Extending the Season

How can we operate our market online in the off-season?

Although a busy market season and the approaching cold winter may justify hibernating during the off season, there are still many ways you can operate your market online to maintain a presence or link your farmers who are still busy producing with customers ready and willing to buy. If just maintaining a presence in your community while the market is closed for the season is what you’re after, consider maintaining a strong web presence by keeping your newsletter or other online communications going during the off season. You can write articles about what your farmers are up to for the winter or about their plans for the upcoming season. You can even offer recipes for the peak-harvest bounty you encouraged your customers to preserve. Keeping communication going during the off season can get your customers excited about the new season and ensure they don’t forget about the joys of shopping at the farmers market during their sleepy winter. If you have farmers that are still producing in the winter and a regular winter market does not make sense in your community, consider establishing a way for your market to connect customers to those farmers online. You can do this through establishing an online-buying club or website for your customers to purchase products from local producers who still have products available during the off season. LocallyGrown.net is one website that allows you to set up your own market website to connect farmers to consumers and sell products online. Check out these examples for different ways of doing this:

In addition, take a look at the Rodale Institute’s Internet Buying Clubs Combine Emerging Technologies and Community Values.

How can we operate our market indoors in the off-season?

Finding a suitable location within your budget is essential—a large part of the draw of the farmers market is the friendly, open-air, organic feel, so you may want to avoid basements or low-ceiling rooms that may not feel welcoming enough to attract many customers.

Be sure to provide sufficient ventilation for the number of people you expect to attend, seek out a location with windows, and make sure vendors will be able to get their products in and out of the facility easily.

Accessibility for those in wheelchairs or using rolling carts is also a concern.

Local schools, universities, religious and community institutions, and shopping centers are all good places to seek out indoor space for your market.

Fewer people will just happen upon your market when it’s indoors (unless you locate it in a mall or other high-traffic area), so marketing and advertising are essential. Create ample signage, and let your customers and vendors know during the regular market season about the winter location and hours for the market. Take advantage of opportunities to expand your web presence online (see the FAQ How do we increase our market’s web presence?), especially since more people are hibernating in front of their computers in the winter. Take a look at the FMC newsletter article, Winter Farmers Markets: Extending a Season of Warmth for more information about operating a market during the ‘off-season,’ and check out these examples: Salt Lake City Winter Farmers Market, Bath Farmers Market

What are the best ways to keep a market going year-round?

If you live in an area with a warm year-round climate, the adjustments might be minimal—not quite as many vendors or customers as in May, but the existing structure, schedule, and rules may still hold nicely. Simply call your market a year-round market and make a few tweaks as necessary.

If you live in a more northern climate with a longer winter season, you will have to work creatively with a much more limited array of local farm products, and a much less hospitable outdoor environment for shopping. Consider reducing vendor fees for your first winter or two, or offer flat rates instead of percentage-of-sales to attract more vendors. Encourage vendors in the summer to plant hearty winter crops and storage crops, letting them know that you will offer a market for those products come November. Demonstrate your commitment to this promise in the winter, even if only a few vendors show up every week. Find vendors who can offer value-added products such as sauces, jams, and jellies, as well as meats and cheeses to round out the less-abundant winter supply of fresh produce. The 32nd Street Farmers Market in Baltimore continues its market in the winter, adjusting its policies to accommodate some non-local produce. The Dupont Circle Farmers Market in Washington DC stays maintains its strict producer-only policies year-round, but adjusts the market hours to better meet the seasonal needs of producers and customers.

As a compromise between year-round and seasonal markets, you may also want to consider holding holiday markets. Berkshire Grown hosts holiday markets in Great Barrington and Williamstown, Massachusetts—one before Thanksgiving, the other before Christmas—so hard-core locavores can buy bulk items, and others can buy value-added items to use as gifts or as part of their holiday meals. The West Virginia Farmers Market Association hosts a ‘Winter Blues’ Farmers Market to take place immediately before a statewide small farm conference when many producers are already gathering in one place.

No matter what you decide, be sure to ask your farmers what their preferences are for the off season—many of them might enjoy having a break in the winter! It’s also not a bad idea to survey your customers about their willingness to brave snow and ice to visit the market in February.

What do we need to do to prepare for the market season?

There is no shortage of tasks for a Market Manager during the off season to prepare for the next market season. These include activities that should take place before the season begins or right after the market ends to make sure the market for next year is an even greater success. Here are some things to consider during these times.


  • Decide how you will advertise and when you will hold promotional events.
  • Develop your media campaign
  • Create promotional materials such as signs and brochures
  • Decide on special events and start planning
  • Review and update market rules and regulations
  • Develop or review the market’s strategic plan
  • Meet with and report to the market board/committees
  • Develop or review the market’s long-term marketing plan
  • Review and update the market’s emergency preparedness plan
  • Review the market’s operating hours
  • Secure all permits
  • Secure market liability insurance
  • Review and improve the layout and design of the market
  • Determine if your market is missing any products
  • Develop a strategy to recruit new farmers and vendors
  • Establish your budget and secure funding
  • Determine or review vendor fees
  • Establish community partnerships
  • Certify market for the Nutrition Assistance Programs
  • Hold a vendor meeting to discuss policies and changes


  • Evaluate the market season:
    • What worked well and what changes can be made to improve the market?
    • What events/promotions added to market sales and what brought in more customers?
  • Develop and update your advertising campaign
  • Hold vendor meetings to give vendors a chance to offer ideas, discuss issues, and celebrate the end of the season
  • Find professional development opportunities for management and staff
  • Repair and maintain market grounds and supplies

Take a look at the What Does it Mean to Be a Market Manager section of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York’s Farmers Market Manager Training Manual for more details. If this list seems overwhelming, remember that you don’t have to do this alone: establishing a board of directors or an advisory board and keeping good volunteers will provide you with many talented minds to offer feedback and provide support for accomplishing these tasks.