Starting a farmers market is a challenging task with numerous issues to be tackled and activities to sequence. While generating a customer and vendor base is clearly fundamental to the successful establishment of a farmers market, there are also key administrative foundations that should be established if the market is to get off on the right foot and have long-term viability.
This publication addresses the administrative foundations that should be put in place to help promote the successful establishment and continuity of a farmers market. It assumes that the preliminary step of ascertaining the feasibility of the market has been completed.1 The remainder of this publication addresses six key foundational issues:
A list of further resources is provided at the conclusion of the publication.
Markets in some stage of establishment typically have an informal committee that exists to organize the market, often comprised of those enthusiastic people whose idea it was to establish a market in the first place. If such a group exists, its membership should be reviewed, and it should be formalized into a governing board. If no such committee exists, then one should be created. The board will be key in making policy decisions, as well as guiding the market manager in day-to-day decisions that might arise.
The board should have a combination of “ideas people” and “details people,” and it should have representation from all major groups that will be affected by the market, for example: vendors, consumers, city government, and local businesses. In general, the board should not be dominated by any specific group, although some experts recommend that vendors be given a slight majority because they are directly affected by the policies adopted.
Though broad representation is important, it is more important that people brought onto the board be enthusiastic about and supportive of the market and bring needed skills and resources to it, rather than simply filling vacancies. Thus, if the right representative of a particular group is not available at the outset, it is worthwhile to keep searching for someone who can fill that role. If an extended period of time passes without finding the right person, this can be an indication of deeper issues that might affect the market, such as a lack of support for the market from that stakeholder group.
The development of the board will likely be an ongoing activity during the first months of the farmers market’s startup and will likely evolve hand-in-hand with other activities, including the development of the market’s mission and goals. It is crucial that all members of the board subscribe to the mission of the farmers market because different stakeholders can have different interests in the market. The core philosophy regarding the purpose and potential of the market must be shared by different stakeholder representatives if larger and day-to-day policy issues are to be resolved productively.
As the governing board for the market is established, the next step is to articulate a mission and goals for the market. This step is particularly important as farmers markets can be driven by numerous and potentially conflicting motivations. Deciding on a common agenda during startup can help avoid later confusion and conflicts that could potentially cripple the market.
The mission is key. It defines why the market exists, whom it is intended to benefit, and other fundamental issues. The mission should be inspirational, and the more that people who are involved with the market (vendors, customers, and other stakeholders) identify with and subscribe to the mission, the smoother and more effectively the market can be managed.
Your mission should address the following:
In considering these questions, you might start by asking yourself: What benefits can a farmers market offer? If you take time to brainstorm a list, you might come up with answers like “provide fresh, high-quality food,” “support local growers,” “promote downtown revitalization,” and “build community.” These answers include elements of both “what to do” and “to what end.”
Next is the question of what the market will do. What will be the primary activities of the farmers market? “To provide fresh, quality, local food and agricultural products” might be one of the primary objectives of some markets.
Finally, think of who will be involved: Consumers and producers will be central and can be viewed as both the people who make the market happen and those who benefit from it; thus, they are both participants and beneficiaries.
Consider, too, the geographic scope that you hope will encompass the participants and beneficiaries you will target. Will they be coming from your city or county only, or from surrounding counties as well? Will the market be a draw for day-trippers and tourists? Establishing this scope in your mission will help later when you face important strategic and operational decisions.
These issues can generate controversy, and their resolution will be eased if deliberation can be clearly linked to the core and mutually agreed-upon values that are outlined in the mission statement.
Now you need to sort and prioritize your lists. Ultimately, you should articulate a mission that combines the above-described elements of what to do, for whom, and to what end in a way that is simple, clear, and inspiring. Mission statements should be kept in a visible place to help remind everyone of the overarching goal of the farmers market.
The mission of many farmers markets focuses on the following:
Several sample mission statements are shown in the following box.
