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:


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.

Three Hub Marketing Case Studies from the Farmer’s Market


This is a late edition to the Farmer’s Market Marketing Series.

A few weeks ago, I was invited out to Fort Saskatchewan to speak to some good folks who sold their goods via the Farmer’s Market.

I’d done a presentation of this type a few months back and, in the last fifteen minutes, I realized that the main conversation that seemed to be landing was that of Hub Marketing.

Too many entrepreneurs are solopreneurs.

They try to do everything themselves. But partnership is where it’s at.

I’ve written a lot about Hub Marketing before and you can read that here.

But I thought it would be fun for you to see some of what we came up with.

The Set Up: 

I asked each of them to reflect on who their hubs might be for their business.

Stated another way: I asked them to think about the kinds of people who would buy their products and then to ask themselves, “Where else might these people spend their time, their money and their attention?”

Stated another way still: “Where else can we find the people who buy your stuff?”

Three brave souls were willing to come up to the front of the room and share what they’d come up with and let us do some more brainstorming for them. I share these not as an authoritative strategy but to get your mind thinking about some of the ways that hubs and partnerships can look and work.


Case Study #1: Gloria’s Edible Flowers

Gloria had a few businesses on the go, but we decided to focus on her cut flowers business.



The hubs we came up with for her were:

  • vegetarians: maybe they’re tired of their friends condemning their penchant for boring salads? Wanting to make a vegetarian meal to impress the family and mix it up a bit. There are lots of vegetarian groups, newsletters, blogs etc. in local areas.
  • wedding planners & caterers: you’d better believe that catering companies would love to have a local provider of edible flowers on file just in case someone asks for them.
  • flower shops: if I were to want to find edible flowers in town, where would I go? I’d think it would have to be a local flower shop. Now they may not want to stock them, but they’d likely be glad to have her contact info so they could refer out to her.
  • lounges & cocktail bars: maybe some of those fancy hipster cocktail bars might enjoy knowing where to get some flowers for their drinks!
  • herbalists: I’m sure the questions must be asked to herbalists about medicinal uses of flowers. Perhaps she could co-host a workshop with a local herbalist or hire them to write some informative articles or blog posts about the benefits of the top five flowers they sell.
  • chefs at fancy hotels and restaurants: again, a solid contact for such a niche product might be just the kind of thing a chef would like to have in their back pocket.
  • extreme eating clubs: maybe flowers aren’t super extreme but their are clubs in most cities of people who like to eat adventurously, why not reach out?
  • culinary schools: could she go in and do a presentation for them? Could she host a competition for students to find who can come up with the best use of her flowers?
  • cake decorators: sure! Why not?


Case Study #2: Gord’s Beef Jerky


The hubs we came up with for him were:

  • Agriculture Fairs and Tradeshows: this seemed to have worked well in the past. Just showing up and having a booth at these things might end up being his bread and butter. Just because it’s a hub doesn’t mean it needs to be out of left field and ‘never done before’. Most hubs are hiding in plain sight. Some of the best hubs are ‘old reliable’.
  • ATV Clubs: this makes a tonne of sense to me. If there’s an ATV event, he could show up and sell it from the back of his truck, or set up a table. It doesn’t need to be fancy and formal to work.
  • aboriginal groups: there’s certainly possibility here. I don’t know the politics of who is allowed to vend at Pow Wows and aboriginal conferences and events but it’s an option.
  • convenience stores: sure! Why not approach a local corner store, especially if it’s independently owned, and invite them to support a local beef jerky provider rather than the factory farmed crap version they’re currently selling.
  • school cafeterias: I’m not as sure about this one or how it would work, but maybe?
  • food groups (e.g. celiac, paleo): right! There are certain groups who’d be biased to eating beef jerky as a snack over fruit, sandwiches or other things. If he could find them, go to their events and sell some merch but then, importantly, make sure they know which farmers’ market he’ll be at and to invite them to come and visit his booth… well, this is how it’s done in one on one sales. They come to say ‘hi’ and become regulars and now you’re the place they get their jerky from.
  • the Department of National Defence: heavens. I don’t even know where to start but that could be a large order if he was able to secure it.
  • bars: I’m really not as sure about how this one would work.
  • surveyors: a whole profession of people just standing around and getting hungry. Maybe he could sell directly to the companies for them to give as snacks for their bored workers? Could be.
  • ski resorts: again, this could be a big order if he landed even one ski lodge for repeat business.
  • work camps: why not call up the local industrial work camps and ask to speak to the person in charge of feeding everyone and see if there’s not some business to be drummed up?
  • forest rangers: they must have conventions. Why not go to one? I’m not as big a fan of this one because his business will likely best be built with larger orders instead of one on one. I’ve never in my life felt loyal to a particular, local brand of jerky and I don’t know if I ever will. I’ll just buy whatever’s closest to me that seems ethically raised.
  • sports clubs: could be. Again, this becomes individual sales but having a booth at larger sports events and inviting people to visit at the farmers’ market? Why not.
  • university Forestry Programs: Maybe. I’m not stoked about this one.
  • BBQ Stores: Could be! If they’re into BBQ then they’re into meat. Could be some regular business here.
  • tree planting companies: this could be big. They have workers who are out all day working hard and they need snacks. Could be worthwhile exploring.
  • campers: I personally wouldn’t be trying to find individual campers but to approach camping supply stores like MEC, REI and smaller more independent ones.
  • farmers: maybe? This seems obvious but it’s not as exciting to me.
  • rodeos: hells yes. Go and set up a booth at one of these and watch it rain money.
  • hunters: meh.
  • sports stores: sure! This could be solid.


