By Hannah Packman, NFU Communications Coordinator
Farmers markets can be an important source of supplementary income and public exposure for both small scale producers and beginning farmers and ranchers. Not only do they provide access to additional markets and new consumers, but they also eliminate the costs of processing, storage, wholesale, and distributing associated with traditional retail, thus putting more money in farmers’ pockets. However, between vendor fees, equipment rentals, time spent transporting goods, and paying employees to man a booth, they can also be costly.
Vendors can take several steps to ensure that a farmers market is a profitable experience, including engaging with customers, displaying products in an aesthetically pleasing manner, and pricing goods appropriately. Ultimately, though, farmers market success starts on the farm, with the products you decide to grow and sell. These tips will help farmers market novices determine what to grow to optimize farmers markets sales.
While some fruits and vegetables are in season for months at a time, others are only available for a few weeks. If you’re hoping to sell at your local farmers market year-round, you need to plan your planting schedule far in advance. Grow a combination of short- and long-season fruits and vegetables, and stagger planting so you always have goods to offer. Storage crops, which can be stored for up to months before being sold, are also a good option for providing revenue in the less abundant winter months.
Grow for Quality
Shoppers at farmers markets are looking for the highest quality food to take home with them; in order to compete with the other vendors, make sure to bring your A-game. The hot summer months can take a toll on produce. Consider building a mobile cooler to maintain the quality of your goods, even through sweltering heat and humidity. A few structural insulated panels, a window air conditioner, and a CoolBot mounted on a trailer can be a worthy investment. Additionally, play to your strengths. Grow what you know and love best – that passion will be reflected in the quality of your products, and will keep customers coming back every week for more.
The local food movement has driven much of the growth of farmers markets nationally. Many shoppers are striving to connect to their regional food system, and may prefer locally-specific products. Whenever possible, grow products that are characteristic of your state or region, rather than more generic goods that are available everywhere. Explore what has been historically grown in your region, including heirloom varieties and heritage breeds. Shoppers will not only be able to experience your community’s story through agriculture, but also support plant and animal biodiversity.
Scope out your market and assess what your competitors are selling. Are several vendors selling the same goods? Do you notice any gaps in what’s offered? Try to avoid products that are already in abundant supply, and instead aim to grow something interesting and unique that will set you apart from the other vendors.
Keep track of up-and-coming food trends. Are shoppers going crazy for kale? Or is rutabaga all the rage? Fads come and go quickly – stay up to date with the latest craze so you can plan your growing schedule to incorporate the products customers are seeking out and omit the less popular items.
If you are having trouble competing with other vendors, try transforming your products by adding value. Cucumbers may not sell well, but artisanal pickles could fly off the shelf. Offering free samples of your goods to passers-by will also draw more customers to your booth and compel them to make a purchase.
Are you a beginning farmer who sells at a farmers market? How do you decide what to grow to sell there? Please share your thoughts and experience, and stay posted here to learn more about the importance of market access!