You Don’t Have to Be a Farmer to Sell at a Farmer's Market

Author: Stratton Date: November 21, 2013

Whether you’re testing a new product or finding new buyers, farmers’ markets can help take your business to the next level.

Farmers’ markets are exploding in popularity throughout the nation. More than 8,000 farmers’ markets are currently known to operate in the United States, and those numbers are steadily rising each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Browsing the tables at any given farmers’ market can give you a taste of more than traditional fruits and vegetables. These days, vendors of many shapes and flavors are setting up their wares. Believe it or not, your non-farming business just may be a match for a local farmers' market.

From Chutneys to Note Cards and Everything in Between

"I've seen cupcakes, baked goods, Indian chutneys, homemade lime rickies, soap, jewelry, photos, note cards, wine, pocketbooks, CDs, prepared foods—you name it," says Trish Wesley, farm administrator at Natick Community Organic Farm in Natick, Massachusetts. "Basically, what's allowed for sale depends on the rules of the market, the individual vision of the market manager and sometimes town officials who give the permits."

If you think your product might be a fit, Wesley suggests contacting the local markets and making a case for your participation: "In my experience, most markets try and limit the amount of 'nonfarm' stuff, but since they make a point of supporting local businesses, most are usually willing to entertain just about any request provided that the other vendors are OK with it and that it will bring value to the market."

How to Get Started as a Farmers' Market Vendor

  • Do your homework. Conduct research by visiting potential markets to survey the attendance and the vendors.
  • Learn the rules. Educate yourself on any county or state regulations, then find out the rules at the specific markets near your community. Some markets might be "producer only" or "organic only," and others may have expensive participation fees, so find the right fit for your product.
  • Start small. Try selling at one or two markets, and don’t commit to a long-term contract until you start seeing results at a particular market.
  • Connect with customers. The clientele at farmers' markets can be personable, and may like to hear your story about your product. Be friendly and willing to carry on discussions with shoppers.

Find a local farmer’s market »

The shoppers who frequent farmers’ markets are usually open to new products and just may be willing to try yours: If people have the money and they want something, then a market can serve as a perfect venue for a transaction, says NFIB member Matt Johnson of Johnson Farms in Redkey, Indiana. "Anything that you are trying to sell to the general population you can try to sell at a farmer's market," he adds. "But I have found that homemade items seem to sell better than mass-produced things."

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Stepping Stone to Full Launch

For one small business, selling a single product in local farmers' markets was the key to starting a business that now employs 14 people. Ryan Smith and his sister created Bitchin' Sauce—a vegan, gluten-free, almond-based sauce—in Carlsbad, California, in 2011, and launched the product at area markets. Just two years later, the product sells in 18 farmers’ markets and 50 stores.

"Farmers' markets are a great place to test an idea (specifically food or craft) to see if it is viable," says Smith. "It's a minimal investment of money and time, and if it's a decent market, there are plenty of customers to sell to.

"Of course, not all products are right for a farmers' market, but for the most part, if you have a healthy or unique food item or unique craft, you will fit right in," adds Smith.

Farmers' markets can offer a great way to introduce your product to new customers. Find out what's available in your community—then find your perfect fit.

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