Hub Marketing for Farmers’ Markets

I recently spoke to a group of 40-50 of the good folks at the Alberta Farmer’s Markets Association meeting in Edmonton.

The topic of the conversation was marketing and the piece I most wanted to bring was that of hubs. The idea that partnership is often better than going it alone when you’re trying to build institutions.

Here’s a video of what I said as my introduction:

Because the room was full, for the most part, of people who ran Farmers’ Markets, I decided to focus our hubs brainstorm discussion on them.

Here are some of the ideas we landed on by the end:

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Let’s break this all down a bit.

The question that I asked them to consider was this, “Where else do the people who go to farmers’ markets (or those who would love them if they went) spend their time, their money and/or their attention?”

In essence: where else can we find your customers? When they aren’t at the farmers’ market, where are they? What other crowds or scenes might be aligned with your market with whom you could partner on some sort of a win/win promotion?

Once you’ve identified a potential hub, then the active questions becomes, ‘how do you work with them? what’s something amazing you could create in a collaboration that would have those people just have to come out to check it out?’

I gave them a few minutes to think about it and then the ideas started flying:

  • Yoga: One farmer’s market director had reached out to the local yoga community and created a Matts to Market event where a morning yoga class was held outside just beside the market and then they all went shopping afterwards. Here’s another example of that from the Tosa Farmer’s Market here and one in Calgary here.
  • Hashtags: An important hub in the age of social media, is the hashtag. One way to look at a hub is ‘where are people having conversations about these issues?’. You can use hashtags to find them on twitter. For Edmonton Farmers’ Markets the obvious one would be #yegfood.
  • Employment Services: When people are out of work from manufacturing, oil and gas or other struggling industries, could they start a Farmers’ Market business? Why not! One market shared the thought of doing a “Build a Business” workshop at the market venue. This could be done in partnership with local entrepreneur groups or employment services organizations. This could bring a whole new crowd to the market.
  • Parent Groups: Parents need to feed their kids. Could you reach out to local parenting groups and create some sort of event to get them out? Could your market offer childcare while they shopped? Could there be attractions for the kids? If those groups organize outings, could some of them be to the market?
  • Permaculture: This is a fairly low hanging fruit. Folks who are into permaculture are already big fans of Farmers’ Markets. But how would you get them out to your market? Well, could you host a permaculture workshop on site? Could you partner on a social event? Could you invite them to do a permaculture installation on site (e.g. a cob bench) where they could come and learn how to build something and then go shopping after?
  • School Fundraisers: I can’t remember this for the life of me. Bah. Why did I stop recording?
  • Dog Owners: Could you have an annual day for dog owners at the market? Maybe offer a free kiln dried bison bone to anyone who comes with their dog? Could you have a Dog Training 101 class there?
  • Community Centers: People who are involved in their local community centers might, indeed, be interested in a Farmers’ Market. Simply putting up some posters in the right places in those centers could help but, certainly, there must be more that could be done. Could your market have an annual Community League Day where the various community leagues and groups compete to see who can get the most people out?
  • Acreage Owners: If you have a more rural market, then this might just be a fine idea to reach out to these people and have a booth promoting your market at the events they’re likely to frequent.
  • Music School: a very charming partnership I heard about was when one market partnered with a local music school. The woman who ran it brought all of her students to perform at the market (which was, of course, adorable). But this also meant that the families of those students came as well and shopped at the market.
  • Seniors: A number of market managers spoke of their successful outreach to mature living communities and other seniors institutions that would bus people in and out. It had me wonder if a market couldn’t also arrange to have a regular event when senior came to the market to play with little kids as a form of childcare for the parents.
  • Libraries: One market manager spoke of how they’d connected with a local library to host many of their classes at the market (e.g. arts and craft classes). This brought in many people who were new to the market.
  • Bachelors: We laughed a lot about the possibilities of this idea. Could a market host some sort of singles event? Could you partner with local dating coaches, matchmaking organizations, speed dating services and come up with something amazing? I bet you could.
  • Food Delivery Systems: In Edmonton, we have The Organic Box, which delivers food to your door. Other services might have pick up at a central location. Why not have that location be your market? Could they have a booth at the market at which people signed up for their service?
  • Universities: I’ve heard of Universities setting up their own markets but there would likely be certain courses and clubs at your local university or college in which there would be students who are supportive of Farmers’ Markets and local food. Could you host an annual event for poor students to come and shop and meet each other?
  • Elementary & Jr. High Schools: Could you do some version of Denver’s Youth Farmers’ Market where students sell what they’ve grown in school gardens? And could that encourage partnerships with local groups that work to foster gardens in schools?
  • Walking & Running Groups: Why not have an annual event where a walk or jog starts and ends at the Farmers’ market and then people shop afterwards? If it was a walking group I might call it March to the Market. If it was a running group, I might just name it Annual Farmer’s Market Run or 5K for the Farmers’ Market. This could bring a whole new group of people to the market, some of whom would become repeat customers.
  • Chefs: This is such a natural fit. Could you host an annual event for local chefs at the peak of harvest season where they could come to the market and get a tour and be educated as to what you have available for them? Most restaurants are wanting to incorporate more local food into their menus but might not know where to start. Wouldn’t there be local networks or associations for local chefs? Culinary schools? Even cooking classes for amateur chefs? Possibilities for partnership abound.
  • Campers and Outdoorsie People: I’m not as sure about ideas for this one but I bet you there are many.
  • U-Pick: People who would drive out to the country to a U-Pick are absolutely the kind of people who would go to a Farmers’ Market. Could you host a trip to a U-Pick that people could sign up for at the market?

It’s important to point out that these ideas are the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that could be done. This barely scratches the surface of what’s possible.

If you did one of these each month, twelve in a year, you’d likely get hundreds of new people out to your market.

And then, if you could give them some incentive to come back,(e.g. a passport for the market where each vendor would stamp their passport and a completed passport could be entered for a prize or a coupon book with deals for various stands) this could be a significant boost to your market.

The key here is to think about partnership. It’s to think about hubs. It’s to wonder about where else your ideal clients might be hiding out.

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