Market Growth, Outreach, and Evaluation
How do we get out the word about our new market?
- Create a logo that can consistently be used on signs, buttons, letterhead, shirts, and all promotional materials to build “brand recognition” for the market.
- Create flyers and ask local community organizations, businesses, and schools if they will help distribute. Offer flyers at your market for customers and vendors to share with others.
- Make signs to display in town. Go to the FAQ below, What signs should we have made for our market? for more information.
- Send out press releases to your local newspaper, television, and radio station before the season starts and again when you have special events or new products or services.
- Develop a Public Service Announcement. Learn more about PSAs in Ch. 2 and 4 of New Directions in Marketing for Farmers Markets.
- Spread the word through the internet. Take a look at the resources in the FAQ below, How do we increase our market’s web presence? for more info.
- Always staff an information booth so that customers know that the market is more than a random simultaneous gathering of farmers. This person can be a trained volunteer, but should be easy to identify as a market staff person.
- Leverage National Farmers Market Week (the first full week in August) to communicate the benefits of farmers markets using FMC’s Markets Are Up! resources.
Once your market is up and running, one of the best ways to spread the word about your market is through those early customers to your market. Word of mouth is a tried and true form of advertising so focus on providing an exceptional experience with excellent customer service. Carrie Hogan of Fresh52 Farmers and Artisan Markets says, “Make your market fabulous and encourage your vendors to do so as well.” Check out the Customer Satisfaction Section of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York’s Farmers Market Manager Training Manual. Satisfied community members will be sure to tell their friends and family about the market.
Overall, from the very beginning think about developing a marketing plan and strategy that you will use to bring customers in and keep them coming back. Take a look at the University of Wisconsin’s New Directions in Marketing For Farmers Markets for tips and strategies to do so. For more ideas for promoting your market, jump to the Market Management FAQ How do we promote the market in the community affordably?
We have a solid loyal customer base, but how can we expand by reaching those who don't yet shop at our market?
Step back and ask yourself if there is anything missing from your market. Should you offer different varieties of the same product, baked goods, flowers, meat, or value-added products? Try and find farmers who sell products familiar to a variety of ethnic backgrounds and bring vendors and farmers from the same ethnic groups to show that your market is reflective of the community it serves. Consider advertising in another language, too. If you surveyed your community before starting the market, look at what products they hoped to find at the market. You can also take a look at the Vendor Recruitment section of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York’s Farmers Market Manager Training Manual for resources on conducting a product inventory that can help you decide if anything is missing from your market.
Remember that the beauty of farmers markets is the unique experience customers have that they can’t get at the grocery store. Reach out in the community and bring community organizations that offer a wide variety of services and educational activities for all ages into your markets. Many markets designate a vendor stall that rotates organizations each week. You could bring in the local county extension service to offer information about food preservation or Master Gardeners to provide gardening expertise.
Are you reaching out to community members of a wide range of income levels? You can do this by accepting nutrition assistance program benefits such as SNAP (formally known as food stamps) or Senior and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program benefits at your market to make your producers more accessible. Take a look at the Market Management FAQ Category Increasing Market Access for more information about expanding your reach through nutrition assistance programs.
Other customers who may not be able to access your market include those who have a physical disability, senior citizens who are homebound, or individuals with conflicting work schedules. Some farmers markets are establishing Direct Delivery programs to reach these customers, where customers can order online from the market and have products delivered by volunteers. Check out the Building a Farmers Market Community section in the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York’s Farmers Market Manager Training Manual for examples of these programs.
Overall, the more you expand your market to reach more community members, the bigger impact your market will have on your vendors, your customers, your community, and ultimately your local food system.
How can we get more farmers to sell at the market?
Reach out personally to farmers within the community—you can find them by asking your current vendors, or see who is selling at other markets in the region. Your local county Extension Agents, Natural Resource Conservation Service field staff, and Farm Bureau officers may be able to provide a list of farmers in your area. Watch the FMC webinar ‘Markets as Business Incubators: Strategies to Grow your Vendor Base‘ for some great ideas from Young Kim and Peter Marks. Try contacting your state department of agriculture or use Local Harvest to locate producers who might be interested in selling at your market.
