Farmers Market Marketing Series #12: Eight Ideas for Farmer’s Market Managers

farmersmarketFirst of all, if you run a Farmer’s Market, god bless you.

You are the glue that pulls together the rickety structure that gives many of these farmers a fighting chance of eking out a living and all of the rest of us a place to go to get our food and connect with those who grew it.

In this Farmer’s Market Marketing series I want to make sure I had something that I hope might be of use for you as well.

FARMER’S MARKET IDEA #1: Host a party.

In the last blog post, I urged farmers to host an annual party at their farm. The benefits to the farmer are huge.

bohemian-barn-wedding-sophisticated-garden-party-018So, could your farmer’s market do that as well? Could you host an evening, maybe at the venue where the Farmer’s Market happens, maybe a house party at a very big house in the city, maybe you rent a community hall or maybe you do it out at someone’s farm who’s best equipped (and maybe the privilege of hosting this rotates every year?).

My guess is that you could sell tickets, at least break even, and have hundreds of people there. You could give vendors a different colour name tag or badge so folks would know who was a vendor and who was a customer. This kind of community building has such ripple affects. All of my ideas for farmer’s hosting parties stands here.

Have a contest to see which stall can sell the most tickets to the event and give them a sweet prize (which could maybe be donated). Don’t try to make money on the party. Just break even. The goal is to foster more community and develop a more loyal clientele. And you could do a 50/50 draw or other things like that too.

FARMER’S MARKET IDEA #2: Know why people shop at Farmer’s Markets and give them more of it. 

Iowa State University shared this in a presentation on this topic.

Consider how knowing what matters most to your people might share your social media presence and messaging. How much it shift where you put emphasis? Perhaps you could get some university students to do a survey of your customers to find out why they come. This will likely vary a bit from market to market and town to town.

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FARMER’S MARKET IDEA #3: ‘Meet Our Farmers’ Written or Video interviews with farmers.

Could you create ways in which the public who comes to your farmer’s markets could get to know the people they are buying from? You could share these on social media, your email list and on your website. Maybe only for those who’ve been around at least one or two seasons (or more) and plan to stick around would be eligible for this. It’s a way of saying ‘thank you’.

You can bet that that farm will spread it around like crazy because it benefits them too.

FARMER’S MARKET IDEA #4: Create a sweet promo video for your market.

You can find plenty of examples here.

FARMER’S MARKET IDEA #5: Direct mail postcard to your postal code. 

Are you sure that everyone in the geographic area of your Farmer’s Market even knows it exists? Before the season opener, could you do a mail drop of an invite to everyone in the postal code surrounding your market? Perhaps if they bring the postcard in they can get entered in for a raffle (so you can test and measure how well that approach worked). If I were doing it, I would have the post card give a link to a page on the website for the market with the promo video on it.

FARMER’S MARKET IDEA #6: Host a fundraiser.

What if you hosted a fundraising event where you brought your community together to raise money for needed projects that could help you help your farmers better. Maybe you need to hire a new staff member. Maybe you need a new computer system. Maybe you need to build some new physical structures. If you can get grants from the government for that all, great. If you can get corporate sponsorship? Great. But, if not, why not just ask your customers for it? The best model I’ve seen for this was created by Benevon. An event like this has the double benefit of not only raising money but also creating a space to connect farmers and customers with each other.

FARMER’S MARKET IDEA #7: Tie into larger, related food trends.

In my research, I came across this. I have no idea if it’s a good idea but… Farmer’s Market diet anyone?

And of course there’s the 100 Mile Diet. And the Ten Day Local Food Challenge. And so much more. Could you get on board with or behind any of these and use them as a theme in your marketing of the market?

FARMER’S MARKET IDEA #8: Take a look at the bigger picture of where Farmer’s Markets are going.

My friend Ruben Anderson shared what he’s been noticing,

“I would say think beyond marketing.

So, here in the Greater Victoria Region, farmer’s markets are starting to fruit like mushrooms.

Many markets have the requirement that the farmer must be present, or that the crafts must be made by the seller, not be resales from elsewhere.

What this means, as markets proliferate, is that farmers get less time to farm, which after all is their core skill.

Even though it is great to meet your farmer, at a busy market the farmers are often heads-down, making change as fast as they can to try to move the customers through the booth.

So, this well-intentioned system, structured to connect eaters with farmers and put a face to the grower, does not necessarily scale well.

So, I think Pocket Markets are the cat’s ass. We had one in the government building I worked in, every two weeks. A nonprofit bid on the contract, would go pick up food from the farmer, would sell the goods to us, and would give the unsold items to a food bank.

Second, I think farmer’s markets should shift to a monthly Farmer Day model, where the farmer only has to be onsite once a month and the rest of the time they could hire a local street urchin to man the booth, or whatever. If you are super full of questions, you could go to the market that day. With clever rotation, a farmer could be represented at four markets per week, but only work one market per week.

Third, I think we should test a central cashier. It would be so easy to hire a cashier with a till, debit machine, scanner and printer. You would print out bar codes that essentially said, “Farmer Jane, $3.” and stick them on the bags of lettuce. Customers would walk around the market and load up their bags, then would go through the cashier. At the end of the day, the cashier would pay out the farmers.

This would leave the farmers free to talk about farming, and would reduce their hassle and overhead of maintaining a cash float, owning a debit or credit machine, etc.

Dufferin Grove Farmers Market in Toronto has a decent weekly enewsletter that goes out the day before market day: you have an idea who & whats going to be there (new items being harvested for mrkt that wk, etc, w pics); it serves as a reminder to attend, & connection to the mrkt; & organizers can mention specials such as storytime for kids, which muscian may be performing, whether the monthly knife sharpening srvc is that day, etc.

John Freebury shared this,

“A lot of farmers are hyper-aware that the system will undersell them at every opportunity, that others are happy to do the marketing for them, but for a big cut. Most farmers are fending off a parasitical market relation and so they tend to prefer selling under a trust model — a pool or coop model. But that excluded small producers who are more artisanal than quota based. Nevertheless, small producers can still create small coops to scale. I’m reminded of OUR Ecovillage on Vancouver Island recently upgrading to a coop model for marketing their projects.

What interests me about small producer coops is that they are an integrative model for producers to collaborate as producers (sharing facilities, equipment, tools, skills, expertise, creativity, innovation, financial leverage, etc.), but also to operate as co-creators, co-supporters, co-marketers of all their various brands. In ecology that might be described as creating stability through diversity.

Just looking at the farmers market for example, there’s tonnes of diversity. How much more stable would a market be if each stall/table had a concrete relationship with every other seller? For larger markets, how much more.stable would.each stall be if it represented multiple producers?”

Wayne Roberts lifted up this, “We need to address who is not coming — often people on low income and newcomers to Canada and the city; what can we do about that?”

Anna Baker said, “Our local market management does an amazing job on social media and they will retweet or share pretty much everything from their vendors and from customers when they’re tagged.”

A great example of how a Farmer’s Market can use social media is below.

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Please leave any thoughts, tips, resources or ideas that could help farmers grow their businesses in the comments section below. After a few weeks, I promise to read through them all and weave anything relevant and useful into the blog itself so that they can be of the most use to the most farmers.

About Tad

  • lisamanyon

    Tad — fantastic suggestions as usual. I love seeing this. Our local food entrepreneurs (no matter where we live) are the lifeblood of our communities. Write on!~