goes in this section, from salsas and hot sauces to mustards and other condiments to pickles, seasonings, and a plethora of nonalcoholic beverages.
- There may be licensing and inspection requirements for food prepared in a commercial kitchen. It’s possible that you can include everything from simple sweets like bars and cookies to more complex desserts like pies or cakes as well as breakfast pastries and scones, breads, and hot foods like burritos, savory pies, kebabs, and so on in this category.
- It’s a lot easier to work on inedible products in the workshop rather than in the kitchen or in the garden, right? The majority of markets allow non-food vendors (or vendors that sell a mix of edible and non-edible items) if they meet the same provenance standards as the edibles, but some markets are strictly food-only. Farmers’ markets are a great place to sell your wares if you’re a budding artist or crafter. Most successful are the following: handcrafted or knitted items; carved wood; and visual media (such as postcards).
In most markets, there is little or no restriction on the number of products a vendor can sell. That would be detrimental to both parties. While it’s common for markets to group like-minded vendors together, there’s probably nothing stopping you from, say, selling bread and crafts at the same stall. However, to be certain, speak with the people in charge of organizing your market.
Starting at the Farmers’ Market: A Step-by-Step Approach
Choosing a farmers’ market and preparing your stall are explained here in a roughly linear order. Your experience may differ depending on local laws and market policies.
1. Determine what you’ll be selling before you begin.
Determine what you’ll be selling at your stall before you begin.
Many factors come into play, including personal preferences and what’s practical to grow or prepare with your available resources, market policies and restrictions, and local ordinances that limit or prohibit the sale of certain food products.
Selling Your Produce
Prior to starting at the farmers’ market, you should begin this process several months in advance. In the event that you plan to sell produce or animal products from the land you own or rent in a community garden, you’ll need that time to plan your plots and set up your enclosures.
You can ensure a steady supply of produce throughout the market season by planting a variety of fruits and vegetables that mature at different times of the year. The use of artificial lighting may be necessary in colder climates where early-season crops must be started indoors. You’ll have to pay more money up front because of this, as you’ll see in the chart below. Farmers’ markets in warm climates, where they are more likely to be year-round, may not be required.
Seasonal produce can be preserved or made into value-added products like salsa or jam to ensure that your stall’s profits will continue to rise throughout the year. Neither is nearly as difficult as you might imagine it to be.
Buying and reselling goods
Farm products that are not grown by the vendor may be sold at farmers markets. Vendors who don’t have the land, time, or expertise to grow their own crops can take advantage of this service.
Begin by contacting local farmers and asking if you can buy their produce or animal products wholesale. Ad hoc wholesale arrangements can reduce waste and boost profit margins, so you’ll have no problem finding customers. For those who aren’t sure where to begin, look up community gardens, cultural associations, and tribal or immigrant rights groups in your area to get started. Recent immigrants and indigenous groups predominate in suburban and exurban grower communities in many major metro areas.
2. Make a Startup Budget and a Stall Plan
Stalls at farmers’ markets are like new apartments or office suites in that they’re basically blank canvases. Despite the fact that there aren’t any permanent walls to demolish, If the market and pragmatism allow it, you can create your own.
Decorating a new home, on the other hand, is much more enjoyable. Consider:
- A stall fee or rent is charged at nearly every farmers’ market, and these fees or rents are typically based on a calendar year or season. These costs are reasonable: Depending on the market’s popularity and location, I was told by Julia Misiego, member services coordinator at the Utah Farm Bureau, that prices in her state range from just over $100 to about $600 per season. At the most expensive market (Sundance Film Festival’s Park City, Utah, home) Stall fees are likely to be more expensive in major cities like San Francisco and New York (and stalls themselves more competitive).
- Tables and Seating: You’ll need a stable surface to display signage and samples if market management does not provide them. If a folding banquet table isn’t an option, a high, permanent counter can be used. If you don’t have a pickup truck to pull right up to your stall, you’ll need to bring chairs for yourself and your guests. A banquet table can cost up to $50, and each folding chair can cost between $10 and $15.