Case Study #3: John’s ‘Dandy Joe‘ Roasted Dandelion Root Blend Coffee Substitute


The hubs we came up with for him were:

  • coffee and tea shops: bulk orders. He approaches them and says, “hey! Here’s a unique, local coffee substitute that’s like nothing else and it’s local!” Boom.
  • farmers’ markets: this is where most of his business has come from and where most of it will continue to. No reason to stop.
  • Chinese stores: Joe said he’d had an order from a woman in China who loved it and thought maybe Chinese shops might dig it. Who knows! Worth exploring.
  • spas: an interesting idea. “Instead of serving your clients coffee full of caffeine or the same old boring herbal teas, why not offer this local super food to them?”
  • the sleep center: pitching it as something to drink late at night instead of coffee and offering them tins to offer as upsells to people who buy beds and want to sleep better. Maybe?
  • yoga studios and events: all these yogi’s are trying to kick coffee and give their adrenals some peace. What if he found out the top yoga events in town each year and set up a booth there? What if he identified the top ten yogi’s in town and approached them with a free tin to try out themselves? He could win over a whole community here who is likely to be going to farmer’s markets anyway.
  • tea wholesalers: this could become all of his business if it fell into place:
  • I co-founded a local network to connect good, forward thinking Edmontonians and we could maybe feature him on our blog.
  • the Organic Box: Sure! Why not get himself listed as a product people could order in a monthly, organic, grocery delivery service?
  • ski lodges and restaurants: maybe some indy restaurants or ski lodges might love having a unique, hot drink like this to offer their clientele?
  • dandelion root growers: I’m not sure why this is on the list…
  • church groups: could be? This doesn’t feel really compelling to me.
  • herbologists: they might not buy a lot but they could likely be a great source of referrals to others.
  • Costco: Oh man. They’d eat him alive on margin. He’d make no money. Stay away from the bright lights!
  • heath food stores: an obvious one. Yes.
  • hemp producers: could he partner with a local hemp seed producer to make a local, superfood smoothie mix of dandelion, hemp and some other things? Maybe!
  • holistic health practitioners: of course. Yes. The more of these who know about him and his product the better. He could have a booth at the local new age, holistic health consumer expos and spend all day working that room and make sure they know which markets to find him at and his website and, in the long term, that could be very solid for business.

Farmers Market Marketing Series #13: Final Thoughts, Blog Summary and Ten Resources

Well! It’s finally gone and happened. All the blog posts are up from the Farmers’ Market Marketing Series.

What follows is a summary of all of the posts I’ve written in the series to make it easy for you to find the ones most relevant to you.


#1: What This Series is and Why I’m Doing It

#2: Six Overarching Ideas for Success

#3: Five Solid Ideas for Online Marketing

#4: Two Simple Ideas on Social Media

#5: The Three C’s of Social Media

#6: 76 Real World Examples of Farmer’s Using Social Media

#7: Three Big Ideas on Your Booth

#8: 18 Ideas on How to Engage Customers From Your Booth

#9: Ten Bonus Ideas for Success at Farmer’s Markets

#10: Thoughts on How do I Price Things?

#11: Six Marketing Ideas for Farmers Outside of Markets

#12: Eight Ideas for Farmer’s Market Managers

#13: Hub Marketing for Farmers’ Market Vendors

#14: Hubs for Marketing for Farmers’ Market Managers


Other Resources I Found:
FarmChoresFarm Marketing Solutions: Morning farm chores time-lapse video, aprox. 3 minutes by John Suscovich.




FarmersMarketVendorWikiHowHow to Become a Farmer’s Market Vendor – WikiHow: farmers markets, once the typical way of selling produce for centuries, have again grown to become an important part of local community food shopping. They’re the place to find fresh local produce, catch up with people from the community, share great food and take home seasonal treats that the supermarkets aren’t necessarily going to be selling. And if you want to become part of a local farmers market, and sell your own homegrown or home produced food or household necessities, then you’ll need to do some planning to ensure that your efforts are as effective, as they are lucrative.

BrightAgrotech_HowToHow to Sell at Farmer’s Markets – Bright Agrotech: In this webinar, Dr. Nate Storey of Bright Agrotech discusses what it takes to sell at Farmer’s Markets and some tricks for making a splash.




BrightAgrotechBright Agrotech Marketing Resources: this company researches, designs, tests, redesigns and retests theirAmerican-made vertical growing products. Dr. Nate Storey and the Bright Agrotech team are committed to helping large commercial and small hobbyist growers alike grow more with less.



ModernFarmerModern FarmerModern Farmer is an authoritative resource for today’s cutting-edge food producers and consumers: the farmers, wannabe farmers, chefs, and passionate home cooks who are influencing the way we e

at right now. Blending hands-in-dirt service, soulful inspiration, and whip-smart reporting, Modern Farmer understands that a tomato is never just a tomato—it’s also a political, and deeply personal, statement about who we want to be and the world we hope to live in. FarmStart aims to continue to provide practical support, sector leadership and a voice for a new generation of farmers. The FarmStart initiative, incorporated in 2005, grew from the recognition that farming communities are aging, and structural, economic, and practical challenges are preventing new and young farmers from getting into the sector. At the same time, consumers and governments are beginning to make a sustainable, healthy, regional food supply an economic and social priority. Small Farm Canada is a national magazine. Using writers in every region of the country, each issue is edited from their main office in Metchosin, BC. The magazine is designed in St. John’s, Nfld, and it is printed in Winnipeg and distributed to all provinces and territories. Small Farm Canada promotes small-scale farming as a legitimate and viable endeavour. The magazine’s editorial position is that the lives of small-scale farmers and their families are worthy, complex and rich in possibility, and that the communities serving small-scale farmers are unique and dynamic.


CanadianOrganicGrowersCanadian Organic Growers: Canadian Organic Growers (COG) is a national charitable organization with members in all regions of Canada. COG is connected to the regions through eight regional chapters, four affiliated organizations, and to the international organic community through membership in the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. COG’s membership is diverse and includes farmers, gardeners, processors, retailers, educators, policy-makers, and consumers. Not all COG members run certified organic operations, but they share a vision for a sustainable bioregionally-based organic food system. Helping BC Farmers learn and implement best practices for agricultural business growth. Resources for starting a new farm, running a farm, transferring a farm and business management resources.



SeedsOfDiversitySeeds of Diversity: Objectives: To search out, preserve, perpetuate, study, and encourage the cultivation of heirloom and endangered varieties of food crops. To educate the public about the importance of heirloom and endangered varieties of food crops and the need for their continued cultivation and preservation.


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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.21.55 PM

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.

Farmers Market Marketing Series #11: Six Marketing Ideas for Farmers Outside of Markets

So far in this Farmer’s Market Marketing Series we’ve covered a lot of ways to make the best of the markets themselves but I wanted to share at least a few ideas on how to grow your business outside of the markets and hopefully ones you’d not considered yet.

BEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #1: Partner with a non profit.

Is there an issue you are passionate about and would love to raise money for or raise the profile of? Consider this possibility, if you will. Your farm might be able to help it while, at the same time, attracting a whole new set of customers who are not the usual suspects you’ll find at Farmer’s Markets. You might be the bridge between the local food people and the people who care about these issues.

Imagine you are passionate about helping inner city youth. Could you host a dinner that raised funds for your favourite charity on this issue? Could you create an host a silent auction? Or, best of all, could you simply host an event where you ask people to give money to this cause using a model like Benevon has created?