Note that profit doesn’t figure prominently in any of the above mission statements! In fact, few farmers markets exist with the primary purpose of generating a profit for the market. This doesn’t mean, however, that the market shouldn’t be guided by key business principles.
In fact, a farmers market startup should include the creation of a business plan. The creation of and adherence to a business plan does not mean that a farmers market must be a for-profit venture; rather, the business plan will force the board to consider cold reality and also to cover all the bases. For example, a business plan identifies financial, labor, and managerial needs, among others, and determines available resources. These same factors need to be addressed to successfully set up a farmers market as much as they need to be addressed for any successful business startup.
Resources for starting a farmers market and business planning are provided at the end of the publication.
Sample Mission Statements
“The mission of the [ABC] Farmers Market is to promote the exchange of fresh, quality, local food and agricultural products between the agricultural
“The mission of the [ABC] Regional Farmers Market is to bring together local growers and artisans who produce the highest-quality goods for the
“The Town of [ABC] Farmers Market serves as a center of activity in downtown [ABC] by providing a variety of high-quality local produce and handmade goods from [ABC]. Vendors seek to create an enjoyable atmosphere that serves not only the market but also contributes to a prosperous downtown and promotes a sense of community within the town. The farmers market aims to weave commercial, educational, and social activities to make the market a vital civic institution for [ABC].”
Goals contribute specifics to what might be a lofty mission statement, thus helping to make it operable. They help the board and the manager to objectively evaluate how the market is performing and plan for the future. Goals are outcomes that will be pursued as part of achieving the overall mission and will help to determine whether or not the market is achieving its mission. Having clear goals that support the market’s mission will help the board and the manager stay sane!
In order for goals to help in the management of a farmers market, they should specify a time frame during which they will be achieved, and it should be possible to objectively determine whether they have been achieved or not during that time frame. Thus, goals should be objective and measurable. Like the mission, goals should be referred to often and revised as needed.
Examples of specific goals are a target number of vendors, sales targets for a season, or a target number of customers to be reached in a week of operations. If goals are not fulfilled within the allotted period of time, it is important to assess why and to make changes either to the activities or the to goals themselves if it is determined that they were unreasonable or inappropriate.
Once a mission and goals are identified, the next steps are to establish market bylaws and rules.
Market bylaws formally define the identity of the market, its administrative structure, and the processes by which changes to this administrative structure will take place. The timing and establishment of bylaws may be affected by the organizational structure that the market takes (LLC, cooperative, etc.). Bylaws will typically specify:
An example of market bylaws is provided in appendix A.
Market rules guide the day-to-day administration of the market. Too often, committees jump right to the creation of rules when they start a market. Instead, it is essential that market rules be established after the other foundational elements of the market – in particular, the mission and goals – are established. Market rules frequently include the following elements:
I. Product and producer eligibility and requirements
A. Target product/vendor mix
B. Product and producer eligibility
2.Product types (agricultural, foods, crafts, etc.)
3.Resale of products
4.Specific products allowed/not allowed and rules pertaining to them (e.g., compliance with inspection, etc.)
5. Insurance requirements
C. Vendor application and selection process
D. Required/allowed signage
E. Other requirements (donation of surplus, gleaning, etc.)
F. Commitment to season and schedule.
G. Cancellation/notification period
A. Days and times of operation
B. Setup, opening and closing times, responsibilities
C. Signs, displays, merchandising
D. Stall/booth/exhibit space assignments
III. Fees, insurance, and tax requirements
IV. Market services and responsibilities
A. Services provided by market
1. Booths (numbers and types available)
2. Trash collection
3. Water, electricity
B. Market manager role, responsibilities, and authority
An example of market rules is provided in appendix B.
The market manager serves as the day-to-day administrator of the market and is the key interface between vendors, customers, board members, and others who are affected by or involved with the market. The market manager’s responsibilities are broad, and an effective manager will have a variety of strengths relating to his or her organizational and managerial responsibilities.