- There are some farmers’ market stalls that have a canvas or wood roof, but not all of them. Install a portable tent or other form of weather protection on your stall if it is completely exposed to the elements during open hours, provided that the market management is on board. Make certain that the dimensions of your tent are compatible with the available space. It’s easy to annoy your new neighbors by erecting a tent that’s too wide. Cost: Expect to pay at least $150 for a long-lasting canvas tent that is easy to set up and take down.
- A typical farmers’ market is open from 8am or 9am to 12pm or 1pm on Saturdays or Sundays, with some markets open longer. Some markets are open for longer periods of time or on additional days. In the event that you need to use the restroom or locate market management, you’ll likely need at least one partner to assist with loading and unloading, transactions, and supervision.
- If you’re selling animal products or ready-to-eat foods, cold storage is especially critical. At the very least, you’ll need a large cooler with plenty of ice. Cardboard boxes kept in shady areas should be sufficient for fresh-picked produce. Cost: A large cooler can cost up to $100, with ice costing $2 per ten-pound bag.
- If you’re going to sell hot prepared foods, you’ll need a way to keep your food out of the danger zone (above 140 degrees) all day long. A few slow cookers may be enough for small batches. In order to handle larger crowds, you’ll need a more elaborate buffet setup that includes portable burners. Cost: An 8-quart slow cooker can cost up to $50, while buffet trays with burners can cost up to $200.
- No traditional cash register is necessary, but you will still need a lockbox to store cash and change for the amount of business you are likely to do at your stand. Do not forget to go to the bank the day before market day to buy small bills and coin rolls. Cash boxes start at $25 and go up from there.
- Even though most people who shop at farmers’ markets do so with their own bags, you’ll want to have some on hand for those who don’t. Even the smallest purchases should fit comfortably in paper gift bags with handles that are strong and sturdy. A 250-count carton can cost anywhere from $60 to $100.
- Nowadays, even farmers’ market vendors must be able to process credit cards. Consider a mobile credit card processing app like Square, which offers subscription and per-transaction pricing. The stripe-and-chip reader (essential for EMV credit cards) connects directly to your phone or tablet, eliminating the need for any plugs or wiring. For announcing upcoming events and directing customers back to your website, emailed credit card receipts are a great option. Cost: Readers are usually free, but this can vary depending on the transaction.
- As you can see from the examples above, printed collateral includes signage, paper slips with your contact and website information, flyers announcing events at your farm, order sheets listing inventory available for purchase by mail/online, and labels or ingredient lists (if required by your market or local authorities). Cost: Negligible if printed at home
3. Get All Required Permits and Licenses
The first step in selling at a farmers’ market is to clear your name with the authorities. Contact the management team of your target market and inquire about the permits or licenses you will need to sell legally.
Obtaining seasonal food permits and submitting to health inspections are requirements in many jurisdictions, but this is not universal. Vendors of unprocessed food, such as fresh produce, are generally exempt from the same regulations that apply to those selling processed or prepared food. There are no registration requirements for unprocessed food vendors in Utah, but they are still bound by local health ordinances. If you grow it yourself or buy it from the grower, and don’t significantly alter it, you can sell it with much less red tape in most jurisdictions.
A state or local authority may require you to fill out an application form and pay a fee, as well as submit to any necessary facility inspections (for instance, your commercial or home kitchen). For an additional fee, you may be required to have a food safety certification. Your locality may require a different certification course from the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe certification arm. There is a written examination at the end of the certification process.
Liability insurance policies are also required by most farmers markets for value-added vendors, which can significantly increase their costs of operation. For cottage vendors (gross sales under $200,000 annually), FLIProgram offers bare-bones policies starting at $299 per year. While it is possible to sell prepared or value-added products at the farmers’ market, you may want to offset this cost by producing in sufficient quantity to sell online or through stores.
Finally, if you intend to sell prepared or value-added foods outside of the farmers’ market, you may want to establish a formal legal structure for your business. Additional legal protection and tax advantages may be gained by incorporating your business as an LLC or S-corp.
4. Verify That You Meet The Selection Criteria Of The Target Markets
Check to see if you meet your target market’s vendor requirements before launching a new product or service.
Vendors of value-added products or resellers are, for example, prohibited in some markets. For others, it’s illegal to source locally at all, which could interfere with your plans to resell items from faraway places. There is a good reason why these policies exist: to help farmers.