Regardless of how you do it, done right, it will introduce you, your farm and the whole local food scene to people who might otherwise have never really considered it.

A great book that explores this is Marketing That Matters by Chip Conley. He points out that it’s possible to create partnerships where your business gets a return on investment and the non-profit gets their mission advanced.

BEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #2: Do public speaking engagements and your story and local food.

Do you love public speaking? Do you love sharing your story? Be on the look out for opportunities to speak locally. Not sure where? Post that question on Facebook. Ask around. Perhaps local entrepreneur groups, Rotary clubs or more.

BEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #3: Attend as many community events as possible.

Being a farmer means your busy and late nights can be hard.

But networking can be an important way to grow any business.

You never know where connections might go. If there are mixers hosted where progressive people get together like Green Drinks, it can be worth going. But also, don’t lose your connections to scenes that you love. Again, you might become the preferred farmer for the punk scene because that’s where you come from. It’s very natural to be mingling with people and then to hand them a business card with a photo of you on one side and where you’ll be next on the back – or you can write it up and say, “You should come to the booth on Saturday! Or any Saturday. It would be great to see you there!” Those personal invitations and personal relationships go a very long way in building a customer base. And then, if you remember their name when they come? You’ve got a customer. They’ll want to buy something just to support you. I don’t think farmers often understand the power they have to have people feel welcomed and included into the local food scene. I don’t think they appreciate how much people want to do more but feel like they can’t.

Plus, you could also invite them to your annual barn party (see the next idea).

170433167117785905p9ztJuMUcBEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #4: Throw a Farm Party

I’ve honestly been waiting this entire series so I could lift up this open as one of my favourite ways to deepen relationships with customers.

I want to urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to throw a party for your customers at least once per year. If possible, host it at your farm. You can make it an all day event with a barn party, ho down, moon shine drinking party at the end of the night. Maybe you sell tickets, maybe you just foot the bill.

Start small your first year. Just invite your favourite customers and tell them to keep it hush hush but that they can bring some folks along and that they need to give a firm RSVP. Make sure you get their contact info so you can confirm they’re coming. I commend using Eventbrite.

There benefits of doing this kind of party are vast.

It gives them a story to tell and reason to talk about your farm. And they will. And their friends will be jealous and want to come to the next one. “You got to use an actual cattle brand? And drink home made moonshine? Skinny dipping?” You get the idea. This one event will do more for your word of mouth than just about anything I can think of.

If you have a professional photographer there documenting the whole thing and then upload those photos, tag those you can and email the album (which you conveniently host on your Facebook Page) to everyone who attended and they will tag themselves and share the photos and tag you and talk you up. Especially if you ask them to and maybe even if you give them some pre-written text they can use letting people know where they can find you and when at which markets.

This kind of party will deepen your relationships with you and your existing customers more than anything else I can think of.

And why not invite the other vendors as a way for you to all get to know each other?

Could you host the party in partnership with a non-profit and have them invite their people out too and a portion of the ticket price goes to them?

Could you bring our a well known local chef to make an amazing meal with stuff from your farm?

And what an easy way to get the contact info of your customers. I can promise you that it’s the most natural thing in the world, and very few people will say ‘no’ when you get their email to be on the list for the party and you say, “Oh! And, if you like, we could add you to our monthly email newsletter too? No pressure.” Most will say yes.

Also, consider getting their mailing address and mailing out a physical invitation – just a simple postcard on which you can hand write personal notes to people telling them you hope they will come. You could actually write those notes moments after you get their address at the Farmer’s Market – just have a stack of the invitation postcards there. So, they mention their daughter Sue and you write, “I hope you and Sue can come to our party! I’ll give you a slice of that apple pie I was telling you about.” You just recap the conversation. They’ll be incredibly touched when, many weeks later, they get the invitation from you. And, how convenient, you’ve put the map and directions on the back on the postcard!

Shelly Juurlink shares some other ideas for this, “Invite ‘eaters’ out to the farm and host special events (ex. Carrot thinning picnic: invite people and their kids out to help thin carrots in the spring, have someone on hand to have a sunflower house planting activity to engage and teach the kids, eat sandwiches under a tree on the farm with the farmer and their family and send all volunteers home with a bag of fresh spinach), anything to engage people and make them feel part of the food they are buying and the family they are supporting.”

BEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #5: Hook up with a restaurant.

Why not become the preferred supplier of something to a local, independent restaurant you admire?

In Edmonton, Sangudo meats provides all of the pork and Bacon to sibling eateries Farrow and Three Boars in Edmonton. This locks in some solid orders for Jeff Senger, who runs it, but also means that, for me as a customer I can feel really good that I’m not spending money on factory farm raised pigs when I eat there.

I think there is a lot of opportunity here.

And remember, if you are selling in more outlets than the farmers market, never do more than 10% business with one customer. Spread the risk so they don’t end up in a “Walmart” scenario where one customer calls all the shots.

BEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #6: Sell to a local grocery store directly.

This may not be a new idea to you but, if you haven’t explored it, it’s worth taking a look at.

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.

Farmers Market Marketing Series #10: Thoughts on How do I Price Things?

signs 2What to charge?

This has always been and may always be one of the most difficult decisions you can make in business and one I knew would be important to touch on in this series of posts on marketing for farmers and farmer’s markets.

Here’s the most basic I can make pricing:

If you’re getting a lot of onlookers and no one’s buying? It might be a sign your price is too high.

If you’re selling out before the end of the day and getting no complaints on the price? It might be a sign your price is too low.

If you charge a lot more than what others are charging for similar things or a lot less, people may be suspicious and want to know your reasons. So, unless you’ve got a very clear logic behind a huge difference in price between yourself and your colleagues, it’s wise to keep the prices within roughly the same ballpark.

Remember that, for whatever reason, pricing in ‘odd cent increments‘ (particularly the numbers 7 and 9) seems to get a better response from people looking for a bargain. You’ll sell more for 49 cents than 50 cents, more at $1.79 than $1.80. I have no idea why this is true but it seems to be.

But, if you price in five cent increments, it will tend to suggest higher quality and premium value.

Why? I have no idea. But this is what I’ve heard.

Also if you offer a discount for bulk buying (e.g. It’s $5.50 for one but only $10 for two then people will lean towards buying two).

You might also considering offering a two tiered pricing system – one price for your best quality stuff and a discounted price for the wares that are slightly less so.

