Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA
Publicly, farmers markets are cornucopias of goodwill and local food solidarity. But behind the scenes? Personality clashes. Warring factions. Intimidation. Fear and loathing. Over the years we have known farmers whose markets have risen to become vital parts of their communities. We have also heard about those whose markets descend into hothouses of competing values, visions and interests.
No matter how much, or how little, you want to be involved in the mechanics of your market, your success depends on it functioning at a high level. And when it doesn’t one of the hardest things you may ever face, especially if you have been selling at the same market for a long time, is walking away from it. Here’s what one who did says:
“I quit selling at the largest farmer market in the region back in 2011. Various reasons:
a) We were required to stay in our stalls until 1pm even if we sold out by 11am. The directive was to promote the market to people *already* there. Duh. I had work to do at home and was fined for leaving “early”.
b) All the other little towns in the area thought a farmer market would re-vitalize them, so the customer base got diluted. My average sales dropped from US$3,000 per Saturday to just over $1,000.
c) The market then required us to be at a Wednesday market, from which I never grossed over $200 for a mandatory 7 hours.
d) The city viewed the market as an entertainment option for their residents, and I got fed up with being part of some petting zoo in which people could gawk at us farmers and mutter amongst themselves about the “hayseeds”.
e) My best sales — 80% of the day — came between 08:30 and 09:30. The band began to play at 10:00 and the crowd shifted quite remarkably. Nobody was there to buy much more than a coffee and a muffin. Several of us vendors, none there any more, even called it the “muffin crowd”.
f) The market administrators never controlled the “jobbers”. Things like “homegrown peaches” in June. People stopped trusting **any** vendors and found it much easier to purchase better-quality produce at their preferred retail store along with everything else. Except, of course, for the muffin crowd, who weren’t there to buy veggies in the first place. All of you — watch out for similar symptoms where you’ve chosen to sell. It took the best market in our area only three years to go completely to hell.”
Take this as a cautionary tale to not become overly invested financially or emotionally in any one single farmers market. Diversity in marketing channels is becoming one of the most important factors to a SPIN farmer’s success. The days of being able to build and maintain a business over an entire career by relying on a single farmers market have gone the way of the horse and buggy.
Related posts: Farmers Market Reality Check
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