Selling at Farmers Markets as a Second Income

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My husband and I were farmers market vendors for 8 years. We owned a bakery for 2 years but the other 6 years we did it out of our home.

Whether you sell baked goods or jams and jellies, produce or eggs or honey, you too can work towards becoming a market vendor at your local market.

At one point we did 2 local markets. One on Saturday mornings in our home town and one on Thursday afternoons in a neighboring town about a 1/2 hour away.

Here are a few things to think about when you are considering becoming a vendor.

  1. Do I have a product that people will buy?
  2. Do I have the proper insurance?
  3. Do I have the proper licensing if need be?
  4. How will I display my wares?
  5. Do I have someone to work my booth and do they have that winning personality to sell my product?
  6. Do I have the time to commit to approximately 15 weeks of selling?
  7. Do I have the passion?

These are all questions that we had to answer before we could fill out that application to be a vendor.

Do I have a product that people will buy?

In the past, people went to farmers markets to find great deals on bulk produce and sometimes less than perfect fruits and veggies at a deep discount. I remember going with my mom to the market and getting a handle basket of peaches that were seconds for a 1/3 of the price of a perfect basket and we would make jam. You could also get large quantities, such as a whole bushel of pickling cucumbers at a rock bottom price.

Today the farmers markets are a spring board for many smaller farmers that want to get their product out on the market quickly and meet face to face with their consumers on a weekly basis.

We were one of those vendors that benefited from seeing our customers every week. We had a product that people came to the market every week to buy, some religiously. Our scones. Out of everything we sold, and we sold a wide variety of products, our scones were the best seller for us. We baked over 300 scones a week and sold them at the market and at our bakery store front. If you didn’t get to the market early enough we would be sold out within an hour and a half.

Do you have a product that people will buy? Here is a list of products that are selling at the markets right now:

Organic produce or anything organic for that matter, free range eggs, honey, jams and jellies, cheeses, soaps, baked goods, coffee and teas, wine and beer, any type of veggies, any type of fruits, cut flowers, maple syrup, nut butters and mustards, gluten free baked goods, food trucks, art, crafts, local pork, beef or chicken, herbs and spices, plants, textiles and yarns.

This list could go on but I think you get the idea. As long as you are making or producing these items yourself and locally within a 50 mile radius your local market would love to have you as a vendor.

Do I have the proper insurance and do I have the proper licensing if need be?

This is very important. We started off with getting our home processor’s permit to do our baking in our home through the NYS Ag and Markets office in Buffalo. It was easy to obtain but it did restrict us from selling out of our home and what types of items we could sell. But hey, it was a start and we were thrilled! As a few years passed we got our full licensing from the Genesee County Health Dept when we opened our bakery.

If you are contemplating becoming a food vendor you need to take it a step further and get your vending license also through your county’s health department.

There are of course fees involved in every step of this process so consider that when planning to become a vendor. Many counties ask that you become food safe certified as well but that varies by county.

Insurance is another biggie. You will need at least a $1,000,000 liability policy for just about any market nowadays. It sounds intimidating but it really isn’t that hard to get and the cost, at least in my experience was just about $30 a month.

Call the insurance company that insures your home and vehicles and see if their underwriter does insurance for markets. If they say yes but it will cost over $100 a month, check with another insurance company.

How will I display my wares?

Displaying your product is very important. It needs to be eye catching and organized. Here are a few examples of displays at our market.

Shelving, baskets, crates, and colors are what is eye catching in all of these displays.

Do I have someone to work my booth and do they have that winning personality to sell my product?

I had a dream team to sell my products. My husband can charm the pants off of even the toughest customer and his side kick who just happens to be our church’s pastor was his partner in crime. I left them to do the selling each week because I knew selling was not my strong suit. Over the years we have had tons of help in our market booth. My sister and her two girls, my mom and of course Doug, my step-children, my sister-in-law, and tons of friends have had a blast helping us out and selling for us. Make it a family affair. Your children will learn a ton about handling money and working with the public at a young age.

Do I have the time to commit to approximately 15 weeks of selling?

Some markets ask you to commit to the entire season and other markets will let you come just a few weeks at a time and let you pick the weeks you would like to attend. We committed fully to the market every year and paid up front for the application fee.

It is a commitment either way that you will have to look at ahead of time. Will you be able to be at a market every Saturday from 9 am to 12:30 pm from June until October? That’s a pretty big commitment so really consider whether you have enough product to sell and you are able to fulfill that weekly commitment.

