HERSHEY, PA – There seems to be a mismatch between farmers’ markets and produce vendors these days.
Farmers’ markets have seen an increase in the number of consumers looking for fresh outdoor foods since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Brian Moyer. He is the Penn State Extension Program Assistant for Farm Entrepreneurship and Community Development and the Pennsylvania Farm Markets Coordinator. At the same time, however, the number of vendors in agricultural markets offering fresh produce has decreased. This has left a significant void in farmers’ markets, with market stalls vacant and customers missing the farm-fresh fruits and vegetables they need to fill their market baskets.
Moyer spoke about this issue on Nov. 16 during a workshop at the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s recent annual convention in Hershey.
As proof of the problem, Moyer pointed to the departure of a longtime prominent stand holder from the historic Lancaster Central Market. The farming family there decided to leave the market to build their own farm shop and avoid the tedious transport of their produce on market days. Outings like this have placed Lancaster’s Central Market in violation of its charter, which requires a certain minimum percentage of stall holders to be product sellers. Moyer said it had been a long time since the central market had a sufficient number of product sellers to meet this requirement. He added that a similar shortage of product stand stands existed in the Philadelphia conventional reading terminal market.
A workshop participant with a Fulton County-based production company said that for nearly four decades, his family had operated stalls at several farmers’ markets in Washington, DC. He said business was great in the 1980s and would sell out at 2 p.m. , but sales at farmers’ markets subsequently stagnated. This fact, combined with increasingly difficult city traffic to get to and from markets, led her family to stop going to these markets about 10 years ago. They’ve moved to a self-service produce stand on their farm with dramatic results, he said. Their business grew dramatically every year, until it became necessary to switch from using a wagon loaded with produce to constructing a building for their business. He pointed to the lack of significant competition in the Fulton County area as a factor in the success of their agricultural market.
Moyer, who was the manager of the Skippack Farmers Market in Montgomery County between 1999 and 2009, said the pandemic has changed a lot of things and, in the case of farmers’ markets, it was a change for the better. Customers felt safer coming to an outdoor farmers market than to a traditional grocery store. But in the meantime, he said, perhaps another effect has been that some farmers have started to feel more secure operating their own farm stands instead of hauling their produce to more populated areas.
Moyer went on to explain the difference between the three types of outlets most commonly used by fruit and vegetable producers. The Farmers’ Market is a group venue that usually holds an outdoor market once a week; there are over 300 such markets in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s more than 600 farm stalls are farming locations where farmers typically sell what their own farm has produced. There are also 52 indoor markets open year round in Pennsylvania, called public markets, with stand holders transporting their produce to these outlets, usually located in a population center.
He noted that there are many opportunities for sellers of products in farmers’ markets and public markets. Moyer said if a fruit and vegetable grower approached him today, he could point out three or four places that would welcome the grower and his fresh produce.
Advantages and disadvantages of selling at farmers’ markets
Moyer then outlined the pros and cons of selling at farmers ‘markets and gave advice on selecting a farmers’ market to sell to, as well as tips for vendor success.
One of the perks of selling at a farmers market, Moyer said, is that vendor fees haven’t changed much over the past 20 years, so a stall there is the cheapest form of a store front. Since there are a wide variety of different vendors in a farmers market, there is a ready-made customer base, and by observing what pleases and what doesn’t attract customers, a vendor can refine product offerings, acquire new products. marketing skills and develop. deals.
On the negative side, the income of a farmers market can vary, as it can be very weather dependent. The labor-intensive style of marketing involved is also disadvantageous; it takes most of the day for a seller to load, go to the market, unload, set up and reverse the process at the end of the market’s selling day, which can be as short as four hours in some places . There is also the issue of knowing and respecting the regulations and policies put in place by the management of farmers’ markets.
Another factor sometimes taken for granted by product sellers is whether they, or their family members or employees, will be comfortable in a farmers market. To sell at the market, you need someone who enjoys interacting with people, who is willing to handle products with care, and who realizes that they are part of a cooperative selling business that is under the authority of the market manager.
Moyer then looked at the keys to successful participation in farmers’ markets. A first step is to have a marketing plan that establishes who the target customers are and how to best attract them. This plan, in turn, will help determine which farmers’ market to align with, as well as establish anticipated profits and whether the seller has enough time to sell products in that type of location.
â€œDo your researchâ€ was one of Moyer’s main messages. Visit the farmers’ markets where you want to become a seller. Assess the competition there, check the marketplace customer contact methods, chat with the market manager, and ask about requirements and fees.
An experienced salesperson attending the workshop encouraged producers to ask the market manager for a trial period of several weeks in the market before registering. Another suggestion was to go to the market at the start and end of the business day to see how much product was left in their existing product stands.
Moyer provided helpful suggestions on booth appearance, licensing, and insurance requirements. He also spoke about the principles and mechanics of displays, product layout, â€œtelling your storyâ€, signage and pricing strategies. He said on market day, it is important for vendors to be on time, mark their booth, prepare samples in advance, dress appropriately and make sure they have change in their pocket. checkout. Conversely, he advised salespeople not to be late, not to sit too much, not to appear friendly or to be bored. He also said to avoid running out of high-end products.
How can product sellers and farmers’ markets that need each other connect? Moyer said he contacted the local extension office or these organizations: the Pasa Sustainable Agriculture or the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. He also suggested checking out the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association newsletter.
For farmers’ markets in need of vendors, he recommended that the market post these needs on the market’s website.
More resources and in-depth information on many of the topics Brian Moyer touched on during the workshop can be found online by going to https://bit.ly/3n0FmSk.