When you contact farmers, make sure you have all of the information they’ll need to know to decide if your market will be a viable option for them, including time and location of your market, number of vendors and overall sales, vendor fees, and rules and regulations, to name a few.
Another strategy is to ask your current farmers to spread the word about the market to other farmers and food producers they know. You might also think about expanding your advertising and marketing efforts so producers can be confident that there is enough business at your market to make it worth their while to sell there. Take a look at the Vendor Recruitment section of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York’s Farmers Market Manager Training Manual, the Wallace Center’s Recruiting Vendors for a Farmers Market, or FMC’s two page tip sheet Recruiting Producers to learn more.
If you are having trouble finding enough producers that can justify the time spent away from their farm, you may want to consider finding producers that are willing to team up, combining their products and taking turns selling at the market. If you choose to allow vendors to sell each others’ product, make sure that you disclose the relationship to your customers and that your vendors are knowledgeable enough about each other products to be able to answer customer’s questions.
Keep in mind that socially disadvantaged producers might need help getting started at a market and reach out to them so they can be included in your market. These include producers who are new to farming, have limited capital investment, have little experience selling direct to consumers, are not native speakers of the main language of market shoppers, are new to the United States, or are members of an ethnicity or culture that has experienced discrimination in the U.S. Here are some examples of how you can help:
- Provide a translator for your producers or ask experienced growers from the same ethnicity to become a mentor for new farmers and assist with translation.
- Supply your producers with price cards, information, and recipes for any unfamiliar produce they bring to market.
- See if you can get a local college student through a work study program to offer English as a Second Language classes to market vendors and help with translation during the market.
- Partner with another organization that offers business training and technical assistance to beginning farmers to sell their products through farmers markets.
As you are recruiting vendors, remember that adding vendors to your market will always be a balancing act between supply and demand. Offering too much of one product could hurt your current vendors’ sales, but some level of competition between vendors is important. To learn more about this, take a look at Market Umbrella’s Market Preparation: Recruiting Vendors and the Market Management FAQ How many vendors should we allow at the market, and how should we select them?
How do we engage kids, teens, and young adults at the market?
Engaging kids, teens, and young adults at the market will increase the reach of your market by making it easier for families to shop at the market and bringing in a new generation of avid farmers market shoppers. To engage this audience, make your market into an event—something fun, lively, and exciting to witness and participate in, instead of something akin to a trip to the grocery store. Here are a few ideas:
- Hire child-friendly musicians, jugglers, or other entertainers to perform in a central area of the market, where one parent or supervisor can keep an eye on them while the other shops.
- Think about different programming you can offer for youth like gardening or environmental education programs. Enlist volunteers, community organizations, or teen groups to teach these programs. Sustainable Food Center’s Farmers Market in Austin has a “Be Groovy, Be Green” presenter and a garden school program called “Gardenheads” for young children. Lexington (MA) Farmers Market launched Kids Cooking Green, a nutrition and cooking curriculum for elementary aged children.
- Consider coordinating a small babysitting service for parents who have brought their children to the market. Older teens can plan and implement games and art activities for younger kids in a designated area of the market. Be sure to let your insurance agent know about such plans, and check local regulations about what constitutes an official babysitting service that might require additional regulation or certification.
- Become a ‘Power of Produce’ (POP) Club chapter. Learn more about POP by watching the FMC webinar, The Power of POP.
Teens and Young Adults
- Create volunteer opportunities for youth. Have them help collect unwanted produce from vendors for delivery to local food pantries, roast corn for a corn festival, or assist with EBT. By partnering with local nonprofits, you can connect kids with seniors or people with young children to help them get their groceries to their cars or hold things while they shop.
- Start a vendor apprentice program, where teens can be matched with vendors to learn about how they get their produce from farm to table, and how they can help out.
- Enlist school bands, choruses, dance troupes, and other young performers to provide entertainment for the market, perhaps with a donation box for themselves or a charity of their choosing. Student artists could help create signage for the market.