Responsibilities of the market manager include but are not limited to:
The author thanks Amber Vallotton, McGann (Mac) Saphir, Stan Ernst, and Alex White for their constructive reviews of the paper prior to its publication. Funding for the work was provided by a specialty agriculture grant through the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
1If not, Purdue University Extension Service’s publication, Starting a Farmers Market, addresses evaluating the feasibility of starting and operating a
successful farmers market. Available at: www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia/EC/EC-739.pdf.
Hofmann, Christa, and Jennifer Dennis. 2007. Starting a Farmers Market. Purdue University Extension publication EC-739. Available online at: www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia/EC/EC-739.pdf.
This publication from Purdue University Extension provides a timeline for starting a farmers market, including establishing interest, size, location, market operations, money, rules, and promotion.
Jolly, Desmond, ed. 2005. Starting a New Farmers Market. University of California-Davis Farmers Market Management Series. Davis, Calif.: U.C. Small Farm Program publications. Available online at: www.sfc.ucdavis.edu/farmers_market/management1/.
A comprehensive guide to starting a farmers market.
Swisher, M. E., James Sterns, and Jennifer Gove. Revised 2006.Starting a Farmers’ Market. Florida Cooperative Extension Service publication FCS5257-Eng. Available online at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FY/FY63900.pdf.
This publication from Florida Cooperative Extension lists eight important steps needed to start a farmers market. It also includes useful facts about farmers markets and government programs, legal information, examples of bylaws and rules for a farmers market, and links to websites of farmers markets.
Nelson, Beth, Caitrin Mullan, Jill O’Neill, and Debra Elias Morse. 2004. Business Planning, Marketing and Management. In Resources for Beginning Farmers: Building a Sustainable Future, 13-24. Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Research. St. Paul, Minn.: University of Minnesota. Available online at: www.misa.umn.edu/vd/bfarmers.html.
Virginia Cooperative Extension – Provides access to publications, local Extension offices, educational resources and programs, and news. Information can be obtained about farmers markets in general by using the search tool provided on the website. Available at: www.ext.vt.edu/.
Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) – Provides information on marketing services throughout Virginia. Information is available on any number of products, regulatory agencies, consumer organizations, and state, local, and federal government. Under the marketing services link, information is available about many different publications and events in Virginia. Available at: www.vdacs.virginia.gov/.
Virginia Farmers Direct Marketing Association – Encourages and supports direct marketing in Virginia; the home page provides a list of upcoming conferences. By searching the website, users can locate the resource guide or join the association. Available at: http://vfdma.org/.
Direct Marketing Resource Guides: Farmers Markets – Resources available through the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education website. It provides access to a collection of publications on farmers markets. Print subscriptions available at: http://wsare.usu.edu/pub/index.cfm?sub=mktresults&PrintID=2.
Growing for Market – Print and online subscriptions available at: www.growingformarket.com.
Farmers Market Coalition Resource Library – Provides a database of information on farmers markets. Available at: www.farmersmarketcoalition.org/resources/resource-library/?cat_id=4.
Farmers Markets Today – A bimonthly publication for direct-to-consumer farmers offered in both electronic and print form. Available at: www.farmersmarketstoday.com.
National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service – Provides resources for market organizers and sellers. It contains publications on organizing a farmers market and federal assistance programs, and links to other resources. Available at http://attar.ncat.org/attar-pub/.html .
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, Farmers Markets and Local Food Marketing – This farmers market resource site is a good starting point – whether you are starting a market or have run one for years. From this website, you can find information about farmers markets, market growth, National Farmers Market Week, government funding, promotion programs, trends, a resource guide, and more. Available at: www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets.
Bachmann, Janet. 2008. Farmers Markets: Marketing and Business Guide. ATTRA – National Sustainable Agriculture Service publication IP146. Available at: http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/farmmarket.html.
Eckert, Jane, and Diane Kline. 2003. Fresh Grown Promotions: Easy Ideas to Make Money on Your Farm! Eckert AgriMarketing. St. Louis, Mo.: F. E. Robbins & Sons Press.
