I recall my first farmers market several years ago; It was a muggy Missouri day in the parking lot of the mall. I was interning for the summer on an organic farm, and still recovering from painfully deep sunburn on the tender sides of my head (an impromptu mohawk in the middle of the blistering summer. No sunscreen. The stinging was almost as awful as the haircut). The experience wasn’t exactly inspiring - we didn’t sell much of anything. As I recall, the vendors who did the best were the Mennonite folks with their Walmart-grade baked goods, which did not live up to the “genuine fine-crafted” image their suspenders and moustach-less beards demanded - I ate one of their strawberry tarts, which I immediately regretted...
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 ;)