- Encourage teens to start their own market business. Talk with schools, churches, sports teams, youth groups, etc. to see if there’s interest in supporting a youth farmers market entrepreneurship program. Teens could grow produce in a community garden, at home, or perhaps on school or church property and sell it a market stall, or they could purchase produce from other vendors to make value-added products like jams, juices, pickles, or pies. You could allot one or two stalls for this purpose depending on interest, and offer reduced market fees. Grow Dat Youth Farm in New Orleans is a good example.
- If you have young farmers at your market, highlight them in your newsletter or special events so teens and young adults know that farmer and farmers markets are something they can be involved in too.
- Bring in musical acts that would appeal to older children and teenagers.
- Consider the timing of your market—many middle and high school students have sports or musical practice from 3-7 on weekdays, and they are of course in school during the day. A midday weekend market might be your best bet; too early and the late-rising teenagers may not show up.
- Hold special events at the farmers market that teens and young adults would be interested in participating in like talent shows and young chef cooking contests.
- Hold a Youth Farmers Market. Good examples include the Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) and GrowNYC’s Youth Market. While DUG’s Youth Farmers’ Market Manual was developed for single-stand markets at or near schools, it might help markets looking to partner with local schools to recruit youth-run businesses as vendors at their existing markets.
How do we promote the market in the community affordably?
- Give the media something to talk about and let them do the promoting for you. Watch the FMC webinar How to Pick up (and Build Long-Term Relationships with) Reporters.
- Send press releases to the local newspapers, television, and radio when you have special events or new products at market.
- Submit market special events to community calendars with newspapers and tourism departments.
- Volunteer to write a monthly column about your market for the local newspaper.
- Get local food, gardening, and cooking bloggers to write about the joys of shopping at the market and cooking with fresh produce from farmers to excite customers about shopping at the market.
- Start your own farmers market blog or newsletter. Enlist the help of volunteers to write profiles of market producers and their products.
- Use social media networks like Twitter and Facebook to get the word out about special events, weekly specials, or what’s new at the market for free.
- Ask vendors to distribute flyers in their communities and add a link to your website on their website if they have one.
- Join in on national promotional campaigns, such as National Farmers Market Week, which is the first week in August and use the Farmers Market Coalition’s Markets Are Up Campaign Toolkit to help promote your market.
- Create a fact sheet for what’s in season at the market to keep customers coming back and looking forward to their favorite seasonal produce.
- Enlist the talent of local art and business students that will develop a logo and brand for your market as a class project or a way to enhance their portfolio, as developing a logo can be expensive.
- Get inspired by the hundreds of National Awareness Days and coordinate some kind of special promotion in partnership with a community group also celebrating that day or week. For example, partner with a cycling group during National Bike Week (in June) to host a “Bike to the Market” event offering coupons to those who bring their bike to market, or host a “bike clinic” to teach bike maintenance.
- Ask local businesses or independent banks to sponsor your events or promotional materials.
- Promote the bounty of your farmers markets by asking local chefs to hold chef demonstrations.
- Provide samples from your vendors or do your own cooking demonstrations featuring different vendors each week.
There are plenty of ways to promote your market for free; it will just take some creativity, legwork, and help from others in your community. Take a look at these resources for more help:
Marketing and Promotion Strategies:
- University of Wisconsin’s New Directions in Marketing For Farmers Markets
- NOFA-VT’s Engaging the Community for Farmers Market Success
- Lexington Farmers Market’s Market Promotions at the Lexington Farmers Market
To see some sample seasonal produce guides, check out FRESHFARM Markets’ Guide to Seasonal Foods and Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA)’s Seasonal Availability Charts.
Special Events and Chef and Cooking Demonstrations
- Kansas Rural Center’s Cooking Demonstration Guide
- University of Massachusetts’ Tips for Conducting Cooking Demonstrations
What signs should we have made for our market?
Signs and banners for your market, while they may seem an expensive investment, are important marketing tools. You will want a mix of signs that will be available to communicate important information on market day such as what’s available, market specials, and upcoming events as well as signs that are located around town during the day of the market with market hours and arrows pointing to the market.
