One of the most powerful trends that’s swept across the greater American consumer landscape in recent years has been the rise of food awareness. People value quality produce and meats like never before and want to know where their meals are really coming from. The popularity of farmers markets are just an expression of that reality. In 2012 alone, local food sales were valued at roughly $7 billion in the United States. Clearly, there’s money to be made in this niche sector. If you want to launch your own farmers market and reap the benefits, use the following general guidelines.
Do a Little Market Research
Before you get started, you’ll need to work out the demand for local produce in your area. More importantly, you’ll need to figure out the kinds of local organic produce that’s most in demand. Using online surveys and polls is a good way to gauge interest. On the ground intelligence is far better. Infiltrate or even join local cooking clubs and restaurant organizations to put your thumb on the pulse of the community. Once you know what people are looking for, you’ll know what kinds of produce vendors that you should go after.
Find a Space to Do Business
Local zoning issues aside, one can erect a farmers market at any location that features ample room for stalls and parking. It could be an open field or a parking lot depending on a variety of factors. Generally speaking, it’s best to set up a farmers market in an urban area so that vendors have access to the greatest amount of foot traffic possible. Talk to local chambers of commerce to see what they can do for you in terms of providing a relatively cheap place to set up shop for a day.
Line Up Your Produce Growers
The next thing that you’ll need to do is attract local farmers to your all-natural marketplace. This should be fairly easy if you’re good at networking and know how to canvass a community. Pass out flyers, talk to the regional farmers and entice small players to give your market a shot. The ideas is to assemble a diverse array of players that can provide a broad sampling of the local food. If they need some cajoling, offer them stall discounts to display their goods and market them to new buyers that could become long-term fans.
Get the Paperwork in Order
Sooner or later, you will need to handle the tax and regulatory issues no matter what business you happen to find yourself in. As always, contact your local health department to see if there are any health regulations that must be complied with. It’s probable that a local business license is required for tax purposes if your side business is going to be an ongoing thing. While you’re at it, set up a home office to crunch numbers, process invoices and collect or issue payments as need be for your daily, weekly or monthly events.
Make a Few Local Friends
At a certain point, you’ll need to really get the local agricultural community behind you if your markets are to be successful. Hooking up with a chapter of 4H isn’t a bad start. A better tack to take is identifying the biggest player in the local organic produce or meat market and convincing them to back your enterprise. You can do this in a variety of ways. For instance, you could promise to prominently advertise their own business while you’re promoting your own market. Once the “big dog” in the kennel is on your side, the rest of the pack tends to follow suit.
Launch with Some Fanfare
Merely slapping up a banner and distributing a few flyers isn’t enough to make your farmers market a success. You’ll need to make the inaugural event a real smash. Try charging vendors a bare minimum to set up shop and hock their wares. You may want to hire some entertainment while you’re at it to make it less of a mere market and more of a community event. Get a local band to play some tunes and spring for a pig roast on your dime. Better yet, organize a potluck to go with the buying and selling.
Market the Events Far and Wide
Once you’re a few events in, it’s time to market yourself like the Ringling Brothers. Start with the usual social media profiles on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Using Yelp to garner real reviews from actual attendees is often the best way to go. A great tactic is to print up brochures and tuck them into variety baskets offered by local purveyors of fine organic produce. Viral marketing via YouTube can really garner results if you know how to professionally produce and edit videos that can get attention from potential buyers across the country.
Flesh Out the Market with Extras
Your farmers market doesn’t have to be solely about farmer-to-consumer sales. It’s possible to bump up the profit potential by sponsoring classes and informative seminars. Many farmers like to spread their knowledge to the masses and would like a forum in which to do so. You could also use your farmers markets to push physical books, e-books and even real hardware for a tidy commission. Perhaps a booth advertising gardening tools might be a good idea. The point is that there’s no limit to the monetization potential of a lively market.
Legitimize Your Personal Brand
Taking your farmers market brand to the next level is all about proving your long-term worth to the local community. Once you’ve got a bit of cachet, you might want to co-sponsor charity events with local restaurants or civic organizations using some of your proceeds. This will help you to build positive links with chambers of commerce and the local town fathers. Those connections can pay dividends if they want to make your farmers market the official venue for a specific event like a music festival, a convention that regularly comes to town or a municipal function.
Where You Can Go from Here
At the end of the day, you can only go so far by being a middleman between producers and consumers. It might eventually make sense to dip your toe in the farming pool. With all of the knowledge you’ve accumulated by hosting farmers markets, it’d shouldn’t be that tough. Start a pumpkin patch to begin with and sell your goods directly to consumers. You may find that you like cranking out quality local produce. When all is said and done, creating a farmers market can be a lucrative side business that benefits your community.