Gibson, Eric. 1994. Sell What You Sow! The Grower’s Guide to Successful Produce Marketing. Auburn, Calif.: New World Publishing.
Gibson, Eric, Marcie Rosenzweig, and Vance Corum. 2001. The New Farmers Market. Auburn, Calif.: New World Publishing.
Hamilton, Neil D. 1999. The Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing. Des Moines, Iowa: Drake University Agricultural Law Center.
Horowitz, Shel. Revised 2000. Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green.
A resource for any kind of small business – including horticultural businesses – the book has ideas for low-cost or free publicity. Topics include creating an image, writing ad copy and press releases, tricks of the printing trade to save money on brochures and ads, direct mail, selling on the Internet, working with the media, and much more.
Myers, Ginger S. 2005. Baler Twine and Duct Tape Marketing: A Primer to Increasing Sales for the Budget-Minded Entrepreneur. Howard County Economic Development Authority. Columbia, Md.: F. E. Robbins & Sons Press.
(As amended April 3, 2007)
The name of this Association shall be the XYZ Valley HomeGrown Markets Association.
This Association is a Virginia nonprofit organization under the provisions of Chapter 10 of Title 13.1 of the Code of Virginia, as amended.
The purposes for which the Association is organized are to engage in any activity in connection with the marketing or selling of the agricultural products of its members. The Association intends to:
The offices of Secretary and Treasurer may be held by the same person.
There shall be appointed various committees, members, and a chairperson for each committee by the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors shall delegate duties to the respective committees.
The ABC County Farmers Market creates the opportunity for people to buy locally grown and produced products.
The ABC County Farmers Market:
Participation is open to growers, harvesters, bakers, makers of prepared food, and artisans (hereafter, “the vendors”) in the following counties: ABC and XYZ. The Market strives to be a producers-only market. Vendors must participate in production of the product they sell.
Location: Downtown ABC
Selling season: June through October
Day(s) of the week: Saturday
Hours of operation: 8 a.m.-12 p.m.
The Market Manager shall enforce all the rules and regulations of the market and work with the vendors to assist in their success. The Market Manager or her/his representative will be present at the market during operation. If questions or problems arise on market day, they will be resolved by the Market Manager.
Market-day responsibilities include the following:
The Market Manager shall be aware of all health and sanitation Rules and Regulations affecting open-air farmers markets.
The ABC County Farmers Market is primarily a producer-only market.
A producer is defined as the person who grows or makes the product and may also include the producer’s immediate family, partners, employees, or local cooperatives.
The ABC County Farmers Market gives preference to 100 percent grower/producer goods over resale goods.
Farmers and food producers are given priority over artisans at the market.
Permanent vendors must annually submit a market application to the Market Manager. Applications may be modified or updated during the season.
Guest vendors must submit a market application the day of their participation to the Market Manager.
Included within the permanent and guest vendor application is a “hold harmless” agreement that the vendor must sign. This agreement means the producer will hold ABC County Farmers Market and its representatives harmless concerning product liability or other factors that relate specifically to the vendor’s business practice.
Permanent vendors must commit to the entire market season (June through October) and participate on a regular basis (a minimum of 80 percent of market days). Produce availability may limit market beginning and ending dates. Guest vendors will participate based on the discretion of the Market Manager.
Vendors may be charged fees to cover the operating costs and related expenses to assure the viability and quality of the market.
The Market Manager will make vendor space assignments in a fair and equitable manner based on the needs of the market, seniority, previous attendance, sales volume, and term of commitment.
A vendor space is defined as a designated area not to exceed 10 feet wide.
Vendors may begin to set up at 7 a.m. and are required to be completed by 8 a.m. Vendors are required to stay until the market closes at noon.
Vendors are required to stop selling at 12 p.m. They must leave their spaces clean and remove their displays and trucks by 12:45 p.m.
Vendors shall not sell before the opening hour of the market day.
Tables, tents, canopies, pop-ups, umbrellas, signs, and display items must be in good condition.
