22 Steps to Start a Farmers’ Market

A SMALL TOWNS,

 BIG SOLUTIONS

 GUIDE

 22 STEPS

 TO START A FARMERS' MARKET

 INTRODUCTION

     There is absolutely no denying the crucial role that food plays. We need it to survive and the better the quality the healthier and happier our lives. This is why when towns are looking to revitalize their main street local foods can play such an important role.

Implementing a farmers’ market can be a catalyst for a whole array of economic development, as I learned first hand in my hometown in rural Kentucky. The creation and success of the farmers market led to the opening of a brick and mortar restaurant, a brick and mortar artisan center and the establishment of our downtown as a regional food hub.

It’s an amazing thing to see hundreds of people from your community gathering on main street to shop the market, say hi to friends, listen to music and then browse the other shops downtown.

In this blog post we will outline a general guide to setting up a pilot farmers’ market. We hope this proves a valuable resource to you and your downtown. You can also have a pdf checklist sent to your email by filling out the form in this link.

1) GET IN CONTACT WITH YOUR LOCAL

 AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION OFFICE

Before doing anything else, find out who runs your local extension and where they are located. They will be a valuable resource when setting up a market. Your state might have specific regulations about setting up a market and most extension agents 

will, at the very least, know who to put you in touch with to make sure your town is compliant. Also, extension agents are already in contact with farmers and producers in your area, you’ll want their help in promoting your efforts. The extension office can also assist you in setting up some basic ground rules for running your market.

2) COMPILE A CONTACT LIST OF

FARMERS IN YOUR AREA

This can be done with the help of your extension office as well, but we also encourage you to put a “call to farmers” on social media and through the local papers. Clearly state you are looking to start a market and give them a simple way to reach out to you.

3) CHOOSE AN OPENING DATE

FOR YOUR MARKET

You’ll want to define your opening date early on so you’ll have a planning deadline and you’ll be able to clearly communicate to the farmers. They might choose to up production to accommodate your opening date and will need to know as soon as possible.

4) CHOOSE A LOCATION FOR

THE MARKET

Since our goal is downtown revitalization we definitely want to identify a sufficient space in our downtown. Try to select a space with power, water, access to parking and sufficient space to allow market vendors to unload and set up. In our first year we chose to set up in an abandoned lot. The space had set empty for several years and we wanted to activate the space and show our community the possibilities that this sort of blank canvas held.

5) STAY IN CONTACT WITH YOUR FARMERS

LONG BEFORE MARKET KICK-OFF

You’ll want to organize at least one information meeting where you can answer any questions they might have.

6) ENCOURAGE YOUR FARMERS TO SIGN

UP FOR THE MARKET

In the sign up form they’ll state that they’ve read the rules of the market and commit to the season. This will allow you to gauge who’s serious and who’s just curious. You can choose to have a fee to participate or you can let them set up for free, both have their pros and cons in the beginning. We elected to have a fee to set up.

7) RAPID PROTOTYPE YOUR

INFRASTRUCTURE

We can’t stress this enough, in your first year when you are just testing the waters to see how people will respond don’t worry about spending a lot of money on starting your market. We encourage you to save what money you have for advertising. As we built our market we took pallet wood and constructed a stage, raised beds to beautify the space and used 

pop-up canopy tents for shelter. Overall we might of had $600 in the entire space. Never let a lack of budget be an obstacle to getting a market off the ground.

8) REACH OUT EARLY TO

YOUR LOCAL MUSICIANS

See if they’d be willing to play the market for free or for a small amount in exchange for exposure. Live music can really liven up an empty space and draw the community in. We try to be as diverse in our musical offerings as possible. Reach out to a large number of musicians to gauge interest. Putting a call to artist on your Facebook page is a great way to let performers in your area know that you are booking. It helps to have someone local willing to volunteer and run sound.