Whatever you do, don’t devalue it. Sell it for more than you would at a grocery store. There can be a temptation to charge less than the other vendors at your market and undercut them but this can actually create the perception that your product is lower quality than theirs and create ill will between you.

It might also be wise to have a concise, convincing and clear answer ready for people if they challenge you with, “Why do you charge what you do?” Genuinely, take five minutes to sit down and really articulate this so you don’t stumble when asked. If you can give an honest answer that makes sense to people it will earn their respect and increase the perceived value of your products.

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.

Farmers Market Marketing Series #9: Ten Bonus Ideas for Success at Farmer’s Markets

So, we’ve covered ideas for ways you make design your booth and engage people at the Farmer’s Market. So, if you use those, you should be well on your way to success. But, if you miss the following ideas, things could be a little rockier than you’d like. So, here are some bonus ideas to help out.

Farmers-Market-Old-Strathcona-1024x607BONUS IDEA #1: Choose the right farmer’s market.

Before you commit to a farmer’s Market, it might be wise to scout out a few, or all of the local ones to see who else is there and what they’re selling. If there’s a farmer’s market with no one offering what you are, that might be ideal vs. one at which everyone is selling the same stuff. It’s also good to get a sense of how much traffic there are at different ones and what kind of people.

In addition to visiting them, it would be wise to talk to the other vendors at the market. How is it? Is today’s traffic typical? What’s it like? What do they like about it? What don’t they like about it? How are the Farmer’s Market managers to work with? What time do you need to wake up to be there? Is that what you want? (really).

I would also, personally, want to chat with the manager of the market to see how much effort and thought they put into marketing and promoting the market and getting people there for you.

This may be the most important decision you make.

Every market has its own culture and vibe,” explains Leigh Adcock, executive director of the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, an organization connecting women in sustainable agriculture. “Some markets cater to busy shoppers who want to quickly buy their week’s vegetables while others create a more social setting with music and kids activities. Talk to other growers and folks buying at the market to get a sense of what the market is like.”

It’s also wise to make sure you know the rules of the Farmer’s Markets you’re leaning towards to make sure you can commit to what’s expected of you. These can usually be found on their websites.

Here are some questions worth asking.

  • what you can and can’t sell, does the farmer need to be there themselves or can staff be there?
  • does everything need to be produced in State/Province?
  • do you need to commit to the entire selling season?
  • what are the booth rental fees for the season?
  • If you don’t want to commit to the whole season, what’s the weekly fee?
  • If you’ll need water and electricity for your booth – can they provide that?
  • What’s the insurance set up? etc.)

BONUS IDEA #2: Start Small

Hobby Farms puts it best, “Don’t go overboard—test the farmers’-market waters before investing in expensive tents and gear. See if you can find a market where you can sell as a “daily vendor” to get started. These are markets that will let you commit to one market at a time depending on available space. This way, you can get a feel for selling at the farmers’ market without over-committing. As you do these trial sales, take into account your driving time and costs and sales volume to determine if this particular market is a good long-term fit.”

You might want to consider sharing a booth with an existing vendors for a few markets to see if it’s a fit for you.

40364759_sBONUS IDEA #3: Be Organized

Consider doing a dry run of setting up your booth at home before taking it to the Farmer’s Market to work out the kinks, see what will fit on the table, what sort of display works best etc.

And, once you’ve done it a few times and worked out the best process it will be worth its weight in gold to create a proper ‘preparation check list’ for the Farmer’s Market.

What needs to be done the day and night before?

What time do you need to get to sleep the night before and early morning market?

What needs to be packed? Here are some thoughts to start you off.

  • cashbox
  • meal and snacks for the day
  • float and plenty of spare change and small bills
  • booth
  • spare clothes in case it gets warmer or colder
  • weights for your tent in case it’s windy
  • plastic bags for customers
  • markers or chalk to make signs you might have forgotten

Keep refining this checklist until it’s airtight. Nothing worse than being halfway to the Farmer’s Market and realize you’ve forgotten something important.

BONUS IDEA #4: It takes time. Stick around. 

There are people who will mean to buy something from you all year and never do it. The longer you stick around, the larger this pool of people will become. In the beginning, they don’t even know who you are. Then they meet you. Then they like you. Then they trust you. It can take time to get a reputation established where someone says, “Who do you go to for lamb?” and everyone says your name. But, once you’ve got the reputation, the rest of the marketing is really easy. So stick around. Don’t give up too soon.

BONUS IDEA #5: Promote the farmer’s markets you are at. 

The more everyone who’s coming promotes it the better it will be. You saw some examples of this in Farmer’s Market Marketing Series #6: 76 Real World Examples of Farmer’s Using Social Media. Plus, the Farmer’s Market manager will notice and appreciate it a great deal.


Catherine Graham shares her experience, “We also have a local farm who has a website that you can order online from once a month the most in stock in season fruits and veggies and then go to the church to pick up once a month. It’s such a great convenience and you get introduced to food that you wouldn’t necceßsarily buy, and sometimes they include recipes on how to use say zucchini, or squash etc.”

BONUS IDEA #7: Connect with Other Vendors

David Cameron gives this practical, community building tip, “Do YOUR OWN grocery shopping at the FM-builds vendor cohesion & good vibe (especially important in new/small markets as encourages vendors to show up). At the end of the day, consider swapping and trading with other vendors. They may have the inside scoop on other Farmer’s Markets and ideas on other market opportunities you may have missed. If they can feel that you value their products as much as yours the feelings are likely to be reciprocated and then you get a mutual admiration society. And who doesn’t want that?

BONUS IDEA #8: Same place. Same time.

Deb Vail shares this bit of time won wisdom, “Always have your booth in the same place every week and always go – even if you only have $50 worth of products. We’d visit with people then and make contact with them so they would always come to chat again when we were full. We’d bring our interns to tell their stories and share what they were learning.”

BONUS IDEA #9: Saying thank you. 

As customers leave, say thank you for their business. They could be shopping anywhere. And use their name. A warm, “Thank you Tad!” with a smile will feel better than a brusk, “Thanks!” with no eye contact.

BONUS IDEA #10: Encourage preorders.

The BC Farmer’s Market Association had a great idea: “Encourage your customers to email orders before coming to the market. You can pre-bag their orders so they don’t have to worry abut getting to the market early to find what they want. Services like this help create loyal customers and enhance sales.” This might not work for everyone but, if you let your best customer’s know this was an option it might just make your life a lot easier at the market and make you more money. Plus those customer’s feel special because of the secret arrangement they get to do with you.

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.

