How To Grow At The Farmers Market

By Ethan Forman
The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) For women in business who want to venture into the food industry, a farmer’s market is a great way to test and sell your product.  However, there are some things you should keep in mind before taking the leap. Simple tips like avoiding plastic bins as display cases and using bushel baskets or wooden boxes instead; can make a big difference.

SALEM 

Kristen Duffy of Salem has created her own line of pickles, including spicy sriracha, wasabi ginger, and bread-and-butter.

Last year, she brought her K’s Kitch’N Broad Street Cannery pickles to the Beverly and Haverhill farmers’ markets. The budding entrepreneur did this while working as a waitress at the Olde Main Street Pub in Salem and drawing patients’ blood for medical tests as a phlebotomist, all to make ends meet.

Starting a pickle business has been a challenge. She has to make her pickles at a certified shared kitchen in Amesbury, but it’s a long haul from Salem. She was buying her cucumbers from a local farm, but then figured out the farm was buying them from the New England Produce Center in Chelsea, so that’s where she sometimes heads to buy her produce.

But her hard work is paying off.

“Actually, I got a lot of calls this year from farmers’ markets that want me to be in their farmers’ market,” Duffy said. Given her busy work schedule, she can only go to the Beverly and Haverhill markets again this year, while she tries to get her product on a local store’s shelves.

Duffy is an example of a small vendor who uses farmers markets as an inexpensive way to grow her food business.

Last week, she was one of 25 vendors, crafters, market managers and bakers to attend a program called “Making the Most of a Farmers’ Market” at the Enterprise Center at Salem State University.

Those in attendance included farmer Peter Gibney of Gibney Gardens in Danvers, and Don Morgan, the market manager of the Marblehead Farmers’ Market, now in its 19th year. Lucia DelNegro of the Peabody Farmers’ Market was also on hand.

The vendors heard from Kylie Sullivan, director of Salem Main Streets, and BeverlyCity Councilor Estelle Rand, the director of the Beverly Farmers Market. Salem Main Street oversees the farmers’ market in Derby Square, and hires a separate person to be the market manager.

Those in attendance learned how to display their wares and about the different policies and goals of various farmers’ markets. Many farmers’ markets are gearing up for a June or July opening.

Duffy said the program gave her some useful information.

“Your display has to pop,” she said, “and you really need to get the customers’ attention. You have to talk to them.”
Growing connections

“Being a vendor at a farmers market is all about connections,” said Rand, who started the Beverly market in 2009 at Veterans Memorial Park, near the Beverly depot.

Unlike a supermarket, a farmers market is a place where kids can cut loose and have fun, while also learning something about where their food comes from, Rand said.

“To me, it’s about the next generation connecting to local products and local food,” Rand said. “It’s a real connection to the food system.”

Sullivan said the Salem Farmers Market, started in 2009, attracts more than 40 vendors and nonprofit organizations, and draws about 2,000 customers a week for 20 weeks.

The market in Derby Square can trace its roots back to 1634, according to market’s website. However, the market ended in the 1970s when Derby Square was redesigned.

Rand stressed that those who shop farmers markets want to know the vendor’s story and be a part of it.

“Market-goers are proud of their discerning tastes; they want to be part of your test kitchen,” Rand said.

Sullivan had some practical advice for those looking to get a booth at farmers markets, which have limited space and the challenge of being outdoors.

“If you don’t have a product that holds up to the weather, I would seriously reconsider a farmers market,” she said. “If your product is not fit for a farmers market, that’s OK.”

Sullivan urged vendors to connect with local chefs and stores to help them build their brands. She said about 60 percent of the vendors at the Salem Farmers Market have products that can be found on local shelves.

Local chefs may even buy your produce in bulk, she said. Scratch Kitchen, on the corner of Derby and Congress streets in Salem, likes to tell their customers where their food comes from, Sullivan noted.

However, vendors need to “play by the rules,” and know the market’s policies, goals and objectives.

“No market can be all things to all people,” Sullivan said.

Local, local, local
Salem’s market aims to support local vendors and agriculture, but each market has its own individual characteristics.

“I want to be literally growing our vendors from the ground up,” Sullivan said. Salem’s market has a policy that asks farmers to label produce they obtain somewhere else to supplement their crops. The produce should come from New England.

If you bring pre-made products to the market, much of it should be made by you, she said. There’s a glut of people looking to bring baked goods to the market, Sullivan added. “We might get 20 new applicants, and 10 of them are baked goods.”

Both Beverly and Salem limit the number of craft vendors, because the markets are meant to connect folks with local food.

Salem also has limited space for them. Sullivan said Salem’s Winter Market is a great place for crafters and those with baked goods.

Rand allows some prepared food vendors at the Beverly market, while Sullivan said the Salem market tends to shy away from them, because they could take business away from downtown restaurants, like the nearby Lobster Shanty on Artists’ Row.

However, a vendor who knits with wool obtained from a local farm would be at the top of Rand’s list.

“If you are thinking about a local product, a local food,” Rand suggested, “how do you make it more local?”

TIPS FOR VENDORS

Kylie Sullivan and Estelle Rand, who help oversee farmers markets in Salem and Beverly, respectively, offered these tips to would-be and established vendors:

* Farmers’ markets are held rain or shine, so come prepared; set up on time and don’t pack up early.

* Make your goods look attractive, using colorful displays that have height.

* Tell your story. A storyboard can occupy customers while they wait in line.

* Have plastic bags or containers handy so customers can pick their own produce.

* Avoid plastic bins as display cases. Use bushel baskets or wooden boxes instead.

* If you have to keep the food item under wraps, make a display of it.

* Vendors who sell the same product each week, like honey or maple syrup, should try to offer something new throughout the season.

* Labeling your produce or product may spark a conversation and a sale.

* Put a sign on it. If you sell honey, put up signage that says “honey.”

* If you sell a small product, put up a big sign.

* Display your prices and embrace the idea of friendly competition.

* Look to more established vendors as a resource.

* Be engaging and interact with customers.

* Reusable signs, like chalkboards, can help you change up your display each week.

* Offer a sample of that farm wine or goat cheese.

* Think point of sale. Most farmers market shoppers carry a limited amount of cash, so if you are selling a $20 bottle of wine or package of pasta, consider accepting credit cards.

* Use social media to engage with your customers, and remind them when your next farmers market appearance will be.

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