The farmers market can be an exceptional place to sell food, but that doesn’t mean any and every farmers market provides the same advantage. It also doesn’t mean that every farm is the right for every market.
Evaluating some of the following variables can be difficult to do before the season starts, especially at a brand-new market, but the factors below are critical enough that it is worth asking other farmers or investigating the market any way you can. So before you join a market this year or in the future, learn all you can and watch for these reasons not to sell at a particular market.
1. Inadequate Foot Traffic
The advantages of selling at a farmers market might vary depending on its location and how busy it is. I have been to big city markets that are dead, yet I’ve visited smaller, more rural markets that are overflowing with customers. The difference wasn’t the population of the city, but the quality of the market and vendors.
2. Poor Customer Parking
Even the best venues can be tainted by customers not being able to find parking. It is, to an extent, already inconvenient to shop at a farmers market, and the more inconvenient it gets for the customer, the fewer show up.
3. Too Few Vendors
I generally believe that more is better when it comes to farm vendors. This is mainly because a market with too few vendors can look unappealing to a customer. Also, more vendors bring their own customers, and some might come support you. Customers like a table piled high with veggies, and they like a market piled high with vendors.
4. Too Many Similar Vendors
Though this is not a deal-breaker for me if the market meets all the other criteria, a market where several vendors sell what I sell can be reason to go elsewhere. However, if you’re good at what you do—you can be to market early, for instance, and you specialize in crops that others don’t—that can have a massive advantage in a market where there are lots of produce vendors but many sell the same things. So like I said, not a deal breaker, but worth considering if your crop or meat selection is similar that year to what many other vendors sell.
5. Not Enough Foodies
Some markets are really fun to attend as a customer—several food trucks, free yoga, kids’ entrainment, coffee vendors, live music and so on. In other words, markets with a lot of non-farm stuff. It’s not a rule, by any means, but these can be difficult places to sell food because customers sometimes tend to come for the entertainment and prepared food more than raw ingredients. I try to tell beginning farmers not to go straight for the “hip” market, but rather to seek the one with the most foodies—the most people who come to market and mean business. This can be hard to discern if you’ve never seen the market, so reach out to some other farmers or the management and ask generally about the market. My big question would be “Do the customers come to buy food?” Because if so, I’m in.
6. Not Enough Time
Your farm and your time are also important factors in deciding whether a farmers market is the right marketing choice for you. Farmers markets are a big time consumer. Most farmers markets are six or eight hours and take up the better part of two days in harvesting and packing then traveling, setting up and selling at the market. If farming is your hobby and you have a second job, that’s a big time investment. It might be better for some to find a few restaurants or retailers to supply so as to reduce the amount of marketing and packing time down to a mere fraction.