I Love What I do!
Tips to Making a Living at the Farmer’s Market
am the one who makes the decisions of what, when, and how to make my
farm work. I struggle with the gazillion variables over which I have no
those variables actually come together brings a sense of satisfaction
that leaves me filled with joy. Of course, there’s always a hitch.
Loving what you do does not always pay the bills. If you can not sell
what you produce, you can not afford to farm for very long.
Kate and I are farming three acres of vegetables for a farmers market and a small
CSA. We made the
choice when we started that direct marketing was the way we could afford
the lifestyle we wanted on the acreage we had available. We receive a
better price for our produce than we would in the wholesale market, and
are able to separate ourselves from the commodity field. When our
customers come to us at the market, they are choosing to spend their
dollars with us because we can offer them something different than they
can find elsewhere. We can tell them how their food was produced, when
it was harvested, why I choose the varieties we grow, and how to prepare
the vegetables as well. It all sounds pretty basic, but getting to know
your customers is a big step to marketing yourself better.
Before you can
get to know your customers, you need to get them to stop at your booth.
Arriving at a market and throwing your wares on a table does not cut it
anymore. You only get a few seconds to make a positive impression. In a
market filled with many vendors, there are a few things you can do to
stand out. Some are obvious, some are more subtle.
takes place in a parking lot on the asphalt. The first thing I do when I
arrive is sweep out our spot, including the area in front where people
are walking. It only takes a few minutes, but it makes a huge difference
in how our stand looks. It is important to remember you are selling
food, and a dirty floor with cigarette butts and grit can be a real turn
off. I also arrive each morning with two shirts. One shirt always gets
dirty unloading the van and setting everything up. Once the booth is
ready to go, and before the crowds get there, I am changed, clean, and
ready to go. Did I forget to mention that I am in my “going to town”
you have the few seconds to set an impression be engaging, and let your
customers know you are happy to help them. If someone’s hands are full,
offer to bag for them. If you have a shady out of the way spot, allow
customers to leave what they have bought and pick it up later if they
are going to do more shopping. And most important…do not sit down! The
first impression is that you are not excited about your products and to
top it off in order to help someone, you have to stand up. Sounds basic
right? But what it means to a customer is that you have to stand up for
them and they are being an inconvenience to you.
realize that vegetables are grown in soil. That does not mean they want
to see the dirt on them. We spend a lot of time getting our produce
looking good; greens are healthy, roots are clean. How you arrange your
produce is also important. There’s a saying “Pile it high and kiss it
goodbye,” and it’s true. Abundance will stop people and bring them to
you. If we are short on something, we use false bottoms that fit into
our baskets that allow a smaller amount to rise above the rim.
than you think you can sell hurts at first, but it is important that
there always be a choice for your customers. No one wants to buy the
last one of anything. It’s important that every customer gets to
choose. Granted, there are always some items that we run out of. But we
try hard to always have something at the end of a busy day. As our
produce disappears, we are busy tightening up the display, making our
overall stand smaller, but still trying to appear full. A smaller stand
that is neat will always be more inviting than a big stand that looks
As I am setting
up my booth, I am always conscious of how far the average customer can
reach. I am careful that everything I am selling is easy to pick up. For
items that are loose, like beans and peas, I put them closer to the
customers, so there is less fumbling with a bag. Heavier items are also
closer, lighter ones farther back.
Signage is also very important.
We have a sign on
everything. I list varieties, what method of preparation might be best
suited for that vegetable, and what I like about the variety. Every sign
has a price. I think our prices are a reflection of the cost of
production and the quality of the produce I bring, and I do not hide
them. I began using the computer to make my signs because my handwriting
is hard even for a pharmacist to read. They all have a uniform format,
and when they start to look worn out, I print out new ones.
suggestion would be to stand outside your booth during market time and
watch how the traffic flows through it. Where does it get congested? Can
people find what they are looking for? Also take the time to admire the
work that has gone into getting everything to market. The market season
is intense, and sometimes you need a lift. Market day is a very
tangible reward for all your sweat and long days.
I hope this season brings lots of success, and the continuing chance to live your dream!