Farmers' Markets are one of our absolute favorite things to participate in as farmers. We get to meet our consumers, chat with them about our produce and their gardens, share recipes and get to know who is sitting at their table. We are growing food for our community, for health, the planet, and the future. Hearing about how they enjoy our produce and flowers is so special.
How to Prepare, What to Bring, and What We’ve Learned
Preparing to attend a farmers' market, if you are like us, takes practice and lots of lists. I can count the times on one hand that we have NOT forgotten something we needed. It can be something minor such as a pen or extra ice packs, but we have actually shown up before to market without our second table and our credit card reader. That was an interesting setup! We can still roll with it, but we run much more efficiently when we have all of our “stuff”.
How to prepare to sell at a farmers' market
Things to consider when attending a new farmers' market:
Is it held indoors or outdoors? This will affect your need for a tent, tent sides, shade clothes, water to spray onto produce in the heat, ice packs for stored produce, etc.
How much space do you have to set up? How many tables fit into this market space?
Will you take cash and credit card? If both, you will need to consider your bank size and what your credit card accepting method will be.
What’s the foot traffic like? This will affect how much product you should expect to bring and what you can move.
Does the time of week and day fit into your schedule? Don’t force it. Quality of life is important!
How much time do you need to allow yourself to get to the market and set up?
What unknowns could occur? Plan ahead for things like vases of water spilling and something going wrong so you aren’t over-stressed when the unknown happens.
Is there a need for your product? Oftentimes, your application is voted on by a board of directors, and they decide whether or not your product is needed at the particular market. You certainly don’t want to show up and then find out you are one of 3 vendors offering the same niche items at a small market.
Learn the rules of the market you choose to attend.
What to have in your farmers' market kit
We go over different mental checklists in the truck before leaving for the market, but we decided to put them down on paper this year. Once you make cohesive lists, they can be laminated and stored on a clipboard in your vehicle at all times, making it really easy to go through it each week as items are packed for the local farmer's market.
Basic Supplies for A Market Booth
Tables - I highly suggest good quality tables, especially since they will need to hold a lot of weight. The ones we use and pretty standard are 2.5’ wide by 6’ long.
Tent - we use the standard 10x10’ white tent. It’s simple, sturdy, and has lots of different add-ons that you can purchase later. We have seen cheap tents fly away or turn inside out during some heavy winds. Don’t let that happen to you! Also, be sure you know how much space you will have in your market space. Some allow more, but 10x10’ is pretty standard.
Tent walls - purchase the same brand as your tent to ensure they fit and attach properly. The easiest to use in our opinion are the Velcro walls. The Eurmax tents come with Velcro along the top so if you choose to buy the walls, they are equipped for them.
Weight bags - wind can be your enemy at a market. A tent that flies away in the wind is dangerous to you and other farmers. It is also expensive to replace if a big gust of wind flips and breaks your tent. Having weight bags for each leg of your tent is vital.
Cash box - we like to over-prepare by having lots of cash to make change and plenty of quarters. It’s the times you don’t bring extra singles that everyone will want to pay with a $20 bill. Don’t let yourself get stuck in that situation!
Credit card reader (if you accept credit cards at your farmers market booth) - we use Square for our POS and we find it very easy to use. The reader plugs right into our phones and is stored in our cash box so we are never without it.
Sign that says who you are - sometimes people won’t come in if they don’t see identification. Also, share any certifications your farm might have.
Market book and pen - a simple composition books works just fine (we use this to record random notes, keep track of what we brought/sold, totals at the end of the day)
Table clothes - try to keep it simple with these. Decide on a theme and stick with that. White is great, but it shows dirt very quickly and is hard to keep clean. Black is sort of a drab. Colorful and bright tablecloths used to be our jam, until we got the advice that it takes away from the produce. We settled this year on using some beige Rit dye to color our white tablecloths.
Produce bags- check that your bags meet market guidelines
Anything you might want to give your display height such as wooden crates, buckets to put upside down to support a 2x4” board, etc.
Price holders/signs - Make the prices clear and easy to see. Shoppers are more likely to decide on purchasing items if they know what they cost. Some simply won’t want to ask you for a price.
Chalkboard/chalk - we made ours with some recycled wood and chalkboard paint
Business cards- markets are a great way to network
Scale if you sell items by weight
Necessary paperwork - proof of liability insurance, scale certification and inspection
Product, of course!
Water for spritzing produce if it’s going to be a hot day.
Several drinking water bottles for hot days
Boxes/paper bags for customers
Any decor that personalizes your space, if desired. We typically hang fun, fabric flags to liven up our tent.
Blank price signs
Various display items
Swag if you have it, such as bags, hats, pins, keychains, stickers, etc. featuring your logo
Farmers' market Tips and Tricks
Keep your stand tidy. As you sell out of items or the offerings decrease, rearrange items to look more appealing.
