Farmers’ Markets in a Box

Dear FMNS,

Our RDA in Prettysville have decided that the best thing to revitalize our downtown area would be to start a farmers’ market. We feel that our community would be really supportive, particularly given that there are several really successful farmers’ markets in neighboring towns that members of our community already support. Where can we find some farmers to make this happen? Also, do you know how other farmers’ markets managed to get funds to pay for a building?

Sincerely,

Prettysville RDA

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Dear Prettysville RDA,

Yours is a very common question as many communities are seeking to revitalize their downtown areas and you are quite right to investigate starting a farmers’ market as a way of doing this.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself first and a few recommendations for things to look into over the Winter months before you take your first steps.

  • Do you have the supply? For a farmers’ market to be successful it needs to have farmers! Not only because it is important to support local agriculture, but also because you need customers to come back every week.People need to restock on groceries at least once a week so they will keep coming back to the farmers’ market for fresh produce, eggs, meat and other foods such as bread and cheese.

While artisans are also important to the market mix, particularly over the Winter months, people do not buy jewelery or soap or paintings every week, so if your market is built solely around artisans it is unlikely to be successful, or it should only be a monthly market.

Another way to draw the crowds on a weekly basis is to have prepared foods at your market and lots of seating, so people come out for the sense of community and to have a tasty treat.

Try talking to farmers at the other local markets to see if they are interested in coming to another market and if so, on what days they are available.

  • Do you have the demand? Just because someone says that they support an idea or that they would buy something does not necessarily mean that they will follow through. If your community members are already shopping at farmers’ markets close by, they may not feel the need to shop at your market too, particularly if it offers exactly the same or less than a market down the road.Think carefully about what day to open. Many markets open on Saturdays, so if you also plan to be open on Saturdays you will have trouble both attracting vendors and customers away from existing markets. The second most popular day for farmers’ markets is Sundays, followed by a mid-week 2-6pm market. When researching your potential customers and vendors be sure to ask when they would like to shop.
  • Do you know what your ‘thing’ is? Every farmers’ market has its own personality! Some customers like to shop outdoors, some prefer to be indoors. Some focus on fresh produce, others on prepared foods. Some cater to young Moms, others to tourists or those of retirement age. Additional seating or a play area for kids might be all it takes to make your market popular with a certain demographic.Know what makes your market special whether it be a weekly community supper, that your market is ‘dog friendly’ or that you have the best entertainment and focus on that thing… but be sure that what you are ‘selling’ is what your community wants.
  • Start small and grow The market down the road may have 25 vendors in a custom built facility, but it may have taken 20 years to get to that point! Start with a core group of high quality vendors selling products that people buy on a weekly basis. Provide a great community space (making use of an existing space such as a community hall) where people want to hang out and you have a recipe for success.Start with a huge group of vendors selling a lot of the same stuff and no-one will make sales and they will all disappear really quickly
  • Plan and take action It’s better to spend a lot of time in the planning stages than to rush headlong into a project. Consider test piloting the market first over a few weeks to see if the uptake is really there before committing to a full season or you will get stuck on a treadmill really quickly!In your planning, include an operations budget. Include who will manage the market and how they will be paid. Your revenues will come mostly from table rentals; if they are too little you will have no money to manage or promote your market.

FMNS offers Farmers’ Market Manager training once a year. This covers all of the key skills, tools and resources that your market manager will need to be able to effectively manage and promote your market. All member markets have access to this training for free. Non-members can access the 40 hours of customized training for $2000.

  • Farmers’ Markets are about vendors and customers, not about buildings You are better off having a great group of vendors in a parking lot under canopies than a beautiful building with no vendors that you can’t afford to maintain. Virtually no farmers’ markets started off owning a building. It’s a great long term goal, but take your time and plan carefully before taking on a commitment of that scale.Once your farmers’ market is off to a great start you will be able to go back to the municipality or other community organization and negotiate the shared use of a building.

We wish you all the best with your research over the Winter months and strongly encourage you to join us so you can access the tools and resources you need. We have a ‘start-up’ membership rate of $250  for markets that are still in the planning stages. We also offer for-fee support in a consulting role if you require more guidance with founding your market.