Creating a Vibrant Farmers Market. Always looking for the balance. The “Sweet Spot”

I receive a lot of calls, emails and personal visits at markets from folks that want to start a farmers market. As the President of the Missouri Farmers Market Association my contact information is available and “that title” sort of welcomes folks to feel free to ask those questions and make those inquiries. Many of the MFMA Board members get these inquiries and more often than not, we refer these people to the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s web page where we have helped create, edit and update a lengthy, detailed, pdf Farmers Market Handbook. It’s a very helpful publication. But still, there’s nothing like first hand knowledge, information and insight from experienced, boots on the ground market managers when it comes to giving practical information and guidance on “how to start a farmers market”.

Or better yet, “how to start a SUCCESSFUL farmers market”?? Yes, I have received that request. So what does it take to create a successful farmers market? It’s the “sweet spot”!

In this area (St Louis City, County, far West County, Franklin and Jefferson County) a lot of farmers markets have recently sprung up. I look at it as good news/bad news. It depends on ones point of view as well as the lifestyle and habits of the community. My mantra has always  been that first and foremost a farmers market MUST be a place of commerce. It must not only be a community event space, but a place where goods are bought and sold and relationships are created around those transactions. Farmers markets are cool and trendy and popular. Seasonal, fresh, local food, food directly bought from farmers can also fall into that same frame of thinking. I love so many aspects of this and I take advantage of that trendiness and popularity. But it goes beyond that.

How can we all create and be a partner in a successful farmers market in our communities? As a customer it will mean to plan ahead to visit the market on those certain days and times of the week and to plan meals and menus around what’s in season and locally produced. It can mean shopping for gifts, household and personal care items at the local farmers market. It can mean stopping on the way home from work or at meal time to grab some prepared food to go or eat at the market,  fresh food to take home and food for the freezer.

What it means for me as the manager is that I need to look for, seek out and create relationships with a variety of local producers. I need to create an inviting event space for both vendors and customers. I need to create marketing, advertising, social media posts and information to the customers. For the vendors, a strong sense of trust needs to be built (earned)  as well as knowing and sharing LOTS of information on regulations and any permitting.

There’s a lot of other pieces such as parking for vendors and customers, special events, live music, kids programs, etc etc etc

I am constantly working toward that “sweet spot”. This is by doing my best to attract the right mix and amount of vendors and customers to equal that ever important place of commerce. The customers need and want a variety of quality vendors and the vendors need a good number of customers to support their hard work, hours of preparation and small businesses that they set up each week.

So, in a nutshell what does this all mean?
1) Vendors have a lot of farmers markets to chose from these days. Days of the week, weekend, times of day, location and event spaces.
2) Vendors MUST have time to rest, plant, produce, take care of personal needs and still earn an income. With so many markets available right now, vendors have more markets to choose from.
3) Customers must economically support vendors at their local market in order for the vendors to make enough income to stay at that particular market.
4) When a market is producer only it will mean that fresh, local, seasonal produce is ALL that is available. Learning the seasons of certain fruits and vegetables can be a little tricky. The fruits and veggies and the timing of their harvest is extremely weather dependent. Going to the market with a list is helpful, but having a PLAN B of what other options you might purchase and take home instead is a great idea. Meats, baked goods, honey, preserves, pickles, salsas, eggs tea blends, herbs and spice blends, yarn and fiber crafts, soap and other handmade items should always be available at the local markets.
5) Have FUN! The markets I manage MUST be fun! A positive vibe! A market can be a place of comaraderie  centered around the local food and artisan community.
6) Information and education- I LOVE inspiring and educating folks about the market producers, about sustainable, regenerative food systems, about kids and cooking, sharing recipe ideas and more

My hope is to continue throughout the season to grow the market into a market that fits this community. My hope is that we find that “sweet spot” of vendors and customers and a great market space for ALL!
Stop by Point Labaddie on Thursdays, shop with the vendors, buy a beer or other beverage, enjoy a bite to eat, listen to music, enjoy your time with us and take home a grocery bag of local goodness to enjoy throughout the week, until next time.

OH yes, one more thing for now. The farmers market goes on each week, rain or shine. There’s always food to harvest and product to sell. Terrible winds or lightning will mean that we might move the market vendors inside once in a while. Hopefully it won’t happen often. Just remember to come and support the market rain or shine.

I will have a weekly market blog, market report, occasional stories, recipes and more on the Facebook page and website.
I look forward to seeing you at the market.

Thank you.
René
Market Manager