When someone passes by your tent, greet them! People who may just be browsing are more likely to enter your tent if you engage with them. Let customers see you. Stand up and smile. Walking into a tent can be intimidating so make customers feel welcome. Don’t be distracted by your phone and miss a potential customer.
Clean your produce thoroughly so that your display is not only abundant but everything looks fresh and beautiful. Take care to scrub your carrots and turnips before bunching. Gently wipe off any dirt from cucumbers and zucchini. Triple wash your greens if you can. It all matters!
On hot days, be sure to have a spray bottle available to keep greens from wilting. This will also keep produce looking fresh. We also store ice packs underneath the tablecloths before placing produce atop them. This helps keep everything cool and the tablecloth provides a barrier from direct cold. Use those tent sides on sunny days to keep produce out of direct sun!
Make sure YOU are comfortable as well, not just your produce. If it is calling for cooler temps, wear layers. Don’t forget warm socks and insulated footwear! It can be a total drag if you are cold and unprepared. Having a thermos of hot water or tea to hold helps with cold hands. Similarly, if it’s going to be hot, dress accordingly and be sure to have lots of water to drink.
Doing “3 for” or “4 for” deals is a great way to move a lot of product. It offers a sale price, increases your sales and also creates an opportunity for a customer to try a new product they normally wouldn’t have tried. A smart area to use this deal is on herbs. 4 for $10 is a great deal and sends customers home with great variety.
“Stack it high and watch it fly”. This is an old farmer saying that simply means, put out lots of produce and it will sell! An abundant stand will attract more people in and you will sell more product. Always make your tables look full and abundant and if they’re not, create that illusion.
Use wooden crates, buckets, slabs of scrap wood, etc to build your display up vertically. Make it appealing to the eye and inviting to passersby.
Be sure to have prices and items clearly marked. You want to make it as easy as possible for shoppers.
Arrange tables, scale, POS, products, etc. in a way that creates a flow for customers. It might not be best to put your cash out station next to your newest item as that will already be a high traffic area and it will create bottlenecks.
Conveniently place shopping bags out for people to use. They’ll likely purchase more if they can shop easily.
If you have a new item, put it out front where it will be the first thing seen! It will draw people into your tent.
If you can be first to market with a sought after item like tomatoes, do it! You will be sure to sell out.
No one wants to take the last head of lettuce or bunch of carrots. If your tables are starting to empty, break one down and condense.
What we’ve learned
Over the past few years, the local food movement has exploded. Some areas of the country had a head start on this (or never stopped supporting local!) but the good news is, it looks like it’s here to stay. With more and more supply chain issues and the increasing cost of getting groceries to our local grocery stores, many Americans are choosing farmers’ markets and farm stands over big chain grocery stores. The time to #KnowYourFarmer is now.
Keeping that in mind, be prepared and educated about your products so you can provide information to your customers. You’ll field lots of questions like, “Is this a determinate or indeterminate tomato?”, “Can I grow this on my deck? I get a lot of shade” “What’s your favorite way to cook Swiss chard?, “How long will this last in my refrigerator?”.
Each time we grow something new, we are sure to know the answers to as many questions that we might be asked. If you’re not sure how long your microgreens will last in the fridge, test it out! You’ll want to give your customers clear and honest answers.
If you're going to try growing funky or uncommon varieties, be prepared to talk about how to grow, cook and store it. If you grow good products, they’ll sell themselves once you get people to try them. I can’t tell you how many people got hooked on Tokyo Bekana (a crispy Asian green) a few years ago! It is definitely not going to be found at the grocery store shelves so we gave a lot of examples of how to enjoy it. When it was too hot and we had a shortage of lettuce, we recommended replacing it temporarily with Tokyo Bekana and people loved it!
Don’t undersell the value of your products and the hard work it took to grow them! In the same regard, if stuff is flying off your tables and everyone is mentioning how great your prices are, it might be time to raise them. Farmers’ markets are not the grocery store; farmers should be paid accordingly.
Farmers markets are a huge source of income for us, so we take preparing for them very seriously, but we have learned to let loose a little. Our market customers come for an experience, not just to buy produce. Markets may not always be at a convenient time or the easiest place to swing by (although we try!) so some folks really go out of their way to support local farmers and artisans. Keep that in mind, and thank them for coming!
Time and time again, we are reminded that customers not only come for our great produce, they also come for us. We know this because we have created lasting relationships with many of our customers at the farmers market. They bring us small trinkets that make them think of us; we share recipes and stories with each other and have even become dinner party friends with a few of them. So once you are a vendor at a market, have fun! Get to know your customers, fellow vendors, musicians, etc. Become a part of that community. Immerse yourself in the culture. Farmers markets can be extremely profitable, sustainable and very enjoyable.