Sandwich boards make great signs for the day of the market because they are easily transportable and stand on their own. Consider a sandwich board that contains space for a dry erase board, or use chalkboard paint so that you can update it weekly with new information. A sign that can be posted all season long at the market site with market hours and location will inform new customers and encourage them to come back on market day. If you can, get a permanent sign that you can put up in a location near the market yearlong to promote the market (for this and other considerations if moving from a seasonal to year-long market, see Extending the Market Season). If your market accepts any Nutrition Assistance Program benefits such as SNAP or WIC, be sure to make that known through visible signs at the entrances of your market and at your information booth (for examples, see Increasing Market Access).
With any sign, remember these tips to communicating your message most effectively:
- Make sure your logo is simple and consistent
- Use a font that is large and easy to read
- Present information clearly and logically
- Keep your messages short and simple
You should also strongly encourage or require that all producers at market have a banner or sign with their business name and location, as well as any particular production practices. All pricing should be clearly displayed to encourage fair and consistent pricing among farm stands.
How do we increase our market’s web presence?
There are many free or very cheap ways to promote your market online—if you’d like to create a website, there are a variety of free and easy to use site creation tools such as Wix.com, Weebly.com, and Jimdo.com. You could also set up a blog at Blogger.com, WordPress.com, Livejournal.com, or Tumblr.com. Once you’ve set up a site, you can add pictures of your market, a vendor list, operating hours and days, and directions to the market.
Collect the email addresses of market-goers and set up an online subscription from your website so that community members can sign up to receive updates and market news through email. Wufoo.com is a great resource for easily creating these sign up forms.
Add your market to Google Maps, so anyone searching for businesses, grocery stores, or markets in your area will see a pushpin for your market. To list your market, visit this page: there’s even an option of linking to your newly created website or blog!
Make sure that your market is listed in the USDA’s Farmers Market Directory, as well as on sites like Local Harvest, which has a map of farmers markets and farm stands across the United States. If you have a state farmers market association, make sure to join and get listed on any sites they maintain.
Another frequently visited site you can use to increase your web presence is Yelp.com. Yelp is an online city guide that helps people find the best businesses, parks, and other spots in their area by browsing through the reviews and pictures posted by locals. Businesses are sorted by the quality and quantity of their reviews, so once you’ve listed your market on Yelp, you might encourage your market’s customers to write Yelp reviews of their market shopping experience. This will allow your market to be more prominently listed on the website. As an example, here is Austin Farmers Market’s page on Yelp.com.
In addition to these more permanent methods of expanding your web presence, you might consider listing your market’s opening day, special market events, or even your market’s regular operations as an ‘event’ on various websites. For example, once you’ve registered on Yelp, you can visit this page to add your market to the event calendar. You should also check out the websites for your local newspapers to see if they have similar free event listings.
Another way to increase your web presence and promote your market is through social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is a type of social media outlet known as microblogging that allows you to send and receive messages called “tweets” that are posted on your profile page and sent to other users known as followers. This is an easy way to get the word out fast about market news, specials, and upcoming events. Watch FMC’s webinar with Colleen Newvine, Weeding the Social Media Garden, to learn more.
You can use Facebook to create a page for your farmers market that other members of Facebook can “like” which allows them to receive updates and post comments to your page. Others can then suggest your page or share your posts with friends, expanding your reach even further. Facebook is a great way to keep your customers at close reach and keep dialogue going because you can quickly respond to questions posted on your page, ask customers to provide feedback, and facilitate community interaction by sharing news articles, blog posts, and videos. Take a look how these farmers markets are using Facebook:
- Portland Farmers Market
- Memphis Farmers Market
- Omaha Farmers Markets
- Madison Farmers Market
- Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market
For more information about the benefits and possibilities of Facebook, take a look at the blog post Social Media and Marketing Tips: Farmers Markets on Facebook by Luke Garro, and Shawn Hessinger’s blog post, Ten Tips for Marketing with Social Media, inspired by marketing strategies that farmers markets know and use.
How can our market raise funds to cover operating costs? What grants can we apply for?
