Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Successful Farmers' Market: 3 Defining Aspects

In the United States, there are currently 8,144 farmers' markets.  However, how many of them are truly enjoyable, entertaining, and exciting?  What defines a good market from a great one?  After visiting many of the local markets in the Bay Area, I came up with these defining characteristics:


Kika's strawberries are the best in the valley.  Photo via realtimefarms.com.
One key ingredient is a variety of exclusive offerings. A few years ago, when it was impossible to find pluots at grocery stores.  People had to go to the farmers market or a farm stand to buy them.  Some may think that this idea is limited to specialty crops, or even prepared and processed foods -- after all, a strawberry from the farmers' market is the same as a strawberry from the store, right?  Wrong.  Just having a special variety of fruit will draw people in and keep them coming back.  At a local market, there is a strawberry grower that everyone looks forward to seeing when strawberry season starts; their strawberries are have such a great berry flavor, and are so sweet.  Unusual offerings, even if only a bit special, will expand customers' horizons and keep them thinking about the market.


Farmers Market Under an Overpass
Baltimore Farmers Market and Bazaar -- Under an overpass.  Not the worst location, actually.  Photo via examiner.com.
Yes, yes!  Location, location, location.  This might seem silly, but it's really not.  I've seen enough markets placed in inconvenient and confusing locations to know that this is important.  Sometimes this is because of finances; it's cheaper to place a market somewhere a little out of the way.  At the same time, if a market isn't well marketed, no one will know it's there.  If it's difficult to find, then less hardy prospective customers will turn around and go to Whole Foods.  Even those that do arrive may do so in a less than happy mood -- I know, I've been there.  Similarly, close and plentiful parking are important, though less so if the area is metropolitan enough.  Another aspect of this is permanence; a market that's constantly moving just creates confusion.  One local farmers' market has moved nearly every year its been in existence; this means, every year, the market has to work hard to inform the community of its new location, and convince them that its still worth going to.  Customers shouldn't have to question whether a market will be there the next week, so a sense of permanence is extremely important.


Create spaces for people to socialize.  Photo via missioncommunitymarket.org.

This is perhaps the hardest aspect to develop in a market, but nonetheless, the most important.  It's a touchy-feely, ever-shifting point that depends very heavily upon the participation of those who come to the market, both the vendors and the customers.  Having vendors who truly understand and believe in their product helps significantly; it means that they can create real dialogue with customers, which helps build relationships.  Entertainment and events can help build a sense of community, too; chef's demonstrations, sampling days, a children's area, and holiday celebrations are all events that can foster a sense of community.  If the market has hot foods or other offerings that are ready to eat there, then a café are with tables and chairs would be beneficial to encouraging people to gather and socialize.

Planck, N. (2004). Some thoughts on selling at farmers' markets.  Rodale Institute.  Retrieved from http://www.newfarm.org/features/0504/farmmarkets/index.shtml

USDA (2014).  Farmers Markets and Direct-to-Consumer Marketing.  Retrieved from http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/farmersmarkets

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