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Black Cat Farm
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Our local town has a weekly “Farmer’s Market” that opened for the season yesterday. The article in the paper announcing the market opening mentioned “poor attendance” last year. I didn’t know if that meant customers or farmers, and we were in the midst of moving last summer, and I never got up there to check it out. So I went up there yesterday to check it out, and to do a little research, as I have been playing with the idea of trying selling there next year.

There were signs on the main drag pointing to the market. Good. There were customers. Good. But the customers were all leaving empty-handed and disappointed - there were NO produce vendors there! There were 3 vendors total – one selling cosmetics, another selling jewelry, and a third selling pre-bagged dip and batter mixes. I asked one of the women if there was any produce, and she said they hoped to have some produce vendors next week.

I was pretty bummed about this – clearly, there are customers who wanted to buy. But if that’s what they get when they come to the “Farmer’s Market,” they won’t be back. Even if I don’t sell next year, I am a big fan of farmer’s markets and supporting local growers. I’d hate to see our town’s market die.

There was a phone number in the paper to call to reserve booth space and ask questions. I’d like to call and ask where the produce vendors were/are and maybe find out more about the comment about poor attendance last year in the paper. (Vendors? Customers?) But I don’t want to offend the person/people running it. I am willing to volunteer this year to help organize the market, even though I know next to nothing about running one or participating as a vendor.

My other experiences at farmer’s markets have been that vendors were regulated so that ONLY produce vendors could participate. Maybe some potted plants and canned and/or baked goods. But cosmetics and jewelry (and not even “crafty” jewelry)?

Another thought I had was that the market is every week on Thursday from 11-7. What do you think of those hours? Isn’t that a really long day for a small-town farmer’s market? How on earth would produce vendors be able to keep things cool and fresh-looking for 8 hours on a hot summer day? My gut feeling is that the hours might be one reason produce vendors are not participating.

Any suggestions on how I can phrase things if I call so I don’t come across as a goody-two-shoes know-it-all? I’d like to help make the market a success if I can…

Thanks for any advice/thoughts,
Diana
 

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I have participated in 4 different markets in my area. They all have their good points and bad points. The market you spoke of would not be classified as a farmers market. It sounds more like a flea market.
You need to advertise to get farmers to participate. Locally here, the cooperative extension sends out flyers in late winter to get the farmers interested. They have meetings to train farmers in the art of salesmanship and even help them decide which crops have the most market appeal. The market manager needs to talk to local growers and get them interested. The hours the market is open need to be changed. All of our markets usually run from 8am until 2pm and believe me that is a long day.
Good luck. I hope your market fees are small.
linda
 

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One thing you might do, is put up a table as soon as you have something in your garden. If you sell out in one hour, fine. The idea is to let people know you are there with wonderful produce. You can poll people as to what they would like to see next year at your booth. By next year, you can have early summer produce, followed by midsummer produce, etc. If you've got no competition, or very little competition, you don't need a lot of customers. You could even contract with a gardener to sell their produce at your stand for items you can't or won't grow.

The hours suggest that they are trying to catch people after work. When a market is open in the morning, they are usually open very early and close by the mid afternoon, with many vendors are closing up and going home by noon.

As for being on the market committee, it might be a good idea to get your feet wet first as a vendor.
 

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Our small town just started a farmers market.

Location was key. Close to the town hall, library, and lots of state offices.

Hrs are Wen. 11-2pm. Personally I would have loved to see it opened a bit later for those just getting off work.

Sellers - Last year a large write up in the local paper made it know to all the farmers in the area that a market was being formed. Easy applications were included in the paper along with phone #'s and an email site with suggestion links etc. Farmers had meetings throughout the winter so that they had a say in how it would look, and what the rules would be.

So, we have 8 or 9 farm venders, 1 meat sales, 3 hot food stands (hot dogs, some kind of ethnic filled bread, salad and natural foods), 1 plant vender, 1 baked goods person.

Our Farmers Market doesn't allow the average Jim or Jane to sell 'goods' such as crafty items, or direct sales.

I don't care for direct sales but, I'd love to see home business crafts. I've mentioned it at the Market booth drop box. Haven't heard anything.

Oh, the only other thing I don't care about the market are the outragous veggie prices. $4.00 a pound for Zucchini, 2.50lb for leaf lettuce, 5.00lb for bing cherries. I know it cost farmers to grow crops. These aren't even labled organic. My goodness, only the rich can buy from these farmers.
(so it brings me to the ..... I'll grow my own... statement)

Suggestion - Contact all the local growers in your area and ask why they are not participating. Is it the cost of travel, booth/table rent, do they need a business license that they can't afford? Is it a bad area? Low on traffic, no water source, bathrooms?

And - If you find some interest. How about a street fair or celebration to kick it off? Get the 4-H involved with a bit of show and tell or a quilt exhibit to bring in people.

Good Luck
 

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Our market was started last year as a project for the FFA kids at the local high school. This is a town of about 800. It is held Saturday mornings from 8:00 till 10:00 am. Usually venders are setting up at 7:30 and there are customers there to help set up and to get early buys. The market is in the town square. Local shopkeepers like the idea because it brings people downtown. This summer we are averaging 5 or 6 produce growers, 3 or 4 venders of baked goods and jams and jellies, one selling farm fresh eggs, and maybe 1 or 2 selling crafts such as home sewn towels, potholders, etc. So far venders are selling out quickly . Maybe our prices are too low, but as a produce grower, I don't want to see anything go to waste. I had the first sweet corn at the market last week, at $3 per dozen I quickly sold out. Maybe should have charged more? But, as said, I sure sold out. Also sold beans, squash, cukes, peppers, bok choi, cabbage.
It is important to let everyone know the market is there,, then as you say, you have to have vendors. People are hungry for fresh produce direct from the farm.
I might also add, there is no charge for space.
 

