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Raise, Grow, Harvest, Eat, Repeat

A blog for growers, consumers, and backyard gardeners to grow, eat, and connect in the local food system.

Farmers Market Series: Working with Vendors

The winter time is opportune to not only plan your farmers market but recruit vendors. It's important to have a game plan in place for how you will be pursuing and recruiting vendors. If you have a committee of stakeholders, you may find that some of these members may want to be vendors. These individuals may also know of others who could be vendors.

Get the word out. Let community members know that you are starting a new farmers market. See if there are any community events in your area where you can man a booth in order to recruit vendors. You may also find that facebook/social media, newspapers, and in-person are routes you can go.

Sell your market. Vendors are taking a risk with your market especially if this is the first year or there are other famers markets in the area. Because you may not know how many visitors will come to your market, let the vendor know what marketing efforts you will be doing. This can include:

"we will be marketing the farmers market by…."

"we are partnering with these events…"

"our email list of _____ receives notice about the farmers market"

"every other market is a special event and we promote it by…"

If the vendor is on the fence, are you able to address it? This must be within your means. For example, you might give new vendors a discount for their first year.

Pursue an "anchor tenant". Just like malls and shopping centers have anchor tenants, see if you can have an anchor vendor. Is there a grower/local foods entrepreneur that you know will be a big draw on a weekly basis and in turn will attract foot traffic to other vendors? At one farmers market I assisted with, a local dairy scooped ice cream. Other anchor vendors could be restaurants, bakeries, kids museums, etc.

Offer CSA Farm Drop Off Space. Many CSA farms are looking for a drop off location. If you can offer them a booth and even an extension of their farm, this might help other vendors at your market.

Work out the community booth space too! Nonprofits, school groups, and others should be pursued. They may also have ideas of farmers in the area that will want to be a part of your market.

Vendor Contracts

You should have a vendor contract. This contract should list the rules of the market, your expectations as marker manager, their expectations of market, definition of different vendors,

Drafting the vendor contract. Look to other markets, work with your farmers market association, reach out to companies that offer a website online where your vendors can go. Depending on how your market is set up, you may need to work with a lawyer. Especially if you are holding a farmers market on behalf of a city, business, or other nonprofit entity.

Setting weekly fees. There are not clear guidelines on what fees to charge. Some will charge a standard of $5-15 per week. Others will have a 10-12 week season of $150-200. Most areas in Illinois have farmers markets and these tend to set the limit of what you can charge. Different fees for different vendors is also common.

If you are going above and beyond in marketing/location/foot traffic/events, then you may be able to increase this fees.

Ask for proof of liability insurance, organic certification, state/local licenses. These should be seen and even on file if need be. If they are selling products labeled as organic, you should ask to see this certification.

To visit or not visit? There are some markets that have a clause in their contract that requires a visit to the actual farm. This is usually done before the start of the season and is a way for the manager to make sure that what the grower is growing, they are actually growing. To include this in yours will be based on the size of your community. Many markets know their growers/vendors very well and the visit clause is added to markets where communities are rather large.

Cleanliness standards You will regret not putting standards in place. Cleanliness standards can help you ensure that vendors have a vendor space that is clean and free of trash. Adding to this policy can include restricting vendors from bringing pets or live animals. Depending on where you are located smoking policies may already be in place especially if it is a park or public area. If it is a private area, you may need to look more into this policy. One final piece of cleanliness standard could be related to diseased produce. While imperfect produce can be expected, I have seen some farmers markets deal with vendors bringing in severely diseased produce and try to sell it. Having a produce standard in place may keep this from being a problem.

Add pieces that will help you if things go south. A vendor is always late. A vendor sells a product that is illegal (like wild mushrooms). A vendor does not stay the full time. Add pieces that will help you address problems before they arise.

Allow vendors day of? While accepting vendors the day of can work okay if you are a small market, you run the risk that your market is used as a space for farms to get rid of produce at low prices thereby making your standard vendors upset.

Half-Season for Growers. In Northern Illinois, spring and summer produce doesn't pick up until mid-June. Some farmers markets will offer a half-season option for growers from mid-June to Labor Day (or another iteration). If you do this, your vendor fee should reflect this.

-Grant McCarty and Nikki Keltner

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