As farmers markets provide a unique experience for shoppers and strive to benefit farmers, consumers, and community, they require money to operate successfully. Raising funds is an important part of managing a market. Many organizations rely on grants to cover operating costs, especially during the start-up phase, while generating income from vendor fees and establishing a strong base of individual donors can be more financially sustainable in the long run.
Markets can raise funds in two ways—through money earned from services provided, such as vendor fees and merchandise sales; and through income received from outside sources, such as sponsorships, donations, and fundraising events. Check out FMC’s webinar, Creative Fundraising Strategies for Farmers Markets.
Here are some fundraising strategies to consider:
- Promote the market and raise funds by selling reusable shopping bags, t-shirts, water bottles, or other products with your market’s logo.
- Create and sell a farmers market cookbook featuring recipes from your vendors and community members.
- Ask local businesses that are in line with your mission and values to sponsor the market, offering cash or in-kind donations that can be used for purchasing promotional materials or merchandise and holding special events.
- Ask local restaurants to hold fundraising events donating a portion of sales to the farmers market.
- Hold annual fundraising events such as a harvest celebration or barn dance event soliciting local chefs and talent to help.
- Establish a “Friends of the Market” program to provide a way for community members to feel a sense of ownership in the market and donate, offering gifts such as merchandise or discount coupons in appreciation for their donations. Read the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York’s Friends of the Market Toolkit to explore the possibilities.
Don’t forget about saving money too! Finding ways to cut back on expenses will keep money in your budget as well. Some ways to save include getting space for the market donated, soliciting in-kind donations for specific equipment and supplies that your market needs, and finding and keeping good volunteers (see How do we find and keep good volunteers? in the Market Staff FAQ section; and How do we promote the market in the community affordably? above.)
An innovative fundraising strategy that the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans has started provides social investment as well. The Crescent Fund allows market-goers and vendors the opportunity to contribute money into a fund and vote for projects to receive funding; the projects are required to benefit and strengthen the local community. The winners will then repay their award within three months through either time (volunteering), talent (sharing a skill), or treasure (money).
Here are some resources with tips and advice for raising funds:
- The Raising Funds for Farmers Markets Section of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York’s Farmers Market Manager Training Manual
- Creative Fundraising Strategies for Farmers Markets Webinar
What grants can we apply for?
Grants are another way to receive funding for your operation and there are many places to look for these. First, keep in mind that many grants require organizations to be a 501(c)(3) or to be sponsored by a fiscal agent in order to apply. When looking for grant opportunities, look locally at organizations you already have a relationship with, such as churches or Kiwanis clubs, as this could improve your chances.
You may be able to find grants for capital improvements through your local housing or community development corporation (CDC).
Check here to see if you have a farmers market association in your state and whether they offer any grants; you might also check with your State Department of Agriculture.
Visit the Foundation Center Directory to search for private foundations in your state– you’ll be surprised how many there are! Here are some of the federal grant opportunities that your farmers market might be eligible for:
- USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) offers grants of up to $100,000 to help improve and expand farmers markets.
- The Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) provides funds for establishing or expanding a local and regional food business enterprises.
- USDA Risk Management Agency’s Community Outreach and Assistance Partnerships offers funding for partnership agreements to fund projects that provide information and training for limited resource, socially disadvantaged and other traditionally under-served farmers and ranchers
Take a look at these resources to learn more about grant opportunities that could be applicable to your farmers market as well as your farmers or local food system:
- USDA’s agency-wide initiative Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
- National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s Guide to Federal Funding for Local and Regional Food Systems
- FMC’s webinar Winning Grants with Logic Models: Improve Project Management and Evaluate Success
And don’t forget about individual donors. In Organizational Details: Funding, Market Umbrella notes that “Individuals give 80% of charitable contributions compared with the 20% that foundations and corporations offer. In other words, over time it is the individuals who believe in your mission who will sustain you—outgiving foundations four to one.”
How do we track vendor sales data?
