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Super Green Thumb
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Paradise Farmer's Market

We have a small town market here. We usually try to have some live music. Always need more vendors, and especially more customers. I have attended the market since it started 3 years ago, as a vendor. I don't really make much money doing this, but it helps with the cost of gardening supplies. It is certainly a great social event. I get to see many people at the market that I would not often bump into otherwise, and the music is great.

There are some pictures on facebook if you would like to look.

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Wonderful! What fun!

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That sure looks like a good time hope it gets going strong...

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I also have been a regular at a farmers' market for almost longer than I'd like to remember. It puts some different pressures on someone who gardens but since I came at this first from a farming background and then as someone who processed & was part of wholesaling, it was something of a natural transition.

There are a couple of cautions that I can suggest for some who thinks this might be a way to go. Don't go into it without doing some "pencil on paper" work. You may be a dang good gardener and have resources to apply like a good location and people skills. Still, sit down and look at the details of the enterprise you are thinking about.

One of the weirdest (yeah, I'm going to call it weirdest) approaches to marketing that I see all too often is what maybe I can call the Unrealistic Seller. Mr. or Ms. Seller arrives at the market with $100 worth of produce, gains $80 and then complains that he or she didn't make $300! What!??

Sure, it happens all the time! Understand that it is unlikely that you will sell all you bring. It's nice to think so but it doesn't happen nearly enuf to allow failure to sell out to discourage you. For one thing, the customers will be very hesitant to step up and buy from a small offering, especially near the close of the markeday. If it is a small offering from the opening bell, that resistance will start early. About the best advice I ever got was "Pile it high and kiss it goodbye!" A bountiful offering encourages sales.

Another caution has to do with the Unrealistic Market Manager. I swear, anybody with an empty parking lot must think that a farmers' market is a natural. I'm here to tell you that tain't so, McGee! I've watched this long enuf to know that the market management may have an entirely different set of expectations than the vendors and the customers.

My advice to them is to look at what the customers expect from a farmers' market and that is to be able to buy produce from the person who grows it. That is fundamental and flim flam with brokers hawking produce that he buys and re-sells is only going to work for the broker until he runs the farmers' market into the ground. I don't care what the teddy bear and taco vendors think of it! The management is going to have to trust the actual produce growers or kiss both the growers and the customers good bye.


Susan W
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Agreed Steve!
To set stage, I have shopped the farmers markets, and this past season was part of the action with the fresh cut herbs. It is so easy to have expectations more than product! One must look at product realistically and figure from there. I was doing 2 markets/week for 3 months, then back to one. Towards the end of the market or if weather crappy, would just go for special pricing. It is sometimes better to move the stuff through than try to keep it (often ends up as compost).

Management is key. I prefer the market with good standards. The biggest is to have been grown by the person selling, not onions purchased from the wholesale grocery supply. We do have several that have 'staff' selling the produce, especially when the farm is represented at 3 markets on one day!

As you mentioned the Build-It-They-Will-Come attitude. Wrong! The market has to be advertised, and people reminded on a regular basis. There are freebie ways to reach out with e-mail, twitter and facebook blasts, signage, and work to get the write up in the paper. The market I do now, has gone 12 mth, has a part-time paid manager. She works on the freebie stuff, and is open to suggestions on this. The other market wasn't doing much to promote, and one could notice decreasing traffic (was a lively market 2 yrs ago).

Just some thoughts.

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<-- lives in paradise ca.

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so okay.... I'm a fan of grow&eat local.

I'm fortunate enough that I can afford higher prices/costs for things I find to be really top notch quality / freshness / heh, whatever. otoh, I won't pay below going prices for junk; not want it, don't need it, don't bother me with it.

I'm also a fan of "supporting your local (whatever)" - I have to eat, they have to eat, seems there should be some mutual ground there.

the upshot of which is: I have eight local "farmers' markets" to choose from, and a whole raft of "chain megamarkets" - my neighbor pointed out I should shop at the Giant 'over there' because it's a more upscale neighborhood and the fish selection is better. I was complaining about the fish at my local branch, and , , , ahhh, he's right.

but, anyhow, back to the "farmers' markets" - here's my take:

I'm looking for consistency. it totally po's me to no end to make a special trip to a market only to find out that 'really good' vendor isn't there comma that day/week/month.

Do not confuse that concept of consistency with idiotic unrealistic ideas that I should be able to buy locally grown-in-New-England oranges in February, just because they had them 8 months ago.

cheese, chicken, beef, veggies, bakery - not a whit's of difference. if you've got good product and I'm looking for you and you're not there regularly "on schedule" - oops, your bad. not likely to make that special trip again.

check out your neighboring vendors.
I do.
I walk / drive around the market, check out the back.
if all I see is corrugated cases of the same stuff I find in Giant (and probably cheaper) why bother?

there is guilt by association. you could have the bestest freshest stuff on the planet. if the world around you is selling crated stuff from the local green grocery distribution center - and probably "rejects" from their better customers, what is my motivation to pay more for less and or even bother showing up at my local “non-localâ€

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Dillbert, I think it would be a very good thing for you to show up at those 8 farmers' markets and give them a little talk at their annual meetings. Just read what you have written here so that the vendors can get a customer's perspective on their venue & enterprises. It would be very helpful to those who would really listen.

Understand 1 thing: most of the people with booths at a farmers' market are fairly close to life's margins. It may be to no fault of their own or, they may just have never really paid much attention to reality.

DW & I make a little joke about that idea that there are jobs that Americans have no interest in doing. Often, people are talking about work in agriculture that makes food available to the nation. That job, yeah - that's our job!

Stoop agriculture. It is a good thing that we haven't had to totally rely on it either now or at other times. It takes a healthy measure of vim and vitality. I bet that well over half the sellers in one year's market, are not there the following year. Most people who have the necessary vitality -- are usually off doing something else.


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