9) PREPARE A LOGO FOR

YOUR MARKET

If you aren’t skilled in design you can ask a member of the community or use a website like fiverr. Be sure to have examples prepared of the type of logo you’d like. Pinterest can be a good resource for finding examples. You'll want to put your logo on every single thing you print or publish online. Branding your market will help establish it's credibility to shoppers and help you to stand out when advertising.

10) MAKE SURE ALL YOUR SOCIAL

MEDIA IS SET UP

It's time to prepare an advertising campaign. You’ll want to target people in your area to advertise to. I’d prepare a small budget for promoting these posts. $100 can go a long way when you choose a specific region and demographic to target on Facebook.

11) LEVERAGE TRADITIONAL MEDIA

Advertise in your local newspaper and on local radio stations. If budget is an issue see if they’ll help you by doing a PSA.

12) INVITE THE PRESS TO YOUR

MARKET OPENING

You’ll want them covering the event so that you can get more publicity. Having the media at successful events is a great way to get the word out there for free as opposed to paying for an ad.

13) TRY AND CULTIVATE PREPARED

FOOD VENDORS

Reach out to your farmers and see if they are interested in doing value-added and prepared foods at the market. Nothing brings a crowd like freshly prepared local food. To help them out, check with your local health department and get a checklist of all the steps they’ll need to complete to sell prepared foods at your market.

14) CREATE A CHECKLIST FOR

YOUR FARMERS

A few weeks before the market opening prepare a checklist for farmers of all the things they’ll need to set up at the market such as a table, chairs, a canopy, etc. The more prepared they are the better chances they have of selling. The more they sell the more they will come back and help build your market.

15) LET THE FARMER KNOW

ABOUT ON-SITE AMENITIES

Let the farmers know before the event if there will be water and electricity on site. Many will need such amenities to hook up lights and coolers as well as prepare food. If the infrastructure isn't already on site, try to provide mobile options so that your farmers have as much ease setting up as possible.

16) INVITE YOUR LOCAL RESTAURANT

OWNERS TO ATTEND

Hopefully they can strike up conversation with producers and strengthen the local food scene by selling the farmers products in their establishments.

17) HELP YOUR VENDORS

SET UP BEFORE MARKET OPEN

Show up several hours before the market opening. It’s best to have a desired configuration prepared before vendors arrive. The easiest way to place vendors is on a first-come first-serve basis. Be sure and let them know that setup will operate on first come first serve.

18) OPEN THE MARKET WITH

A RIBBON CUTTING

Invite local officials and other personalities to be a part of the market opening ribbon cutting ceremony. It's a nice gesture and an easy way to get your mayor and other policy makers involved with your market. For an added touch be sure and have a band standing by ready to play as soon as the ribbon is cut. Don't underestimate the positive benefits of little ways to involve the community.

19) TAKE LOTS OF PHOTOS

Take as many photos as possible of people having a great time. You’ll want to share these photos on your social media after the event to build additional buzz. Plus, people love to tag their friends they see in a photo, helping spread word of your event far and wide.

20) GET FEEDBACK FROM YOUR FARMERS

Be sure and check in with your farmers to get feedback after the first market and implement improvements throughout the season

21) CREATE AN ADVISORY BOARD

Encourage your farmers to create a self elected advisory board to assist you. You’ll want volunteers to help make the market better, who better than the farmers themselves.

22) ENJOY THE MARKET AND

PREPARE FOR THE NEXT ONE!

This isn't actually a step, but congratulations! You've pulled off your market opening. Now, you should try to continue the market through the summer and fall. We opted to hold our market once a week.

And there you have it folks, now there are many more nuanced steps you may encounter along the way but this general guide should help you get your new market off the ground. If you’d like to download a checklist version of the information above just sign up your email address below and we’ll send it your way for free.

If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more free tips then sign up below! We'll also send you a little info about how Small Towns, Big Solutions can further assist your community.

Finally, If you’d like to join our member’s community where you can ask questions and receive relevant advice from myself and other placemaking professionals or if you’d like access to our Guide to Downtown Revitalization then click the button below to find out more!

Andrew Salmons

Andrew Salmons

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