While some markets collect sales data from their vendors at the end of each market day through a vendor sales form, others collect sales data through a paper or online system either weekly or monthly. Some markets also have vendors email or call in their sales after each market. Regardless of whether or not you choose to charge a flat daily fee or a percentage-of-sales fee, tracking vendor sales allows you to track trends over time and evaluate the impact of different promotion strategies. In some cases, asking farmers to report the sales of various products can help you, as a team, see which products are highest in demand and plan for the next season.
Tylee Ulmer of Loudoun HomeGrown Farmers Market says “We charge a flat market fee for the whole season and 3% of gross daily sales. We trust the integrity of our vendors to report. Since we operate five markets on different days in different locations, we require that each market be reported individually so we can see which ones are performing and which ones need more assistance. We also have the reporting done via on-line so it’s more easily available and traceable. If a vendor participates in all five markets, or just one, it’s all done on one form online. We have tried to make it as easy as possible for vendors to comply and it seems to be working well. Last year was the first time we went to this strategy. Payments of 3% are sent in on a monthly basis and the one- time fee is paid at time of application to market.”
You can also read Darlene Wolnik’s article, Connecting the Dots of Back Office Systems, on the Farmers Market Coalition website.
Here are some resources to help you track vendor sales:
- A sample Daily Market Sales Sheet from the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance
- A sample Producer Load List from SEE-LA (Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles)
- The Record Keeping Section of the Washington State Farmers Market Manual
- ManagemyMarket.com, an online vendor management system
Tracking sales from credit/debit or SNAP benefits can get a little more complex. Take a look at Oregon Farmer’s Market Association’s SNAP/EBT Accounting Systems for more information.[/accordion_panel
How can we educate customers about seasonal produce?
There are many ways to educate consumers about seasonal produce in your market; a great jumping off point is to start an information stand at your farmers market. Many markets stock their stand with seasonal produce calendars—find one for your state here and give out printed handouts for free, or be a little fancier and offer an artistically designed local foods wheel like this one for sale. Include a harvest calendar on your market’s website, too.
Another way to educate consumers is a large chalkboard that allows you to display what’s in season that week, or you can feature a ‘Vegetable of the Week’ and display a info about how it’s grown, its nutritional content, and its seasonality—the goal is not as much getting customers to memorize what’s harvested when, but to inspire them to think of food as something that is grown with sweat, love, and cooperation between the farmer, the earth, the weather, and the community.
Another creative option would be to offer several seasonal recipes at the market stand, perhaps even with samples (make sure the samples are produced in a licensed kitchen if your county or state requires this). You could even write and sell your own local farmers market cookbook, with recipes submitted by your vendors and customers. If you go this route, you can self-publish the book in print through websites like Morris Press Cookbooks and LuLu.
Customers who come to the market without seasonality in mind may also benefit from a handout that suggests market items that can be substituted for one another. For example, group potatoes, bread, corn, beans and other complex carbohydrate-rich foods together so a market-goer intent on corn in the early spring can consider other similar foods to try. Ideas for substitutes can be found on websites like Gourmet Sleuth.
Yet another option is to set up a mini-library or bookstore at your stand, stocked with cookbooks that are organized by season, such as Simply in Season, Saving the Seasons, Local Flavors, and Cooking from the Farmers Market. Amy Cotler’s The Locavore Way is also a great introductory resource to have on hand.
If you’d like to get even more hands-on with your seasonality education, you could try holding seasonal produce cooking demos with local chefs. If, on the other hand, this all sounds a bit too much for your market to handle, encourage your vendors to help out: see if they’d be willing to post their harvesting calendar or some other sign listing what’s coming in the next few weeks, so customers are reminded at every stall that seasonal produce is something to anticipate and get excited about instead of something to avoid by heading to the season-less and decidedly un-local supermarket.
How do we change negative perceptions about the prices at markets?
Many market managers are often faced with the question, “Why are market prices so high?” It’s important for a market manager to find ways to address these perceptions about price. For starters, take a look at what exactly your customers are comparing your vendors prices to: Are they pound for pound higher than prices your customers are paying at local retail stores? Are comparable products of the same quality even found at the neighborhood grocery store? Many farmers markets have done cost comparisons and found that farmers market prices are in fact lower than what customers were spending in the stores. Try conducting your own cost comparison to present to customers. Watch FMC’s webinar Price Comparisons at Farmers Markets: Understanding Value and Affordability with Anthony Flaccavento. Take a look at the cost comparison study that Seattle University students conducted in Seattle at farmers markets here.
