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How to build foot traffic for a small town Farmer's Market  RSS feed

 
Merry Bolling
Posts: 25
Location: USA, Arkansas, zone 7b
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Hi Zach and fellow permies!
My husband & I retired to a small town (5000+ people) and are looking at selling our excess garden produce (and hopefully planning, if profitable, an extensive garden expansion). Our local Farmer's Market typically has 1-3 vendors and very light foot traffic. As in, we are often the only buyers there when we stop by. Larger, busier Farmer's Markets are a minimum of 80 miles away (one way) and the cost of transportation would put us at a pricing disadvantage compared to the vendors that live nearby.

We're unsure of the reasons behind the lack of foot traffic at our local Farmer's Market. Based on the conversations we've had, many people grew up with parents or grandparents that had large kitchen gardens, but most of them don't grow their own produce now. Of those that do garden, some are organic, some think nothing of using pesticides. People shop for food at WalMart or the one other grocery store. Both stores have small organic produce sections, but are mainly limited to lettuce mixes, greens & carrots. There is often a choice between organic or commercially grown strawberries or blueberries. This is a lower income area with quite a few retirees.    

So, how do we figure out why our Farmer's Market has so few people attending?...and how can we help build foot traffic without it becoming another part-time job on our ever-expanding To Do List? Any suggestions would be appreciated!
 
Mike Jay
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Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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How about putting up advertising fliers in local churches, the library and other public places.  Maybe highlight how people should go to the farmer's market to get food that tastes like it did when they were kids (perhaps aiming at the retirees).
 
Merry Bolling
Posts: 25
Location: USA, Arkansas, zone 7b
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Thanks for the idea, Mike.  Certainly worth a try!
 
Claire Battaglia
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Hi Merry,

I have helped to manage several farmers markets and have a few suggestions of things to think about:

1. Finding out (as much as possible) why people aren't going to the farmers market would be helpful. The best strategy for determining this is simply talking to as many people as you can. Ask why they don't go and what would motivate them to go.

2. Making the market a "place to be" can be really effective. Is there a way to get a local musician to play for an hour or so? Providing coffee (either by recruiting a dedicated coffee vendor or having current vendors take turns bringing some) and a comfortable place to sit and chat can be a great draw. A really small market can't compete w/ a supermarket in terms of diversity of product/quantity so it's helpful to think about what you offer that they can't. Usually this is quality of product, which you can (and should!) emphasize but this can also be experience. If you can make the market a nice place to spend an hour, where people can have a cup of coffee and chat and feel like they're a part of a community, they will come back (and bring their friends!).

3. Recruiting vendors can be helpful. I've found that a lot of people prefer to shop at the supermarket because they can get everything they need in one place. If your market is mostly vegetables, recruiting someone w/ eggs or meat could be a big selling point. Or, going back to the idea of making the market a place to be, having a coffee and/or baked goods vendor is always a draw.

These are just a few things that come to mind; the Farmers Market Coalition (https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/) is a great resource for market development and has a lot dedicated to increasing traffic.

Good luck!
 
Zach Loeks
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Location: Cobden, ON
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Farmers markets in rural areas will have more traffic if they are:

Near an urban area
Near cottage country
Have reputation as destination

Bring something to the market that is amazing and get in newspapers talking about it and promoting the market.

🌿Zach
IMG_8139.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_8139.JPG]
Outline of book
 
Angelika Maier
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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You might have to take over the orgnisation of the market or at least help. A market with 1-3 vendors is not a market. No one would go there. It depends really on the location how many stalls you need. You can ask someone to bask as well, but who would do that in such a tiny market? I think yhou would need at least 15-20 stalls to make it viable. Than means in order to make it work you have to contact a lot of people and ask weather they want to try it. The fees have to be very low because it is not a good market. There is a huge difference what you can make on a good and on a bad market.
 