At no time shall the safety or convenience of customers or vendors be compromised by any vendor’s display.
Vendors will clearly display prices of all items and post their farm’s name and location. Posting of current licenses, certifications, and inspections is highly recommended. At a minimum, vendors should have copies available at their sites.
The ABC County Farmers Market strives to be a regional, producer-only market with an emphasis on agricultural products.
It is understood that some ingredients such as spices, sugar, and other minor ingredients used in the preparation of products may not be available for purchase locally. However, the final product must be locally produced in its entirety.
Along with this goal is the aim of the market to meet the expectations of the customers with the appropriate mix of products suitable for the market, which will be determined by the Market Manager or her/his representative.
All products in the following categories must originate within the following counties: ABC and XYZ.
Complete grower/producer origin – These goods must be personally grown/produced only by the vendor, vendor’s employees, or primary family members.
Limited grower/producer origin – These goods must originate in the counties listed but may be grown/produced by partners on land or facilities not owned by the vendor. This includes crops harvested by the vendor from “you-pick” farms.
All home-prepared consumable products must meet Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) Rules and Regulations.
Vendors set their own prices and are responsible for accurately representing their products. All scales or weighing devices must have a current and valid certification sticker signed by the Virginia Department of Weights and Measures.
Produce must be fresh, of the best quality, and locally grown – preferably by organic principles. Overripe vegetables and fruits must be labeled and marked as suitable for sauce or preserves.
Products should highlight local produce, seasonal ingredients, and be freshly prepared by the vendor.
Beverages and other products for consumption at the market – including items offered as samples – must comply with VDACS and/or health department regulations.
Honey and bee pollen must be from the beekeeper’s own hives but may be processed and bottled off-farm.
All meat products must be 100 percent from animals raised from weaning by the farmer. Animals may be butchered or processed off-farm. Meat must be certified and/or inspected.
Milk must be from the dairy’s own herd or creamery. Cheese and other dairy products must be made by the vendor.
Eggs must be from the farmer’s own fowl. Eggs must be cleaned and labeled according to VDACS instructions. Labels that include the name of the farm and date of collection are recommended.
The grower must grow potted plants and cut material. Potted plants and cut plant material must not be on the state or federal list of invasive or rare and endangered plants published by the Division of Natural Heritage.
Candles, soaps, creams, lotions, massage oils, insect repellents, and scrubs must be made by the vendor from locally grown and produced ingredients.
Dried flower or herb bouquets, decorative berries, fruit, pods, cones, pumpkins, and wreaths should be produced from materials grown or gathered on the vendor’s property.
Vendors are required to ensure that their insurance will cover off-site sales.
When applicable, attach the appropriate state/USDA inspection certificates.
Vendors must visibly display any licenses, certifications, and permits required by law for all products. The collection and filing of all related taxes is the responsibility of the individual vendor.
Each vendor must abide by all state and federal regulations that govern the production, harvest, preparation, preservation, labeling, or safety of products offered for sale at the Market. Vendors are liable for their own products.
1. Vendors will be responsible for the collection and removal of all refuse generated from sales at their space.
2. The use of tobacco products, alcohol, or illegal substances is not permitted at the Market.
3. Behavior by vendors or customers judged to be disruptive or detrimental to the peaceful operation of the Market will not be allowed.
4. Small children brought to the Market by vendors must be kept under the supervision of a designated adult.
5. Any unsafe or unsanitary conditions should be brought to the immediate attention of the Market Manager.
6. No live animals, fowl, or fish may be sold at the Market.
7. No pets, with the exception of assistance dogs, are allowed at the market.
8. Any accident or injury must be immediately reported to the Market Manager and to 911.
9. Neither ABC County Farmers Market nor its representatives are responsible for damage or loss of any personal belongings.
10. Anyone who participates in the market – whether vendor, customer, or otherwise – attends at his/her own risk. Vendors will operate at their own risk and assume liability from the customers.
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Interim Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.
April 27, 2010