Farmers Market Marketing Series #8: 18 Ideas on How to Engage Customers From Your Booth


This must be one of the most awkward things that humans have ever created. No one likes to sell. No one like to be sold to. That’s the reality.

But it’s also real that we need people to buy from us. And to do that we may need to engage customers in conversations. There’s a lot to say about this, but the following ideas may be of some use.

ENGAGING IDEA #1: Watch others.

This is likely the most important piece of advice I could offer you. Go to other Farmer’s Markets and craft shows and notice how the different vendors relate (or avoid relating) with the public. You’ll notice that the most successful ones never give off an air of ‘selling’ anything. It’s just a fun, warm and generous experience being in their presence. Take notes and see what style of engagement feels right for you. I can offer no better advice to you than this.

ENGAGING IDEA #2: Know what matters most to your customers.

A presentation I saw made the provocative claim that environmental impact and the food being natural, though it might matter most to be, was not the most important for many. It’s something to consider in our marketing.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 3.55.00 PM

Safety means, ‘will it make me sick?’

Judy Leith Zastre pointed this out to me, “Just as important is the issue of Food Safety. Farmers mostly do things that are great for food safety but are not able to prove it to their customers. There have been big store owners in the past (i.e. name starts Galen Wes…) who claim farmers markets will kill people due to lack of food safety. Using the Good Agricultural Collection Practices (GACP program), a program developed by the food industry participants, not government, you can PROVE that you are doing things right. I’ve used for about 8 years. Makes a great marketing tool! Check out how farmers can get free training in Alberta and possibly B.C. and Saskatchewan.” I suspect most places offer this kind of training.

Nutrition means both what’s in the food (vitamins, minerals, fat etc.) but also other dietary restrictions (is it dairy free, gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, low fat, low sodium, does it have soy, nuts, wheat free?). For more excellent thoughts on this check out this slide show (particularly slides 20 & 21).

This will shift from booth to booth – but it’s good to have a strong sense of what matters most to your customers. It can inform what goes on your signs, what you talk with them about when you meet them and what you post about on social media.

ENGAGING IDEA # 3: Conversation starting signs.

Can you put something interactive and engaging on signs?

One cafe I know has a quiz of the day. There is a question and a multiple choice of four answers. It doesn’t make me come back to see it but it does create the opportunity for a conversation with the cashier which wouldn’t have otherwise happened and that conversation could create a connection that would have me come back. Or what about a joke of the day. A food fact of the day. A gardening tip relevant to something you sell, a nutritional tip, a snack ideas, or some other fun “thought for the day”.

Some sort of conversation starter that has people pause for a moment.

laurahendersonENGAGING IDEA# 4: Connection first.

When someone approaches your booth they are bringing with them a tremendous amount of pressure to buy something from you. They don’t want to disappoint you or hurt your feelings by not buying from you. It’s why they did a whole round of walking around the Farmer’s Market and looking at all of the booths before finally stopping at yours. I think the central focus of the initial meeting is to remove pressure – not to add to it. If you move right into pitching what you do it may push them away. Ideally, your display and signage are clear enough that only people who are interested in what you’re offering engage you anyway.

My friend Jason Guile told me once, “It’s not at all uncommon to attend a farmers market and have a really bad customer service experience. Some PR 101 couldn’t hurt in some instances, and in others, it’s just getting real that not everyone belongs behind the table serving clients.”

Evonne Smulders, who has worked many booth in her days shares, “Prepare, then tuck those notes in your pocket, walk out there and open your heart and tell them a good story. They will want to connect with you as they connect with the land. That’s all. That’s what you taught me and I give it back to you my friend. Connect connect connect.”

Dani Hollis points out, “Smile and address every person walking by. If you are having fun, they will want to join the fun. Start a conversation and it is likely that the customer will buy something.”

Anna Baker reaffirms this all from years of experience, “I’ve worked at our local farmers’ market doing sales for friends who do the farming and here’s my take: acquire or hone your customer service skills. Great products will do well, but the hustle and ability to chat up customers and schmooze a bit can really help sales. Keep it authentic but focus on building those relationships with your customers – it makes a big difference.”

ENGAGING IDEA #5: Have some conversation starters.

Not everyone is an extrovert. Not everyone has a gift for the gab. It can be useful to have some back pocket conversation prompters in the beginning. Once you get the hang of it, you won’t need them anymore. You don’t always have time for a big conversation when the market’s busy, but, when the opportunities are there, it’s good to be ready.

Here are a few for yourself and your staff.

  • Commenting on something they’re wearing and asking about it.
  • Asking them if they’ve bought something else at the market and speaking about them in warm and favourable ways.
  • “Is it your first time here at the market?”
  • Asking where they are from and, if they say, the name of the town you’re in, you might ask them if they are from here originally. Finding out where people are from often opens up wonderful conversations.
  • “If you had a booth here, what would you sell?”

ENGAGING IDEA #6: Remember names.

This is huge.

When I go to a market and a vendor remembers my name, it blows me away and I want to go back to their stall because it feels like we’re friends. This is true of restaurants and cafe’s too. Make it a game for yourself. See if you can remember people’s names and a little something about them each time you’re at the market. If they come back the next week and you get their name right and remember that little thing – watch them come back to you week after week.

Samantha Bennett suggests, “Why not start an initiative to get to know your customers a bit better — ask their names, find out if they’re regulars, discover some of their likes and dislikes. If any vendor (farmer’s market or bricks-and-mortar) ever asked me my name I would fall over with joy. After all, it’s a pretty personal interaction and I’m there every week for crying out loud.”

Felicia Friesema suggests brilliantly, “Keep track in a client book their favorite crops and special requests. This valuable market data engenders devotion.”

ENGAGING IDEA #7: Refunds.

If someone complains, use your own best judgement at all times. It’s often worth it to give them the refund or a replacement for the goodwill it builds over time. Trust your gut in each situation.

ENGAGING IDEA #8: Things to consider for staff at the booth. 

Your staff should not be eating or on their phones unless it’s deadsville. Their job needs to be about engaging people walking by starting up friendly conversations.

“Smile and engage the customer, playing on your phone does not sell products” says Mike Johnston

Be dressed well, not too far up or down. Look the part. Make sure you’re wearing clean clothes and consider wearing name tags. Consider having all staff wear a t-shirt with the farm’s name and logo on it.

ENGAGING IDEA #9: Hire good people and train them well.

