Given my less-than-impressive experience in the midwest, I was excited to see the thriving farmer’s market community here in the northwest; the Vancouver/Portland area alone is home to over 50 markets. Two of which we had the pleasure of joining on for the 2013 season. We had a great time working alongside other farmers and producers, and getting more connected with the local natural food community.
While we did have fun and made some great friends, being a meat/poultry vendor at a market could be a bit challenging... Here’s a couple things we learned:
Firstly - Farmers markets don’t quite work like grocery stores. Even in the natural-food epicenter we live in, people who shop at farmers markets still buy a relatively narrow list of products - this is changing fast, but unprepared meat is still hasn’t quite made it onto the shopping list for the average farmers-marketer. Less than half of the markets in the area have meat vendors, and it’s not because there aren’t suppliers.
Secondly - markets aren’t a hugely profitable endeavor for many producers - especially when you’re selling a more specialty product like ours. So if you’re considering joining a farmers market, I’d suggest doing what we did and consider your time and money investment at a market as primarily a marketing expense - that way, if you attend a market all summer and you’re still not rolling in the dough, you won’t be disappointed or burn out. As a marketing venue, farmers markets are great! Local food buyers love to support farms that are interested and involved in their communities - so it’s a great way to get connected. But if you’re not there to have fun, and make friends with your customers, you may be a little disappointed to find that the cash doesn’t always just come pouring in ;)
If we do make a second foray into the farmers market world, one thing we’ll probably try (and I’d suggest any meat vendor considering a market try) is having prepared meat for sale, or at least have samples available; lots of people will buy tasty ready-to-eat things on a whim while their kid is getting his face painted - as it turns out; nobody impulsively buys frozen meat… go figure!
We’ve decided to not do markets this summer in order to focus more on selling directly off the farm, but I’m still a supporter of the farmers market community and am glad for the fine folks organizing them as they foster relationships between food producers and consumers - the more relationship, the more accountability, and the better the food.