October 3, 2013

How to Start a Farmer’s Market

REACH Virginia holds an annual workshop focusing on neighborhood revitalization through housing and economic development. Training emphasizes the importance of building neighborhoods, not just houses, and provides insight into the aspects of a community that planners may not be thinking of in the early stages of development. Existing and future retail is important to a thriving neighborhood and can include a farmer’s market. In this post, Mario Wells of VHDA shares tips to keep in mind if a farmer’s market is part of your neighborhood revitalization plan.

A recent trip to my local farmer’s market helped me re-live my childhood where I would go over to my neighbor’s yard to pick peaches from their tree. The delectable produce and interaction amongst other shoppers at the market made me ponder how this market in particular became successful. Planning a farmer’s market takes know-how, but this form of retail could be lucrative for more than just local farmers; it could also benefit the entire community.

Fresh fruit and vegetables at a farmer's market.

In recent decades, farmer’s markets have again assumed their historic role as important social and economic institutions in many of our communities. Food has been used as a common practice in most cultures to bring people together. In addition, these markets change the mindset of individuals by making shopping a pleasure rather than a chore. Finally, a farmer’s market is the focal point of a community where individuals can bring their friends and families and enjoy a small-town atmosphere.

Here are some steps to keep in mind when starting a farmer’s market:

Define the characteristics of your market. Prevalent farmer’s market examples have common elements that include:
  • Pedestrian-oriented
  • Varieties of vendors
  • Adequate parking spaces
  • Community-oriented

Create a sponsoring organization. Assemble a group of dedicated stakeholders to:
  • Establish a governing body
  • Develop by-laws and operating rules and regulations
  • Create a mission statement
  • Set goals with either a short-term, intermediate or long-term timeframe

Select a site.
  • A site should be reliably available and easily visible and identifiable
  • Restrooms for the public should be available
  • Easy access to major roadways is a plus

Set up market signage.
  • Make it local and visible
  • Provide key information

Identify a Market Manager.
  • A Market Manager must wear many hats, such as helping vendors set up and operate safely and within the rules, managing volunteers and customer issues, and ensuring that the market runs as smoothly as possible.
  • Your Market Manager may not be the face of your market (let your vendors take on that role), but he or she will have to be its brain, so choose a manager that you can count on.

Find and recruit farmers and vendors.
  • Farmers and vendors need to be reliable and bring quality produce. Word of mouth can be your most reliable way of developing a roster of participants.
  • Work with your vendors to ensure that they have adequate signage and planning to provide appealing and functional displays.

Create a Budget. Create a list of annual expenses. Farmers markets take time and money to begin and keep going. Do you have resources available to cover expenses for 1-2 years of operation? Things to include:
  • Insurance
  • Permits
  • Advertising
  • Salaries

Determine Fee Structure. Your vendor fees are a large part of your revenue and operating budget. There are many different fee models, including:
  • Annual base fee
  • Flat fee per market day
  • Percentage-of-sales fee
  • Many markets also have a combination fee structure that includes two or more fee models.
Fee structures can be based on a sliding scale or indexed to the size or type of vendor; a lower fee can attract small, part-time farmers and gardeners, while a higher fee can attract larger commercial farms.

You can find out more information about starting your own farmer’s market by downloading this PDF from the USDA  and by visiting the Farmers Market Coalition website.
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