Crafts or No Crafts?: One Market’s Approach to Balancing Diversity and Integrity

      Posted On: July 18, 2008

It is generally agreed that product diversity at a farmers market attracts shoppers, and as time-conscious consumers, we all understand the value of one-stop shopping. Handiwork from local artisans and craftspeople can complement food products, reinforce in consumers’ minds the market as THE place to go for all things locally produced and potentially increase all vendors’ sales. On the other hand, markets designed with farmers as the primary beneficiary might rightfully cringe at the idea of having the market’s reputation devolve to that of a bargain barn with products of unknown origin. So how can a market expand its offerings beyond agricultural products while preserving, and even improving, its integrity as a purveyor of local farm products? Some markets only allow crafts that are agriculturally related, like ones made with wood or wool, or that directly complement the agricultural products, like a hand crafted ceramic vase or set of plates would be used for flowers and food. Recognizing that each market takes a unique approach to the issue of craftsmanship at markets, FMC asked Vic Gutman, FMC Member and Co-Founder of the Omaha Farmers Market, to explain his market’s policy.

By Vic Gutman

The issue of crafts is a perennial issue among farmers markets around the country. I can easily look at this dilemma from both perspectives. As a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, I helped establish an artists guild in the early 1970s. We lobbied the farmers market there to accept more craftspeople and to integrate them among the green growers. There was a strict cap on the number of crafts vendors that they would allow and they were relegated to a far flung corner of the market. The farmer vendors seemed to resent the crafters although they were popular with the buying public.

Pottery at Omaha Farmers MarketMy company now manages (and started) Omaha’s largest arts festival and the Omaha Farmers Market. Although I sympathize, from a lifetime of working with artisans, their plight to make a living, I believe that it is imperative to strike a good balance of products at the farmers market. We have more vendors applying to participate in the market than we have spaces to allocate. This forces us to prioritize applications. We believe that it is essential to maintain the integrity of our market as a green market and not let it morph into something else – such as a crafts market or a flea market.

There are some who believe that a farmers market should only feature produce and fresh cut flowers and bedding plants. I’m not that much of a purist. I think that most of our customers appreciate a variety of products to choose from although they do expect that the majority of vendors will sell locally grown fruits, vegetables and flowers.
With all of this in mind, we have established the following guidelines:

1. At least 50% of our vendors each week must sell locally grown produce, flowers or bedding plants. This is the heart and soul of our market;
2. We cap hand-made crafts and art at a maximum of 20% of the vendors for any given week. This includes vendors who sell both produce and crafts. If a vendor sells both (and we have a few who do) we count them as a craft vendor;
3. Not more than 30% of the vendors in any given week can sell anything else, including baked goods, prepared foods, jams and jellies, handmade soap, etc.

What every vendor has in common is that they must personally grow it, bake it, make it or cook it or they can’t sell at the market.

The craft vendors at OFM are fully integrated into the market. They aren’t segregated or treated as second class vendors in any way. We don’t have a formal jury process, but I review all of the crafts vendor applications personally and confirm that everything sold is made by the applicant. We require slides or photographs of the work for first time vendors. Our list of permitted products, which is a supplement to the rules and regulations, makes clear to potential vendors from the beginning what is NOT allowed:
1. Anything you did not have a direct hand in making
2. Anything you are selling on consignment or purchased wholesale
3. Anything offensive to community taste standards
4. Anything not meeting the standards of the Omaha Farmers Market
5. Anything commercially produced, assembled from commercially available parts, plans, kits or cast from commercial molds.

I don’t believe that the presence of crafters affects the sales of our produce vendors. Most people coming to the market are there to purchase food and buy crafts on impulse. We have never had any complaints from farmers about the crafts and no farmer vendor has ever been turned away from selling at the market because of craft vendors. We will always find room for farmers, but there is a waiting list for crafts vendors.

We are considering starting a Sunday market that will have a different vendor mix. The Sunday market would allow for more crafts to be sold. We won’t call it a farmers market or promote it as a farmers market- it will probably be called the Sunday Market. We might even allow as much as 50% crafts at this market and a higher percentage of prepared food. We would probably hold this market only once a month during the warm weather months.

To see how other farmers markets approach artisanship, visit FMC’s growing selection of Sample Rules and Regulations. If you have a policy on crafts at market that you’d like to share as a sample for our upcoming on-line library, please e-mail it to