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KS, That sounds pretty good for such a small town. I don't know whether your prices are too low or not. $3 for a doz. corn sounds about average sometimes more. Its always nice to sell out. At our market at the end people donate things they didn't sell and don't want to take home to the local shelter/food bank. Then nothing goes to waste and hungry people get enough healthy food to eat. That makes you feel good or it does me.
Keep up the good work! Lisa
 

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keep it simple and honest
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We have a local farmers market at which I vend. In this basically dairy/beef county, few people grow enough to make the loading, unloading, standing for 4 hours, reloading, unloading at home, worthwhile. We've had a small ad running weekly in the shopper which covers the whole county and more since Feb. and still few responses.

To respond to one poster: produce can only be labeled "organic" if it is certified, and most growers aren't willing to spend the time/money/paperwork to go through that. You must ask the grower what methods they use.

We used to do 10-3 and have found that the change this year to 10-2 is much more vendor friendly, as the last hour in previous years just dragged.

Our fees are very reasonable (only $25 for the whole season), but we require liability insurance and product liability. These are easily obtained in a farm policy and/or a rider on a homeowners, but many people who might be interested in selling just don't want to go through the necessary business steps to meet requirements. I want everyone to have some insurance so that if someone were to sue, it wouldn't end up on the shoulders of the other vendors. There are also things like nursery licenses for plant sellers, sales tax requirements on plants and cut flowers, kitchen licenses for bakery sellers, etc. These things should concern you and other customers.

If you want to buy produce that is grown in a natural and healthy atmosphere, you have to pay for it. Our supermarket prices for naturally/certified produce, or any conventional produce for that matter, are what some would call high. Often times, the farmers markets are just reflecting those prices. I know. I check what the supermarket is getting for organic produce as well as regular. It isn't cheap, nor should it be.

When I grow, I am working almost all year (in the off-season, I spend days organizing, planning, selecting varieties, ordering, etc.) then begin seeding in my house and later in the greenhouse from February on. From April on, I'm often working 12 hour days, sometimes more, often in the hot sun, cold winds, rain, etc. I need to get enough money for my products to make it worthwhile for me to continue to do this to put food on other people's tables. I need to make a living also. If you don't want to pay a fair price, go to the supermarket.

Many people say "isn't this (farmers market) nice. I hope it remains." Then they turn around and don't buy anything. How on earth will it remain if people say "how nice" but don't patronize the vendors?

To the OP, I'd say don't make suggestions to the committee without checking with local growers about what they have to say. Also, see how many people would actually participate (buy) at the market. And, hopefully, if you get produce growers, make sure they are local. Our rule is it must be grown/produced in this county and contiguous counties. Then make rules that eliminate the "flea market" image, as flea market buyers are often those looking for a deal.

The only deal you get at a farmers market is the best tasting, freshest, often naturally grown produce you'll ever purchase. And the customers that the vendors want are people who put quality above price. You can buy cheap anyplace. The farmers market, in my opinion, is for "foodies," those who care about what they put in their body and are willing/able to pay for it. For those on limited incomes, there is the WIC program and the Senior program which gives four, $5 coupons that can be used to purchase from farmers or farmers markets only (at least in PA and NY).

Sorry for the small book! Ann
 

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Black Cat Farm
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Discussion Starter #8
Thank you for the thoughts and suggestions, everyone. Sorry I didn't get back here sooner - this weekend was crazy.

We just moved to this area from Ohio last summer, so I don't know a lot of people here. I definitely don't know any other growers yet...

Sounds like the fees are kinda high, compared to some others, and especially for such a small market that's struggling to get vendors! It's $10/week, but they give you $10 off if you sign up for a whole month at a time. It started last week and runs through September. (I don't know exactly when in September...)

The market's location is pretty good - downtown across from the city hall and near the library and post office. Good parking, easy to get in/out. I'd imagine that one could use the city hall's bathroom. Water I'm not sure about - there's a drinking fountain, but I don't know about an actual spigot. The fire dept. sits kitty-corner from the market. Also, there isn't a lot of room for vendors - you can't really park a truck and set up a table behind it. It's in a tiny grassy area with just enough room for a few vendors to set up a table or two. So I guess that may be another issue.

Canned goods, baked goods, eggs and meats are prohibited. :rolleyes:

It does seem like there would be customers. I saw people coming and going last week, looking for produce. Then I stopped at a garage sale on the way home and the market was being discussed there. The man holding the garage sale said he'd had several people through that day that had been talking about the market, and some people in at 10:30 who said they had to go so they could get to the farmer's market right when it opened so they could get the best stuff. There is a stand that sells sweet corn on the edge of town, and they have a constant stream of customers paying $4/dozen. In fact, they sold out their first day open, and these folks grow a LOT of corn! This town is growing fast - lots of families moving here that commute back towards Chicago and its suburbs.

I really don't have any extra to sell this year. Like I said, we just moved here last summer, so the garden I did manage to get in this year is just enough for DH and I to enjoy fresh and have some to put up for winter. I'll probably have some cucumbers and tomatoes that I wouldn't *need* to put up, but that's about it. Some of those long burpless cucs and about a dozen tomato varieties. And purslane, LOL.

I really don't want to march into town and start trampling on the current market organizers' toes, but it does sound like some things should change if they want to keep the market going and attract good vendors. I was hoping there would be a way to communicate that tactfully. :shrug:

Thanks again, everyone!
Diana
 
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