Make sure you and your staff know the difference between a Gala, a Cox Pippin and a Pink Lady apple. “I don’t know,” ends the conversation. Customer service should be one of your biggest focuses. What’s worse than training someone and losing them? Not training them and keeping them.

ENGAGING IDEA #10: Engage and educate people.

It seems to me that you want to make sure that your booth is staffed with extroverts who love talking with people in a friendly way. But everyone has their own style. Some are more comfortable being salesy and some are more comfortable being subtle.

My friend Joey Hundert used to work at a hemp products stand at the Strathcona Farmer’s market in Edmonton. He is an incredible extrovert and would regularly have his stand surrounded by a dozen people as he answered questions about hemp oil, hemp seeds and more. Joey knew his science and kept knocking it out of the park. Once he had a few people stopped, more would quickly join to hear his Coney Island style pitches. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Pro tip: Don’t bring a chair. Chairs encourage you to sit which will make you less approachable.

ENGAGING IDEA #11: Create an experience.

This one isn’t going to be for everyone but it’s worth considering how you could bring more theatre into your booth.

Brent Schmidt says, “I would suggest checking out the Pike Market in Seattle to remind them that to build a business that customers rave about it’s important to remember that consumers buy more than the product.”

Morgana Rae says, “There’s a guy at my farmer’s market who is an artist with rapidly slicing apples into animal heads…and giving you tastes along the way. He creates an audience with entertainment and seduces you to buy.” Something like this I imagine.

apple art

Emily Levy gives more ideas, “For drawing more farmers’ market shoppers to their stall, it’s all going to be about setting themselves apart, like Shayla and Samantha said. Having a product no one else does, or recipes, or someone juggling their produce, or tasting of the produce or a dish made with their produce … lots of options.”

Deb Vail gives this practical tip, “We always had special things for the kids – little single flowers to hand out so they could put in their hair or taste the edible ones. We would walk out of the booth and greet them.”

ENGAGING IDEA #12: Offer bulk prices on lower grade produce. 

Let’s face it, not all of your tomatoes are as good. They aren’t all as pretty. So why not offer it at a discount to your best customers off of the side of the truck. Especially during canning season/peak season when people just might want a lot of them and not care about how good they look..

ENGAGING IDEA #13: Make value added products with your products (e.g. preserves, perogies, sausages etc.)

Instead of just selling tomatoes, could you also sell tomato sauce? Instead of just berries, could you make and sell some jam? Instead of just selling potatoes, could you make perogies? Instead of just selling raw meat could you make sausages?

ENGAGING IDEA #14: Stand in front of the booth.

If you’re able to stand in front of the booth so it’s easier to engage with clients, that’s ideal. So many vendors, hide behind their booths. They sit there and look hopefully at people walking by or not at all. Get out there. Engage and talk to people.

samplesENGAGING IDEA #15: Offer Free Samples

This is not a new idea, and it’s likely something you already do but, if you don’t already, free samples of what you offer at your booth can make a big difference.

If you sell rhubarb and apples could you offer a tasty sample of them stewed together, warm out of a crock pot? Or a slice of pie made from your fresh cherries and then give them the recipe (with a gorgeous picture of the pie on it) if they buy a pint?

Steven Budden shared his experience, “I worked at a few farmer’s markets while I worked on farms and could sell out anything just by telling clients interesting ways they could use items (because I also love cooking).


Also, if you sell fish, could you give them some free parsely to go with it? Some free rosemary to go with potatoes?

Pro Tip: Make sure you have the proper receptacles you need for the free samples (e.g. tiny dixie cups, little spoons, napkins etc. (and make sure that’s on your packing checklist)) as well as a garbage container for them when they’re done.

ENGAGING IDEA #16: Bundle Products

Could you bundle some products together with a recipe card for a cool salad or a soup?

Could you make a “Meal in a bag”?

Samantha Bennett wondered about this, “I’d love to see more demonstrations of what to do with all that great produce – maybe offer printed up versions of recipes that use ingredients from a few different vendors – so it’s kind of a treasure map?


Andy Larson of Iowa State University shares the ideas in the image below.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.46.19 PM

s0467010_sc7ENGAGING IDEA #17: Allow credit card purchases. 

Most people who go to the Farmer’s Market bring cash. And most Farmer’s Markets, wisely, have ATMs. But, why not make sure you’re able to accept credit card just in case. I predict that, within two years, it will be the norm for vendors to be able to do this. You can use a tool like Square Up easily if you have a smart phone.

kombucha-1024x683ENGAGING IDEA #18: Presell Your products.

My colleague George C. Huang shared this, “I once spoke with a young guy who was making Kambucha; it was great stuff! Better than anything you’ve find on a mass, commercial basis. He went around to Farmer’s Markets. But one time, he was bummed out, because he had an upcoming market, but his batch wasn’t ready for sale. I told him to show up and put up a sign and PRESELL his next batch. He nearly sold out his next batch!

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.

Farmers Market Marketing Series #7: Three Big Ideas on Your Booth

971192_10152864737090195_382204517_nOnce you’re at the Farmer’s Market, your booth design and signage are going to play a big role in how successful you are. If you do it right, no one will even notice the impact of them – they’ll just feel drawn to it and want to spend time there.

Years ago, I was at the downtown Edmonton Farmer’s Market.

As I was walking past someone I overheard them say, “I’m the kind of person who walks all the way through the farmer’s market and then buy on the walk back.”

It occurred to me that I’d just done the same thing.

And it is a good reminder about the importance of safety in marketing. The importance of letting people check you out and get a taste of what you offer.

And a good reminder about how people work. People don’t like to be pushed into buying too soon. And, quite frankly, given the amount of choice that people have today, pushing them is exactly the wrong thing to do. Instead, you want to create a safe, warm and inviting presence. You want to be a hub. You want to stick out without being pushy.

And so I’m seeing that part of being a hub is being patient. Knowing that people might wander that farmer’s market many times that day, back and forth, before deciding to check you out. One day, they might already have enough potatoes and not need what you’re selling. The next day, they’re out of potatoes and your potato stand is super attractive. One month, they just bought themselves a brand new dress and would love to buy the one you’re selling but can’t justify the cost. The next month, they get a raise and decide to splurge.

So, patience and humility are good here. No matter how good your marketing is – some people will just take you own damned time.

But, even so, there are things you can do to increase your chances of being noticed. And then you’ll need to engage them properly, which is the focus of the next blog post in this series.


0d40bc2ba3bd2cdd99e57124b650bb7dBOOTH IDEA #1: Booth Design.

Your product display should be a work of art that invites interaction.” – Andy Larson

And now to your booth.