Belle Rita Novak from Springfield, Massachusetts tells customers they may be confusing price with value when customers say prices are too high. Remind customers that VALUE is different from PRICE. Farmers markets focus on a triple bottom line which benefits farmers and consumers, keeping dollars in the local community and bridging rural and urban divides. Try to educate your consumers so that they understand that prices are set to ensure farmers and farm workers get a fair price for their labor and the cost of producing and transporting their products to market. Emphasize that a farmer is getting a much larger percentage of every dollar spent at a farmers market than they would by selling wholesale. Make every effort to educate your consumers on what it takes to produce their food. Offer ways that customers can get to know their farmers more, such as through farmer talks or interviews or featuring a farmer each week at the market, on your website or blog, or in your newsletter. You can also offer money saving tips for shopping at the farmers market as well.
You can also talk to shoppers about the value of the products sold at your farmers markets in terms of freshness and the benefit to your local economy and the environment. To make sure customers see this value, demand quality products from your vendors. The beauty and draw of shopping at a farmers market is the straight from the field freshness and flavorful taste that is often lacking from grocery stores. When customers know they are getting more value in terms of quality, they will be more willing to pay the true cost of good food.
Take a look at these resources for more information on how to address the negative perceptions about prices at your farmers market:
- The Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture’s A Dollar Well Spent
- The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s Is Local Food More Expensive?: A Consumer Price Perspective on Local and Non-Local Foods Purchased in Iowa
Should we hire musicians and entertainers for the market?
Paying your musicians can help support local music in your community, expanding the benefits of your market and your mission, if supporting the local economy is a part of your mission. If you’re able to pay performers more money, you may be able to get higher quality entertainment, which can draw more customers to your market. You can look into applying for grants or fundraising specifically for hiring musicians or performers at the market.
To ensure the integrity of your market, consider screening your musicians before they perform at your market to make sure their performance is in line with the market’s values. It might also be a good idea to have policies in place for how you accept performers and provide these to performers with a written contract so all parties are in agreement about expectations. Take a look at Marin Agricultural Institute’s Entertainer Application as an example, or the template for Performing Artist Rules.
If your musicians are going to play copyrighted music at the market, the market will have to get a license to do so. Head to the Market Management FAQ Can copyrighted music be played at our market? in FAQ Section 4.
How else can we make our market more fun?
- Hold cooking or recipe competitions where a local cooking supply store sponsors a prize
- Hold family-centered activities like zucchini car or boat races, rutabaga bowling, or pumpkin-carving contests
- Offer food and farm-related face painting or crafting projects for children
- Hold scavenger hunts where customers have to look for items that farmers are producing
Also take a look at the Market Management FAQ How do we engage kids, teens, and young adults at the market? on this page.
How can we evaluate the success of our market? What do we do with this information?
- Review your mission statement often (if you do not have one, consider writing one) and find measurable ways to see how well you are serving the purpose of your market.
- Collect customer counts and other information that you can use to improve your market or show its value. This can be done through a research method known as a Rapid Market Assessment. Deb Churchill from The City Market used the dot survey, an instrument of the Rapid Market Assessment Approach, and received a great response. The New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association collects annual market data from its members using a Market Data Form on their web site.
- Conduct formal and informal customer surveys on a regular basis, asking customers about what brought them to the market, their favorite products, and what else they would like to see. Take a look at the 2010 Phinney Farmers Market’s Shopper Survey.
- Collect vendor sales data to show how your market sales have changed and to evaluate marketing strategies and sales promotions. A good place to start is the FAQ How do we track vendor sales data?
- Evaluate the success of your market strategies using the scorecard model, which is explained in chapter eight of University of Wisconsin’s New Directions in Marketing for Farmers Markets.
- Don’t forget about your vendors! Survey your vendors to get a wealth of information on what’s working and not working, and suggestions for ways to improve the market. Here is Lexington Farmers Market’s 2010 Member Survey as an example.
