We are working with several farmers markets to be considered for inclusion as a prepared food (or ready to eat food) vendor. It caan be a fun and rewarding way to sell the fruits of your labors. If you are thinking of trying you hand at a farmers market booth this year, here are a few things to consider.
There are over 6,000 markets in the US, and over 120 here in Oregon. Many of them, especially the larger markets like Portland and Beaverton pretty much have all the vendors they want for the 2011 season. You may still get in to Beaverton, but the many Portland Markets are already closed to new vendors. Beaverton has about 180 vendors, and less than 10% change from year to year.
Choosing a market. Here in Silverton there are many farmers that go to Portland and Salem markets because the crowds are bigger. But if you are just starting out, bigger may not be better. If you are growing onions, there will be many many onion vendors at the big markets, you might be better off as a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Even more true if you are making food.
Are you sure? While guest were eating breakfast back at the B&B, I would take the time to talk with our guests at the tables. To many of them it looked like a pretty sweet life, cook great food, swap stories with interesting people…nice retirement. Not the case. It is work. The same is true for a Farmers Market, if not more so. If you are growing, you have to harvest, wash, prep, pack, price, truck, unload, setup, sell nonstop, pack up, go home, unload, do the books. Every week. Rain or Shine. Making food? Making a dozen cupcakes for a party is one thing, making and decorating 10 dozen every week for five months is quite another. As has been said, nothing kills one’s love of cooking like running a restaurant. That sentiment applies here.
OK, get to work. Identify the markets you want to attend. The closer to your home, the better. Read the vendor info from the market very carefully. Then read it again. Each market does things a little differently. If you don’t fill out the application properly, you may lose your chance.
Be prepared to spend. Each market usually requires an application. Expect to spend about $25 per market just to apply. Each market charges $10-$30 per market. Some have a discount if you pay upfront, so you may need another $500-$800 before you sell anything. Licenses and Certifications. Serving ready to eat food may cost you between $500 and $1,000 for licenses and permits. If you are in more than one county, expect to pay fees for the other counties as well. Organic Certification. Membership fees. Parking fees? Etc. Insurance. You may need it, or you may not. If you are making food, you need it. Then you will need to have a booth. Canopies run $120-600. You will need one. And weights for the legs. Signage. Tables. Table clothes. Displays for your wares. Baskets from Value Village are very useful. Do you need an Ice Chest? A Handwashing Setup? Tarps for the ground under your booth (required at some markets, read your Vendor Handboook).
Do your homework. If you are new to an area, like we are, you do not have the luxury of having scoped out the markets in the previous season. So it takes a little more work to find out what people are buying in your area, what are trends, and how many other booths sell similar products. How many people attend the market you are interested in? What are the demographics? How many vendors? What are the farmer to prepared food ratios? Do they allow crafts?
Useful Resources: Growing for Market has a free downloadable article on Selling at Farmers Markets. The Oregon Department of Agriculture is a good resource as well. If you are doing any kind of cooking or food processing, get in touch with ODA and your county Environmental Health Department. Almost all Oregon Counties have their information, applications and fee schedules online. This Rodale Press Article is worth a read. The Fresh Loaf has a good article on the challenges of converting from a hobby baker to a market vendor.
Marketing: You need to understand why people shop at farmers markets, and why those people would buy from you. People want a face on their farmer, they want the story, they want a connection with the real world and those that create within it. If you can produce things people want AND deliver quality goods week in and week out AND communicate with your customers, you will do fine.
Have Fun. This all may sound daunting, but you can do it. Hundreds of families, couples, partners, groups and individuals sell at Farmers Markets every week, all over the world, and have for thousands of years. You can too. Do you homework, practice your ptich, and go for it. See you at the market.