Rachel worked as a farm manager for three years in PA and as an owner/operator for five years in MN. She currently homesteads in MN.
Farmers markets are a great way for producers of fruits, veggies, and other edible commodities to connect with their communities and share their yield with locals while earning income. Both small-scale gardeners and larger farm operations can be successful at local markets, but for producers with fewer crops and smaller yields, a sound growing and selling strategy is necessary.
Below are four tips on gardening for—and selling at—local markets as a smaller gardening operation.
1. Research Local Farmers Markets
Before you set up your first farmers market table or booth, you need to do some research. Physically go to farmers markets you might want to sell at several times throughout the season. Since most of what's sold at farmers markets is seasonal, it's important for you to visit in spring, summer, and fall.
Try to answer these questions:
- What are vendors already selling at your market?
- What are their typical prices?
- What goods, if any, seem to be missing?
It's generally a good idea not to overlap too many goods with other vendors. For example, if you see that several other people are selling paste tomatoes this year, consider growing and selling more slicing tomatoes next year.
For another example, if there are lots of homemade candles being offered, consider making a different homemade craft like soap, or make sure that your homemade candles are the best available.
You should also take note of what goods aren't available at the market, especially if you're a market gardener or small farmer and won't be taking a large risk by trying a new vegetable, investing in some berry bushes, or switching flower varieties. Sometimes, customers are looking for something particular that no one is selling yet, and if you can fill that need, you'll have automatic buyers!
When it comes to pricing your goods, a general rule of thumb is that you should make sure you aren't severely undercutting other vendors or overpricing your goods.
2. Focus on Growing Just a Few Crops Each Season
One of the "mistakes" (read: learning experiences) that I made early on in my market days was trying to grow and sell just about every vegetable that looked interesting to me. Like most small producers with less than one acre of market garden under cultivation, I should have focused on just a few crops per season.
For instance, one year, I grew some rainbow radishes. No one else at the market had them, and the combination of their uniqueness, beauty, and flavor made them my most popular item! I sold out every day. If I had grown more of these radishes instead of the cucumbers and zucchinis that everyone else was selling, I could have earned more revenue.
When I return to selling at farmers markets, I'll be following my own advice to focus on fewer products! Here are some reasons why limiting the number of crops you sell could be beneficial.
- Focusing on just two or three crops per season will allow you to specialize.
- You'll also develop invaluable expertise in your chosen vegetables, fruits, or animal goods.
- Offering the same or similar products on a regular basis helps customers get to know you and your business; it gives you a chance to "become known" for something particular, which is an incredible marketing tool. Customers will learn that they can rely on you for their favorite things.
- From a gardener's perspective, crop rotation is easier when you aren't cramming a hundred different things into your garden every year. On that note, garden design and planning won't take as much time or induce as many headaches if you keep things simple.
Example Garden Crops for Market by Season
3. Use Colorful Signage and a Professional-Looking Logo
You want your booth or table at market to be eye-catching. Make any signs bright and colorful, and create a friendly space.
If you're selling food, remember that we eat with our eyes first! Arrange your vegetables and fruits in an attractive way. Use baskets and pretty table cloths. Where you can, don't use plastic containers; consider more appealing natural containers instead.
If you are selling at market as a small business, such as a farm or market garden, create a logo for any signs you put up or materials you hand out. You can find lots of free software online to create a professional-looking logo. Alternatively, consider hiring someone local to create one for you.
Other good signage to include is any organizations you belong to or certifications you hold. Organic is a popular certification for small farmers, but you can only use the "USDA Organic" logo if you are certified. Look into a state growers' program you can join. For example, I was a Minnesota Grown member and enjoyed several benefits.
4. Be Interesting and Look Nice at the Market
For my fellow introverts, this may not be what you want to hear, but the truth is that when you're slinging produce at a farmers market, you are selling yourself and your story almost as much as the veggies and fruits!
Make sure you tell your story to customers who are interested. This doesn't mean approaching people who are busy elsewhere or talking the ears off of customers who seem in a hurry, but if people ask you questions or want to know more about you, be ready to share! People find farming practices intriguing, especially if you're managing to do it for a living. Other gardeners may want to discuss growing tips with you so they can improve their own gardens. If you're a crafter, people are often interested in your methods for producing your goods.
It's also a good idea to look at least semi-decent at your market stall. I know that those of us who spend a lot of time digging in the dirt often look like it, but you should still make sure you put on a clean shirt and try to scrub the dirt out from under your nails after you harvest on market day.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2021 Rachel Koski Nielsen
MariaMontgomery from Coastal Alabama, USA on September 20, 2021:
I just read this article, and really enjoyed it. The intro photo is gorgeous. As a fellow gardener, I get it about not trying to grow everything there is. I put far too many different veggies in my small garden this year. I won't do that again. Thanks, Rachel, for an interesting article, and some great advice.
Liza from USA on September 20, 2021:
These are great tips for the small gardener and producer out there. I have little knowledge about how to start such a business. My brother is quite successful in this field as he helps his workplace to earn income by gardening vegetables and fruits. He came up with this idea to help his co-workers who were affected by the pandemic.
Thank you for sharing the article, Rachel. I have learned excellent tips from it.