Do I have the passion?

Farmers markets can be a wonderful experience but also exhausting. It can be a very tough lifestyle if this is your sole income.On the other hand if you have passion for your product and want to connect with the consumer on a face to face weekly basis this is your starting point. One of our vendors started off with their goat milk cheeses selling their products at multiple local markets and only a few years later their passion has brought their products into the mega giant grocery market of Wegmans. Pretty impressive huh?

I could add a lot more to this conversation but this is a good starting point for anyone considering becoming a vendor at a local farmers market.

If you would like to become a vendor at the LeRoy, NY farmers market you can contact me via email at marymargaretripley@yahoo.com for more information. -MM

Locally Owned Stores

First and  foremost I want to start by saying that this post is intending to put a positive light on smaller locally owned stores not put a negative light on larger retailers.

Now with that out of the way I want to tell you about my grocery and food shopping habits which have changed tremendously over the last 20 years.

There are so many options out there for us as consumers that sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming.

I work as a Bakery Manager in a relatively smaller grocery store considering the mega grocery store options in our county such as Tops, Wegmans, and Super Walmart.

Recently there was an article in our local newspaper featuring our store, Caledonia Marketplace, which focused on the changes that have been happening in the store as well as changes that will be coming in the next few months. Exciting changes for us as employees and to you the consumer.

I bring this article up because some of the comments have been extremely positive about our changes but some comments still make it clear that shopping at a smaller retailer is cost prohibitive.

The reputation of a smaller store is that it just can’t compete with the “Big Boys.” That goes for any type of retail store whether it is an appliance store, furniture store, hardware store, etc. The mentality of many general consumers seems to lean towards one-stop shopping.

When Walmart came up with adding grocery to their already mega stores I was honestly stunned. I couldn’t imagine such a thing. In fact, I still can’t wrap my head around why you would want to get your clothes, garden shovels, baby bottles and bicycle pumps from the same place you get your ground beef and chicken breast?

Why does everyone want one-stop shopping? Are we getting lazy? Are we spending too much time on our phones and computers? Have we lost the desire to connect with our local community by shopping at our own town’s stores? Would we rather stand in line at a mega box store and then come home and sit in our recliners and not have any social interaction with our neighbors?

“The prices are too high at the local stores, I am on a fixed budget,” you say. Yep there is that. Just about everyone is on a fixed budget. I was curious to see if that was really true in our store’s case. Was it really more expensive to shop at our local grocery store?

This past Saturday I grocery shopped at the store I work for, for my weekly groceries. Obviously it is convenient for me because I work there. I purchased a wide range of products from snacks like chips and dips to produce, dairy, meats and bakery items. The total was $96.44. I used the same receipt and priced checked on-line using the Geneseo Wegmans grocery store as my model. Yes, most general grocery items were more expensive at our store than Wegmans but wait, there’s more. Produce was almost even in price between the two stores but meat and bakery departments in our store won hands down. The result? The same products if I had purchased them at Wegmans would have cost me $100.93. That’s a little over $5 more than my little grocery store.

Yes the big stores are cheaper when it comes to grocery items because they have better buying power than small independently owned grocery stores but in general the surrounding departments like Deli, Bakery, Meat and Produce offer cheaper prices in the smaller stores. So I guess if you are only purchasing say a bag of chips your experience would be that our store was more expensive. However, buying a large amount of items from a smaller store proves that you might come out the same or even beat the prices against a larger retailer.

I am not advocating for buying everything your family needs at one store though. I think you do yourself a great disservice by doing the one-stop shopping thing. I would never buy items like detergents, toilet paper, paper products, diapers or cleaning supplies at a grocery store unless it was a really great sale and I had a coupon. For me I have found the best prices on these items have been at dollar stores, pharmacies like Walgreens with their savings cards and most often I use Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program.

I, as a consumer also frequent farmers markets, farm stands, bulk food ingredient stores run by local retailers and sometimes we will stop at mom and pop butcher shops on our weekend travels or head into the city to go to a local Italian bakery or Deli.

I know that everyone is different in how and where they shop, their schedules and lifestyles at home, their knowledge of cooking baking and growing their own food and financial situations.

I have to say I completely understand that money is almost always the central issue in your buying habits and wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t? I just ask that you give the little guy a second look. Traveling down the road a mile to your local hardware store instead of heading into the city to go to a major chain retailer might save you $5 but how much did the gas and time cost to get you there? And who knows, you might even run into a long time friend you haven’t seen in ages. -MM