Merry Bolling
Posts: 25
Location: USA, Arkansas, zone 7b
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Wow! Lots to think about and lots of researching / talking to people to do. Thanks, Claire, Zach (table in book helpful), & Angelika! At first blush, it seems like too much work to do for the money we would potentially make; we are also considering what we could supply to local restaurants, especially during the Summer & Fall tourist times (small, but growing). We've also thought about what products we could grow that transport well, selling long distance via internet or to wholesalers.
 
But we keep coming back to the Farmer's Market option. Our community could really use a thriving, vibrant Farmer's Market. A place to hang out and visit with neighbors (currently WalMart). A place to buy quality, healthy foods. A place for tourists to mingle with locals and feel a part of the place. At least during the tourist season, the Farmer's Market might become part of the "reputation as destination" mentioned by Zach (wasn't sure what you meant by being near cottage country though, could you clarify?). 

Like I said, lots to think about...and we thought things would slow down for us in "retirement." 
 
Marco Banks
Posts: 513
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Claire Battaglia wrote:Hi Merry,

I have helped to manage several farmers markets and have a few suggestions of things to think about:

1. Finding out (as much as possible) why people aren't going to the farmers market would be helpful. The best strategy for determining this is simply talking to as many people as you can. Ask why they don't go and what would motivate them to go.

2. Making the market a "place to be" can be really effective. Is there a way to get a local musician to play for an hour or so? Providing coffee (either by recruiting a dedicated coffee vendor or having current vendors take turns bringing some) and a comfortable place to sit and chat can be a great draw. A really small market can't compete w/ a supermarket in terms of diversity of product/quantity so it's helpful to think about what you offer that they can't. Usually this is quality of product, which you can (and should!) emphasize but this can also be experience. If you can make the market a nice place to spend an hour, where people can have a cup of coffee and chat and feel like they're a part of a community, they will come back (and bring their friends!).

3. Recruiting vendors can be helpful. I've found that a lot of people prefer to shop at the supermarket because they can get everything they need in one place. If your market is mostly vegetables, recruiting someone w/ eggs or meat could be a big selling point. Or, going back to the idea of making the market a place to be, having a coffee and/or baked goods vendor is always a draw.

These are just a few things that come to mind; the Farmers Market Coalition (https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/) is a great resource for market development and has a lot dedicated to increasing traffic.

Good luck!


^^ This ^^

I love going to a farmer's market if there is someone playing live music (a small sound system, two microphones, an open guitar case for tips), and if there is a place to get a good cup of coffee.

Getting larger community buy-in is important.  Is there a local baker who would be willing to set up a table with breads and sweets?  Is there a local coffee house that would set up a table with a couple of choices of coffee and tea for purchase?  Are the local Girl Scouts selling cookies?  Get them out there, and that'll bring their parents.  Are there local artists who would set up a table and display their ceramics/paintings/carvings, etc?  What about other community organizations that are looking for exposure?  The blood mobile, the local High School choir, Boy Scouts selling whatever they sell to earn money for the summer Jamboree, church groups raising money for a mission trip, crafty people selling Christmas crap, etc.

Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.  Even having a local restaurant or two present selling sandwiches or soup or whatever . . . people are more likely to stop and linger if there are 20 tables than if there are 3.

A local bee guy selling honey.
A florist selling some flowers.
The local pet shelter with puppies for adoption.
Local music teachers who teach guitar, fiddle, piano . . . whatever . . . and willing to take an hour of stage time in exchange for advertising for their business and exposure for their students.
Same with the local dance studio.
The local dude who makes his own venison jerky and sausage.
The local micro-brewery with their bottled wares for sale (if it's OK to sell alcohol at such a market).

The possibilities are endless.

You might want to limit how often you are out there, so it creates a bit of a demand --- the first and third Saturday of the month from 9:00 till 1:00 -- something like that.
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
Posts: 917
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Thre are some companies hre who orgnize markets for a living... So it could not be only volunteering. A bee guy always draws attention.
And it exposes you in the local community if you organize such a thing. Is there a chamber of commerce?
I sell plants and selling is really half of it. Producing is easier!
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