Recent decades have seen the rise of farmers’ markets across the nation, as people increasingly want to buy local and support small businesses. In just the ten-year period between 2009 to 2019, farmers’ markets grew 76%.1 Demand surged again during the COVID-19 pandemic, as farmers and vendors sought out opportunities to replace their lost revenue from wholesale and restaurants.2
Selling at a farmers’ market is a smart way to boost sales and reach more customers, whether you’re a side hustling cupcake baker or an established small business.
But selling at a farmers’ market isn’t as simple as renting a booth and putting your food on a table. You’ll need products, permits, and a plan. Read on for our best farmers’ market tips for vendors.
What permits do you need to sell at a farmers’ market?
Depending on the type of food, you may need a permit to sell at your local farmers’ market. The required permits can vary state-by-state, but in general, you may need a license or permit to sell the following:
- Cheese and dairy
- Non-edible plants and flowers
- Honey or syrup
- Baked goods
- Ready-to-eat food and drinks
- Pre-packaged food and drinks
- Wine, beer, cider, and liquor
The type of license will depend on the specific food item and how it is prepared. For example, your state may allow you to sell raw honey without a permit, but if you add in other ingredients, then you’ll need a license.3 You generally do not need a farmers’ market permit to sell whole, uncut, and raw fruits and vegetables, as well as many processed or pre-packaged foods, but it’s best to check with your state Department of Agriculture to figure out exactly what permits you need. The farmers’ market website may have links to these local resources as well.
Tips and tricks of the trade for vendors
Once you’ve completed the required paperwork and secured your permit, you can focus on making your day at the market a success. Below we share our top tips for farmers’ markets, including a few pro tips for certain types of vendors.
How to sell produce at a farmers’ market
Remember: people go to their local farmers’ market to get stuff they can’t get anywhere else. Bring your best-sellers, along with seasonal items and more unique produce, like heirloom tomatoes, colorful cauliflower, and bright peppers. You can bring local herbs for an extra dash of local flair.
How to sell baked goods at a farmers’ market
Baked goods are a fan favorite at many farmers’ markets. From cookies and cupcakes to scones and muffins, you can sell everything on the sweet-to-savory spectrum.
To appeal to more customers, create offerings that cater to those who are vegan, gluten-free, or have other dietary restrictions. Have extra ingredients? Turn your crumbs into a canine delight. You can either sell dog treats or give them away as free samples in a jar. Be sure to put out a bowl of water to attract more paw (ahem, foot) traffic.
How to sell meat at a farmers’ market
People love purchasing meat at their local farmers’ market because it’s fresher than going to the grocery store, and they get to feel good about supporting small farmers who care for their animals. Cattle farmers may consider milk as well, and chicken farmers can sell fresh eggs. You can also dry and cure your meat to sell it as jerky with flavorful marinades.
Come prepared to talk about what life is like on your farm and engage locals with photos of your animals.
Farmers’ market best practices for any kind of vendor
Whether you’re selling handmade soaps, jars of jam, or your famous beef jerky, follow these ten tips to squeeze a little more success out of your day.
- Do your research. Visit local farmers’ markets to see how vendors present and make use of their space. What stalls seem to be more popular? Are there any insights you can apply to your own stall?
- Know the local laws and health regulations for how food and goods must be prepared and stored.
- Consider limiting your product line to minimize choice overload. In a 2000 study, researchers found that grocery store customers were ten times more likely to try a sample of jam when they had fewer choices to choose from.4
- List prices clearly and in a prominent area. Place small cards in front of the products, or list all your prices on a large poster.
- Bring a credit card reader so you can accept payments other than cash. Check to see if WiFi is available at the farmers’ market. If not, you’ll need a hot spot to operate the card reader.
- Pack extra supplies and ensure you have everything you need to prevent things from spoiling — both on the way to the market and while they sit outside all day.
- Offer examples of how to use your products, so people feel excited to buy. You could even print out a recipe idea on the back of a business card and include it with every sale.
- Add some decor to your booth to make it more inviting and help people connect with you. Mason jars, string lights, and photos of you and your team are all good options. Make your food stand out with a tablecloth that has a contrasting color.
- Encourage social shares by listing your Instagram handle on a sign where everyone can see it.
- Plan to give away free samples! This is the singlehanded best way to get people to love (and buy) your food. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to start a conversation with them.
Produce, plan, and prepare
Before you sell at a farmers’ market, prepare all the necessary paperwork, including licenses and permits for the products you sell.
Then, make a plan for success. Prepare your food, with a focus on products that are local, seasonal, and uniquely yours. Think about how you can encourage more sales with limited product lines and strategic pricing. Have a marketing plan that includes business cards, Instagram, and plenty of free samples.
Finally, make sure you’re protected with insurance. Most farmers’ markets require vendors to show proof of coverage. With Thimble’s Food Vendor Insurance, you can get insurance for your business in as fast as 60 seconds. What’s more, you can secure coverage for a month, a day, or just a few hours. It’s like it was designed for farmers’ markets! Get your free quote now.
- Civil Eats. Exploring a Decade of Big Changes in Local Food.
- SmartBrief. Farmers’ markets played a bigger role in feeding America in the pandemic.
- Farmers’ Market Federation of New York. Permits/Licenses/Certificates Required for Farmers’ Market Sellers.
- American Psychological Association. When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?