My colleague Tiina Veer put it well when she said, “Make the booth attractive and display wares attractively. There are several roadside orchard markets near our family cottage and by far the most popular one is the one that has everything displayed so beautifully that it draws you right in. People even stop there to take pictures.”

Some key ideas in your booth design…

Open, clean and visible. A cluttered and confusing display will not draw people in. Many farmer’s markets make very effective use of baskets to display their produce. Pro tip: If you want to tip your baskets slightly forward towards the customer, consider using doorstops under them.

Also think colourful. And experiment with what mix of colours is most appealing. It’s often more eye catching to mix colours together a bit. If you have a pile of red peppers, maybe put a smaller pile of yellow peppers right in the middle. The display to the right does a beautiful job. One marketing expert suggested putting yellow in the front.

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Note: red and blue canopies can cast a very unflattering light on yourself and your wares. Best to stick with a basic white.

And think levels. You want your wares displayed from waist level to six inches above the eye. Remember this: people shop from the hip up. Don’t make people reach more than three feet for anything by stocking it to low, high or deep on your table. And not everything flat on the table – having a few levels of things makes it more interesting.

Flow is vital. Make sure it’s set up for people to easily come in, buy things and move on. You don’t want paying customers to block out potential customers. Or vice versa.

Here is a great diagram of one potential set up for good flow from

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Keep baskets looking full. A great way to do this is illustrated in the photo below.

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Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.43.51 PMAlways give the appearance of overflowing bounty and make sure your containers are constantly restocked and beautifully arranged.

You don’t want people feeling like they’ve been left with the dregs of what you had as in the picture to the right.

Photo-Aug-02-8-06-02-AM-e1429652157498-500x480Consider also the tables.

You could have a bare table but a simple table cloth or some sort of covering can go a long way to softening up the appearance and drawing people in.

For more brilliance on Farmer’s Market displays, booths and signage I recommend checking out this slideshow.

Below are some more photos of great booths. Notice how they use the elements described above.



For more brilliant ideas on creating a beautiful display read Felicia Friesema’s Do’s and Don’ts: Marketing at Farmers Markets.


BOOTH IDEA #2: Booth Signage.

Make sure your booth can be identified from a distance. This usually means putting your farm or business name just above eye level on the front flap of your tent. Make it beautiful.

The purpose of the clear signage isn’t actually to draw everyone in. It’s to draw the right people in and repel the wrong people. So, if someone is looking for mushrooms and you sell mushrooms, have a big sign that says, “MUSHROOMS!” on it. People who hate mushrooms will know not to visit your stand and those on the lookout for them will come running.

One of my friends commented to me about this, “I’d also encourage them to step up their branding a bit — why not have nice colors or a circus-striped awning? Or cooler signage? Because in my experience all of those set-ups look exactly the same, and I have no idea why I should buy zucchini from RosePink Farms rather than PinkRose Farms, you know?


So, it’s not just about the name of your farm. You can and should also have signs that educate people about who you are, what you do, how you do it and why you do it that way.

Shelly Juurlink says, “Drop some marketing dollars into a nice sign with a picture of the family/farmer/farm/products for display at the market.”


Tiina Veer brings us back to story telling, “Tell the story of the farm, and/or the history of farming in the area of their farm… have this available/incorporated at the booth (photos of the farm and workers displayed too).”

Kathy Bibby shared something she had noticed, “What I’m always so curious about is where is the land where their produce grows? Pictures (BIG ones) or a video on a BIG screen showing the beauty of the land plus tasting at the same time would cover a number of senses. For me, that’s what it’s all about.”

Think black board over white board for a more vintage, market vibe. Consider also posting photos of your family on the farm. “Is that your daughter?” they might ask and then a conversation has begun where they can learn more about you and your farm.

Below are some examples of great signage at Farmer’s Markets.












BOOTH IDEA #3: Clear Product Signage

Make sure each product is named with what it is, perhaps a little something about it (e.g. organic, vegan, hand made etc.) and the price.

Signage should be able to be read from three to five feet away, not covered by your tables and products from view and it should be secure and durable.

This blog post from the Government of Alberta made a good point: “Customers are less likely to trust ven-dors who do not display their business name and who don’t have product signage listing prices.”

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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.

Farmers Market Marketing Series #6: 76 Real World Examples of Farmer’s Using Social Media

farmer-social-mediaIn researching for this blog, I discovered some gems of how farmers were using social media.

But it raises the important question. Why use social media? And what should you post anyway?

I don’t think you need social media as a farmer.

I don’t think it’s going to be the engine that drives the most business.

But, if you’re on it already and you don’t mind putting in an hour or two per week at the most, it can help to deepen your relationships with your customers in ways that were totally unavailable to us until about ten years ago.

The main reason, in my mind, to use social media as a farmer is to establish what’s called the Know, Like, Trust Factor. This means that they know about you first and come to feel warm feelings towards you but also that you are credible and honest in their minds. Social media helps to establish (sometimes) and deepen (always) the relationship you have with your customers. It’s a way for them to get to know you better, learn about your farm and come to more deeply appreciate all that you do. Social media can help them understand your unique point of view.

In all of this, remember the Three C’s of Social Media. You can create content, but you can also curate it and start up conversations. The way you curate it, what you choose and how you frame it, tells them a lot more than just posting pictures from your farm.

The more deeply connected they feel to you, the more likely they’re going to go to your booth.

Some Things I Noticed from Reviewing Social Media Feeds from Dozens of Farms:

  • Whatever you decide to post, and you’ll discover a wealth of options below, write something to go along with it to give context to what you’re posting. What is it about? Why is it important? Help sell the thing you’re posting. Why does it matter.
  • When you post photos of you, make sure they’re good photos. Smiling helps. But don’t post photos that make you look scary or unfriendly. In my research, I saw a few of these.
  • Too much of any one of the types of post below will not be compelling. It’s important to have a variety. Some posts just build a sense of connection, some build trust and some directly sell. I viewed some feeds and there was a monotonous flavour to them. Always the same kinds of posts. Mix it up.
  • Share fun and quirky things that help them get to know you as a person and what you’re interested in. For example, if, like me, you’re a huge Doctor Who fan then, from time to time, share something about that. Help them to see you as a three dimensional human being, not just a farmer.
  • Good quality photos. I noticed that some farms photos were lacklustre

Most Important Things To Post to Build the Relationship:

Relationship Building Idea #1: Share memes, quotes, articles and videos about food, farming, nature, nutrition, cooking and anything else that ties into your farm’s philosophy and who you are. Educate them about why to eat more of what you sell. Help them see the value in it that they might not have seen before. Marketing is about establishing the value beyond the immediately apparent. The more of these you share (and memes are one the most shareable things you’ll post) the more they will get, over time, a sense of how you see the world and what is important to you.

