So you’re starting your seeds and dreaming of the sunny May day when that first crop of lettuce is finally ready. Then it’ll be time to load up and go sell at your farmers market, right?
Not so fast.
The organizations charged with running farmers markets generally have a plan for their market and put thought into selecting the products they want represented there. The time to look into being a farmers market vendor is not when your crop is ready, as there’s no guarantee you’ll have a place to sell at that time. It’s months before that—sometimes up to a year before, even.
Get to Know the Market
Like applying for a job, applying for a spot at your farmers market should involve some knowledge of what you’re getting yourself into.
It’s easier today than ever to learn about the market, thanks to social media and websites. But visiting in person—on a busy peak-season day as well as a rainy off-season day—is the best way to understand a farmers market and envision how your farm fits in there.
Before you send a message to the farmers market asking how to apply, check the website. You might find a “join the market” tab or a link to the market rules and application.
(Yes, there are statewide as well as market-specific rules. You should understand those before you apply.)
Get Involved in the Market
With small staffs or no staff at all, farmers markets often rely on volunteers to run their programs and events. That means events targeting kids or seniors, fundraisers to match SNAP/EBT purchases and general day-of operations might be looking for help—your help.
As a new or aspiring market farmer, it’s not like you have extra time to throw around. But your goodwill toward supporting your local market can be the extra gold star that you need to set apart your vendor application from the others next season.
The best time to submit an application is not after the market begins. Rather it’s at the close of the season before, when market leadership is beginning to plan their next year.
Maybe you didn’t make the cut this year or your vendor application was accepted with terms you weren’t expecting.
Your first reaction may be to want to speak poorly about those no-good so-and-sos who clearly don’t know a good farmer (you) when they see one. However, the folks tasked with running a market have a tougher job than you might expect. Giving them a piece of your mind probably won’t advance your application next year.
Be Your Best
Let’s talk about that muddy bunch of radishes on your table.
Sloppy presentation, poor-quality products and sub-par customer service will not endear you to your fellow farmers, market customers or market leadership. Is that the best you can do?
When offered a vendor opportunity, show the folks around you that they’ve made a good decision, and you may be invited back again.
You have a farm account on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, right? As well as an enewsletter? Right?
We’re knee-deep in the 2000s, and if your farm has none of these things, you might look at starting there. Farmers markets have a lot of competition for customers from other fresh-food sources—grocery stores, fresh-food meal kits, national chains delivering to customers’ homes and neighboring farmers markets.
When vendors are willing to cross-promote with the market to gain customers’ attention, those vendors become even more valuable.
Maybe despite your best efforts, your famers market application isn’t accepted. Ask for feedback from that market’s leadership, and prepare to do better next year.
Also keep in mind that a farmers market isn’t the only outlet for your produce. Creative options are available to you, from food-access projects to online farmers markets, CSA-market hybrids and more. If these options haven’t come to your area yet, here’s your chance to get one started.
Before you even order your seeds, make your market plans. If you wait for your seeds to sprout, your spot might be taken by another farmer who thought to plan ahead.