Some markets, on the other hand, are extremely lenient. Not only do they want to help growers, but they want to help all small business owners. If you’re unsure, ask the market manager.
5. Get a Table at the Market First.
The next step is to reserve your place in line at the market. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get your first choice at a popular farmers market your first year in business. There’s a chance you’ll have to settle for a less desirable location until the ideal downtown location becomes available. People shop at outlying markets, too, or else they wouldn’t be able to stay in business.
To ensure that you get your first or second choice, get in touch with market operators as soon as possible. Getting on the waiting list for the following year’s class before the latecomers is the worst-case scenario.
6. Plan the Distribution of Your Produce or Value-Added Goods
Each week, figure out how you’ll get your wares to market.
Harvesting and packing your produce the night before market day may be all you need if you’re selling what you grew in your backyard plot. Reselling produce from other farmers necessitates more time and effort, as well as more miles on the highway. There are additional considerations if you’re selling value-added products that need to be cooked or preserved before they can be consumed.
According to the nature of your company, you will require:
- Wax-lined cardboard boxes are ideal for packaging fresh produce. Bulk orders of 100 or more are the most cost-effective, with individual items costing at least $0.50. Use these boxes as much as possible to save money on future purchases. For emergencies or bulk purchases, paper bags can be useful (for instance, mini-bushels of apples). Use wax-lined or corrugated pint or quart berry boxes for delicate produce like fresh berries. For a 25-count order, you can expect to pay between $3 and $5. A quart or gallon jug, 12- or 18-egg crates, and so on are examples of specialty containers that may be needed for certain products.
- Sedans or hatchbacks may work fine for small sellers if the back seat is folded down and the cabin is stuffed to the gills. The more complicated your setup or the more bulky the items you need to transport, such as tables and chairs, the more trips you’ll need to make and the more fuel you’ll waste. Unless you plan to turn your market venture into a full-time business or have other legitimate uses for the truck, buying a used pickup truck is probably unnecessary. Make sure you’re on the good side of anyone you know who has a truck that they don’t use on the weekends.
- Licensed or inspected facilities, such as commercial kitchens, may be required to produce value-added or prepared food products under state or local regulations. If you’re running a small business, you may be exempt from regular health inspections if you’re operating out of your own home kitchen. Think of renting commercial kitchen space as an investment in your hobby’s future rather than a burden (and a prelude to setting up a legit at-home food products business or food truck). FLIProgram is an excellent resource for learning about commercial kitchen space evaluation and rental.
7. Install Signage That Has Been Approved By Management
Last but not least, make sure that your stall stands out. Check with market management for information on acceptable dimensions, colors, and materials. A whiteboard is the most straightforward and least expensive way to list items that are subject to change, provided that you have good handwriting. You can use a banner to list prices and items if you don’t have a lot of variation in your selection.
Tips and Tricks for Maximizing Your Market Stall Profits
Find out how you can maximize your farmers’ market stall and even turn your green thumb or culinary prowess into a year-round business with these helpful hints and tricks:
- Recognize the Market’s Customers and Suppliers. There is no one-size-fits-all farmers market. Spend a few hours in each potential market before making a decision. Keep an eye out for the following types of customers and suppliers: Is anyone interested in buying or selling? Whether or not you fit in is an important question. Do you have any? Is it possible for you to consistently make a profit, or at the very least, move product?
- Acquire a firm grasp on the rules that apply in the market. Investigate the laws and regulations that apply in each of the potential marketplaces. Ensure that your stock is adequate before moving on to the next step. Remember that in many markets, resold produce, value-added products, and non-edible goods are prohibited.
- Using a Variety of Media, Spread the Word About Your Stall. Start promoting your stall as soon as you find a location, but before your first market day. If you don’t already have one, create a website for your home-based produce or prepared food business. Boost your social media presence by adhering to social media etiquette best practices. Encourage influential family members, friends, and coworkers to help spread the word about your business in your community.
- Make No False Representations About Yourself or Your Product(s). It’s okay if the products you want to sell don’t sell in certain markets. Lying about their provenance puts your selling season at risk of a premature end. It could have a negative impact on your reputation in a close-knit community of growers. Don’t claim to have grown or made it yourself if you didn’t.