Again, I’ve made up a starter kit for you here.

I think this should be at least 40% of your social media work. Sharing things you resonate with and think would resonate with your customers. This establishes you as a hub. It gives people a reason to check out your social media feed that’s self serving to them – finding cool stuff. Only your most die hard fans will check out your feed to see what’s going on for you all.

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Relationship Building Idea #2: Sharing updates and photos of your family, animals and the land on the farm. Help them understand what your life is like. What’s an average day for you. Make sure they’re seeing photos of you so they become familiar with your face. Don’t become a faceless farm. Let them get to know you and your personality. Let them get to know a bit of the characters on your farm. Show them the fun, beauty, struggle and hardship of your life. Open up to them and their hearts will open back to you. Your bio on your ‘About Us’ page can help in this too.

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Relationship Building Idea #4: Share recipes, cooking tips and give them ideas for new ways to prepare and enjoy what you sell. This should be at least 10% of what you post. At least. If they see a recipe they like using something you sell, you give them a very compelling reason to get it from you.

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Relationship Building Idea #5: Remind people about your events. We’ll be talking about this more in a future blog post in this series. But this might just be one of the best uses of social media – getting people to meet you face to face.

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Relationship Building Idea #6: Share your story and point of view. I don’t see this done enough and I probably don’t do enough of it myself either. This could be written or you could just make a video with your smart phone and upload it and share your thought of the day. What’s on your mind? What are you noticing? Why you do things the way you do? What is your philosophy around food and farming and where did it come from? Consider going on a rant.

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Relationship Building Idea #7: Educate people about what goes into your products and what they are. We assume they know so much more about what we do than they actually do. Educate, educate, educate.

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Relationship Building Idea #8: Be an advocate. Keep people up to date on larger trends and struggles in the farming community. Again, this establishes you and your social media presence as a hub. If all you do is share photos of your farm or promote your stuff people will lose interest. Remember: most of your customers are, at some level, interested in the same things you are. They are passionate about the same causes: food security, local food, treating animals well, getting back to the land etc. So be a source of current, up to date, cutting edge thought on these issues. Let them know what’s happening in the world and what they can do about it. They’ll be grateful and trust you more. You can read more blog posts on this notion of speaking to the Bigger Why here.

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Most Important Things To Post to Make Money:

Money Making Post Idea #1: Share beautifully done photos of your produce and products. Help them picture what it is you do. What does it look like. Don’t just be a generic farm that ‘grows food’. Keep reminding and showing them.

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Money Making Post Idea #2: Announce new products and services and time sensitive availabilities. These are the posts that will make you money directly.

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Money Making Post Idea #3: Seasonal Promotional Tie Ins. If there’s a holiday approaching, why not remind them how perfectly what you sell might fit into their existing plans? It’s amazing how many of your customers will need something (e.g flowers) for a special day (e.g. Mother’s Day) and totally forget that you offer them! Remind them with enough lead time and they might just bring that business to you.

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Other Things to Post to Add Variety:

Variety Adding Post #1: Introduce people to those working on your farm. Remember, most of your customers will never go out to your farm. They don’t have any sense of who picked their food and brought it to them. They will, likely, only ever know the people at the stall at the Farmer’s Market. Why not have a professional photographer come out to your farm on a day when all of your staff will be there. Have them take photos of the farm but also of all your workers, volunteers and interns and then, once a week or month, post their photo and a little, glowing write up about who they are? Help your customers get to know you.

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Variety Adding Post #2: Shout outs to colleagues and complimentary businesses and products you think your customers would love. This helps establish you as a hub and someone who is ‘in the know’ but also demonstrates good will and that you aren’t just in it for yourself. Again, you could do these once per week or month. Your customers love being introduced to new products and services. If you introduce them to a bunch of new things they love, they will not only thank you but come to trust your taste in things. It builds a halo of trustworthiness around you that will also translate to their trust in you and what you do.

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Variety Adding Post #3: Let them know what events you’ll be at. If you’re going to have your food served where or will be vending or speaking at an event, outside of your regular farmer’s markets, let them know!

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Variety Adding Post #4: Contests: Run a contest, tie it into an existing day, raise money for charity and feature your customers.

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Variety Adding Post #5: Share the ideas you have for developing to make your farm better. Them knowing this will build confidence in who you are and what you’re about. It will help them see, in practical terms, how much you care for your animals and the food you grow.

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Variety Adding Post #6: Share pieces of history and remind people of your story. I like the idea of going back to old photos, news clippings or journal entries and sharing them.

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Variety Adding Post #7: Do a poll! As for opinions and guidance. What direction should you go as a farm? You don’t need to base your opinions on it but it will give you more information and help them feel more invested in your farm.

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Variety Adding Post #8: Share when you’re in the media (and remind people they can buy from you while you’re at it). Whenever you’re featured in the media it’s tremendously credibility building and legitimizing of you and your work. It’s another way to share your story.

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Variety Adding Post #9: Share photos from the Farmer’s Market. So simple. Do this once per week. Take a photo of arriving or setting up or selling or packing down for the day. Mix it up. But help them get to know what your farm stand looks like. Help them remember who you are and what you look like and what you’re selling. These posts will also be greatly appreciated by the Farmer’s Market managers.

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Variety Adding Post #10: Share big accomplishments that might be of interest to your customers. Again, it’s so easy to forget that not everyone knows about these things unless we tell them. So tell them.

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Variety Adding Post #11: Let people know when there’s something worth watching on TV, Netflix or in theatres. Again, this establishes you as a hub of good content. If they watch one or two things you recommend and end up loving them, you will go way up in their esteem. They will trust you more because they understand your point of view more deeply. They will come to understand that, “Wow. These people really understand the whole food system.” They’ll be more likely to check out what you post.

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Variety Adding Post #12: Saying ‘Thank You’. Enough said.

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Variety Adding Post #13: Limited Supply Announcements! Let people know when your supplies are running low and why they’re running low. And make sure to let them know where they can go to order.

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Variety Adding Post #14: Let them know where you’ll be next and give them a reason to come to your booth. Will you be offering free samples? Something home cooked? Do you have a new joke that they need to hear?

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I’d also strongly recommend checking out Modern Farmer’s Instagram account.

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.