After visiting a number of farmers markets this past summer, you may find that you are now thinking about starting your own in your community. Many towns and civic groups want to start a farmers market. They see that it could spur economic development, provide community pride and awareness, bring attention to the local foods community, among many other things it can do.
Starting a farmers market though is not always easy. This should not be a "build it and they will come" but build it because you are addressing the need. Sometimes this need is that there are many restaurants/businesses that could use a farmers market to connect with farmers. Your market could also provide "incubator space" for food trucks and value added products. In fact, sometimes the long-term growth in businesses have started through a farmers market.
To first determine if there is a need, plan for a winter farmers market. These one-time events can be what help you realize if there is a need for a farmers market in your community. By testing the waters, this can allow you to find individuals who are interested in being a part of your market and creating a group of stakeholders that can help your market be a success. You still have time to get this off the ground this winter.
From this successful event, you might then plan for your spring farmers market. It is very hard to get a farmers market going in the spring if you start working on it in late march. Planning a farmers market should begin now and you can spend the winter meeting, planning, and marketing your farmers market.
You should also consider what your commitment is. If you work for a city/village, you might find that part of your job can be to setup a farmers market for your community. If you are a community member who will be purchasing at the farmers market, your role might be to help market/sell this farmers market. It's important early on to know what role you can play and what role you cannot play.
Strong and robust farmers markets have committees to guide the market as it develops and throughout its duration. These committees can include team members such as farmers, businesses, city officials, nonprofits, downtown development groups, and others. Try to balance out this group as too much of one can sometimes push the farmers market in a direction you may have not envisioned. The purpose of this initial group can be in guiding the setup of the markets and general logistics. Overtime, the committee can offer valuable feedback in the direction the market can go.
Your committee can help give your farmers market a mission statement. Within this mission statement, you might state that your farmers market "provides local food entrepreneurs opportunities to grow their businesses" or "provide the community with locally grown and raised food". By having a mission statement early on, this will lead to a more successful farmers market since you have a mission to lead you forward on. It can also help guide you when it comes to changes that happen in years to come.
Logos can sell your farmers market story. A logo can identify your farmers markets from others in the area and provide community members with a greater idea of the story you are wanting to sell them. This logo might incorporate area landmarks, produce, meat, and other items. The logo could be something that you revisit in a couple years once your market has gotten off the ground.
One final piece in the beginning stages of the farmers market you are planning is to go ahead and identify who you hope your customer is going to be. This should be narrow. The customer you envision coming to the farmers market may be a "stay at home parent with young children who is looking for local and sustainable produce". This customer could also be "young professionals who value local food". In both of those examples, you already see that having a customer in mind will guide your decision in the hours, day of the week, and physical location of the farmers marker you set up.
Next week, we'll talk more about setting up your farmers market.
Grant McCarty, Local Foods and Small Farms Educator, and Nikki Keltner, Program Coordinator