- Make a Differentiated Choice. Vendors who do well at farmers markets tend to be creative and memorable. You don’t have to sell every kind of fruit and vegetable known to man, or make a zillion different kinds of salsa at all hours of the night. Even so, it is not a good idea to become just the latest fruit and veg vendor to follow the seasonal kale, salad, tomato, and squash arc. Throw in some surprises, such as less well-known produce items, to keep things interesting. Has anyone ever tried tomatillos? Okay, so ground cherries are on the list. There’s a lot more to choose from than you might think! Choose a niche that few or no other vendors are willing to fill, such as a long-cherished family recipe.
- Consider products with added value. More value is implied by the term “value-added.” Right there in the name, you can see it. Even though you’ll have to spend more time and money starting up a value-add operation in your kitchen at home or a commercial kitchen, you’ll make more money in the end. Surely, you’d prefer to charge $7 for a 4-ounce jar of raspberry preserves than $2 for an entire pint of fresh berries! These preserves, on the other hand, have a longer shelf life than their fresh, already-soft predecessors. It’s important to plan ahead: Scaling up your value-added business will likely necessitate the use of commercially available ingredients, which may be illegal in your target market. Consider all the facts before making a final decision.
- Health inspectors are on the prowl. Health inspections, like death and taxes, are unavoidable – at least for foodservice establishments. It is reasonable to expect that the health inspector will inspect your farmers’ market once a year at the very least. I learned from Misiego that the Utah Farm Bureau has inspectors come to their markets twice a year. Regardless of how often they come, be prepared for them. Verify that all of your licenses and certifications for foodservice are current, and make certain that you are adhering to any local food safety laws. No matter how tempting it may seem, don’t skimp on quality.
- Begin with a Small Amount of Stock and Work Your Way Up. Limit your initial inventory to a few well-used items to save money and reduce waste. This is a necessity if you’re selling from your own backyard or community plot. Running out and shutting down an hour early is preferable to throwing away half of your starting inventory if you don’t have a food bank or soup kitchen willing to accept your leftovers.
- Keep abreast of any changes to your state’s licensing or insurance laws. Aside from the health inspector, this is a useful tool for everyone. The reputation of your market is at stake as well. Check to see if you have the minimum levels of insurance, if you need an operator’s license, and if you have the necessary food safety certifications in place. Customers who violate market policies or local ordinances will be ejected from the store.
- Keep Your Neighbors Happy. Encourage your fellow stall-holders to become your friends. As a friend, you never know when you’ll need their help, and they’ll need yours. On your first day at the market, help set up or take down an adjacent stall to demonstrate that you’re committed.
- Publicize the existence of alternative revenue streams at your booth. If you’re selling food, you’ve got a weekly billboard for your company. Treat it as if it were! Make use of printed materials, such as flyers or koozies, to promote your other sales channels: Your online store, your Amazon or Etsy portal, your pop-up shop, your physical store (if you have one). If you can close more sales outside of market hours, you can reduce your dependence on your stall.
- A year-long strategy is essential to success. Even if the market is down for the season, keep up the momentum. Look for winter or holiday markets that run well into the cold months if you sell shelf-stable or non-edible items. In the off-season, you can use this time to build up your non-market sales channels.
Running a stall at a farmers’ market for a few hours each week is a pastime for many small-time vendors. Staying slim and doing your small part to improve a few dozen people’s diets isn’t something to be ashamed of.
However, it may not be enough. A farmers’ market stall is just one of a plethora of lucrative sales channels for some ambitious culinary entrepreneurs. Your local farmers’ market could be your ticket to a lucrative side business, or even a full-time job, as long as you have the skills and resources to turn fresh produce into something more, such as a productive market garden or any other resource suitable for public consumption.
It’s not easy to turn a pastime into a source of income that allows you to leave your day job. As a new business owner, you’ll need a business plan and a host of other resources to help you succeed. However, it is certainly feasible. If you’re lucky, your first farmers’ market stall might be the beginning of the entrepreneurial story you’ve always wanted to tell.
Are you contemplating setting up shop at a local farmers’ market?