- Evaluate your individual vendors in terms of appearance, product, performance, and customer service, as each vendor is key to the success of the market. Here is a sample Vendor Evaluation Form from the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York.
- Evaluate the economic impact that your farmers market is having in your community. Try using Market Umbrella’s free online tool, SEED (Sticky Economic Impact Device) with step-by-step instructions and resources for conducting an economic impact study.
- Conduct evaluations of your special events with committee members and key partners to learn how effective your event was in reaching your target audience, the strengths and weaknesses, and ways to improve in the future.
- Evaluate how your market is contributing to the success of other neighboring businesses, so that they’ll be supportive of your market. Take a look at the questions Oregon State University Extension Service asks in Analyzing Three Farmers Markets in Corvallis and Albany, Oregon and their research brief How Farmers Markets Affect Neighboring Businesses.
- Evaluate how your market contributes to the social capital of your community. Take a look at the tool Market Umbrella developed for this, NEED (Neighborhood Exchange Evaluation Device).
- Evaluate how your market contributes to the eating habits and nutritional health of your community. Market Umbrella is currently designing a study to do this called FEED (Food Environment Evaluation Device).
- Evaluate the layout and design of the market to see if there are ways to improve traffic flow and free up more space.
Other helpful resources for evaluation:
- FMC’s Newsletter article Building a Matrix for Market Measurement: An Update on FMC’s Indicator Project
- Oregon State University Extension Service’s A Learning Approach to Sustaining Farmers Markets and When Things Don’t Work: Some Insights Into Why Farmers Markets Close
- The Measuring Farmers Market Performance Section of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York’s Farmers Market Manager Training Manual
- FMC’s Webinar Measuring Success: Market Record-keeping and Evaluation.
What to do with the Information?
Share it! Share it with everyone who has contributed to or is a part of your market in some way. Funders, both existing and prospective, local leaders, local businesses, and prospective vendors will want to know the economic impact of your market on your vendors and the community. Funders will also want to know how your market benefits the community. Vendors, both existing and prospective will want to know about market sales, and about your customers so that they can better serve them. Make sure to find a way to communicate your results in an impactful way. Evaluations will supply you with a wealth of information, but it’s up to you to translate the information so that its significance becomes apparent to your constituents. See Market Central’s postcard size infographic offering a snapshot of the market’s reach…conveniently located on the page asking for donations!
What resources can we make available to vendors to improve their market sales operations?
There are many resources you can provide your vendors with to improve their sales. First, make sure they have information about your market such as overall market sales, products that sell the most, and products that are in short supply so they can plan what crops to produce or bring to your market. Also, as Danae McDevitt from Catonsville’s Sunday Farmers Market says, “ask farmers what they need and see if you can help.” Providing farmers with tips for selling at the market and marketing strategies to increase their sales can be very helpful and there are a number of relevant resources available. Here are a few:
- The Wallace Center’s Getting Started With Farmers Markets
- New Entry Sustainable Farming Project’s Plain Language Guide to Selling at Farmers Markets, a guidebook of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
- Shared Wisdom: Selling Your Best at Farmers Markets DVD (Available by request from the Agricultural Marketing Service at 202-720-8317)
- California Farmers Market Association’s Selling the Whole Truckload
- Growing for Market magazine
- University of Missouri’s Selling Strategies for Local Food Producers
- Nina Planck’s Thoughts on Selling at Farmers Markets
- New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association’s Marketing Tips for Farmers
- Portland Farmers Market’s Tips for First Time Vendors
You can even provide your farmers with resources for adding value to their products by selling novelty items, processing products into sauces, dips, jams or jellies, or providing unique packaging. Here are some resources for your farmers that are thinking about processing their products:
- New Entry Sustainable Farming Project’s Plain Language Guide to Starting A Value Added Food Business
- USDA Rural Development’s Value-Added Producer Grant Program
If farmers are looking for resources to help them determine the right price for their products, have them take a look at the University of Florida IFAS Extension’s Pricing Product: Information and Cost Worksheets.