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It's spring and that means it won't be long before farmers markets start popping up all over the United States. While most of these markets set up outdoors, there are some indoor farmers markets that stay open year round. If you sell cottage food items, such as baked goods, you may have wondered about selling your goods as a vendor at one of these markets.
Vendors at farmers markets generally pay a set fee for their space and are able to keep all the money they make selling their goods, although there are a few larger markets that charge a percentage of your goods sold. Farmers market vendor fees vary widely. A church-sponsored market in a small town might charge around $25-$50 for the day, whereas a big city, permanent market might charge $100 or more.
Farmers market vendors are generally required to be set up when the market opens and stay the entire day until it closes (unless you sell all of your goods). If you've never sold items at a farmers market, it's a good idea to invest in a 10"x10" or 12"x12" tent. This not only looks more professional, but will provide shade for you and your goods on sunny days and shelter on rainy ones. Other goods things to bring include extra price tags (in case you forgot a couple or one falls off in transit), a trash bag or can (especially if you are offering free samples), a hat and sunscreen.
Some of the largest farmers markets in the US include the markets in Des Moines, Iowa; San Mateo, California; Tucson, Arizona and Evergreen, Colorado.
The Des Moines market sets up every Saturday in the heart of downtown. Vendors at this market include those who sell fresh produce, meat products, cheese and eggs, baked goods, plants, flowers, artisan-packaged food, handmade art and ready-to-eat prepared foods. The Des Moines farmers market vendor application can be downloaded from the market's website. This market is filled for 2022, but they are accepting applications now for 2023. New vendors at this market must be approved by the organizers and start as occasional vendors, selling between 2 and 10 market days during the season. The Des Moines farmers' market vendor cost is $55 per market day. There is also a $60 application fee. Full Des Moines Farmers' market vendors pay a daily fee plus a percentage of the goods sold.
The Tucson market operates similarly. Located in Udell Park on Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., this market is open year roun and features 20 vendors. Tucson farmers market vendors include purveyors of eggs, cheese, produce, local honey, beef, soaps, baked goods, salsa and more.
California boasts several successful farmers markets. The Berryessa farmers' market in San Jose is one of the nation's most successful. This market, part of the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association (PCFMA), opens in early April and continues to set up every Saturday in the Berryessa Union School District office parking lot through mid-November. Vendors at this market sell baked goods, fresh seafood, berries, local honey, flowers, kettlecorn, produce and Filipino food. Stall fees at this market vary depending on the season, the size of your booth and how long you've been selling at the market. For more information, visit the PCFMA website.
The San Mateo (CA) farmers' market is also worth mentioning. This market sets up Tuesday afternoons, from May through October. Vendors here include sellers of produce, fresh seafood, local honey, fresh cut flowers and plants, berries and baked foods. The San Mateo market is also part of the PCFMA system.
The Evergreen, Colorado farmers market sets up for four hours on Tuesdays. Since the weather is cooler longer in Colorado than in California, Arizona and Florida, this market is only open from mid-May through late September. Evergreen farmers market vendors include sellers of produce, baked goods, flowers and plants, honey and "fair food". This market offers a variety of vendor pricing, from a daily "drop-in" fee to a full season fee.
Pricing food at farmers markets has always been a challenge. You, of course, want to cover your costs and make at least a small profit, but you don't want to price items so high that you turn away customers or are out of line with other vendors selling similar items. In 2022, pricing food items is even more challenging with the price of ingredients increasing dramatically.
For produce items, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service provides an online list of more than 400 items with their current produce market prices to give you an idea of where to start with your pricing. Keep in mind that these prices are wholesale, so you'll want to add in a reasonable profit. Supply and demand also factor into your farmers market prices for 2022. Items that are more difficult to find in markets and groceries can command a higher price.
There are also regional differences in prices. For example, Maine farmers market prices for lobster will likely be much lower than you'll find in areas where lobsters must be flown or trucked in. Novelty, too, can help determine the price you'll be able to get for your items. For example, if you're selling produce items like artichokes and ginger that are typically not offered at farmers markets, you'll be able to sell them for more than the average USDA pricing.
For baked goods, make sure that you know the cost of the ingredients you use to produce each item. Also, figure in your overhead costs, such as the cost of the energy it takes to prepare your meals, your packaging, your marketing and the gas and cost of transportation to get your goods to the farmers market. All of those costs added together equals your break even point, the price that just covers your cost. You'll want to add on a reasonable profit to make your efforts worthwhile. How much profit you add depends on things like what your competitors at the same market are selling comparable items for and the demand for your items.
What items do vendors typically sell at a farmers market? The list is as varied as the vendors. You'll most always see produce, baked goods, prepared items like jams and jellies and fresh flowers. The season dictates a lot of the offerings, with late summer and fall being the prime farmers market season in most regions of the country. For example, the wares at the farmers market in Ft Myers, Florida might include citrus fruit, fresh seafood and Cuban food, whereas the Calgary, Alberta farmers market vendors will start their outdoor market later in the year and sell items like beef, asparagus and BBQ sandwiches.
The farmers market "menu" in all parts of the country might also include craft items, hand-made jewelry items, original art work and items made from sheep or alpaca fleece. Some markets also feature food trucks and live musical entertainment.
What else do you need to know to be successful as a vendor at a farmers market? For one thing, not all farmers markets are created equal. In general, you'll have better results working with a well-established market that has a good track record and a loyal following. You also want to find a market that offers several vendors in your category of merchandise. After all, there is a reason that competing car dealerships tend to locate in the same neighborhood. If a buyer is looking to buy produce, he or she would probably prefer a market with multiple vendors that sell produce.
You'll also want to research your state, county and local laws about what you can sell at open-air markets. All US states have some sort of cottage food laws that allow you to sell some types of prepared foods without obtaining a full food license. However, the permitted items and the cap at how much you can make with your cottage food business varies considerably by state. Most states allow you to sell baked goods that don't require refrigeration (that's everything except for things like cream pies, cheesecakes and cream puffs), dry pasta, jams and jellies, candy and dry spice mixtures. Some states require that you obtain a cottage food license and/or that you take a class about cottage foods.
What sells well at a market depends, in part, by the season. Cookies, breads and cinnamon rolls are always popular. Pies tend to sell well right before a long weekend or holiday. Another thing to keep in mind is that dry products have a longer shelf life than baked goods, so you can make more of them at a time and keep them in stock more easily than cookies, pies and such.
To learn more about how to sell food successfully at farmers markets and how our food business software can help you track your cottage food business sales and be profitable, visit castiron.me.
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