Farmers can capitalize on their products' freshness, a quality trait often associated with nearby production and valued by consumers.
There has been considerable growth in the number of farmers' markets in the past twenty years. In the seventies, there were some eight markets in Massachusetts; now there are over ninety.
In addition to being a direct marketing opportunity for produce growers, many markets also offer space for producers of specialty products such as farmstead cheeses, preserves, breads, pies and other baked goods, vinegars, fruit butters, maple syrup, honey and a variety of turkey products. Farmers' markets showcase the commonwealth's diverse products in a convenient busy market place with a festive open-air atmosphere. They offer consumers the opportunity to buy directly from the producer without a middleman or broker.
- A grower whose farm is located in a rural area and who has not established a farm stand, or is in the process of farm stand establishment.
- Farm-stand operators whose stand is not busy at certain times of the week.
- New or established farm stands wanting to do outreach for their farm among city folks.
- New growers often test the market and their product line at farmers' markets, as the initial investment is minimal. There they can quickly and accurately assess consumer preferences and adjust production accordingly.
- Anyone who likes to grow fruits and vegetables, and wishes to supplement their income and who enjoys meeting people.
- Under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 101, section 15, farmers are allowed to sell at farmers' markets their fruits, vegetables or other farm products raised or produced by them or their family without obtaining a hawkers' or peddlers' license.
- In general, farmers who sell at farmers' markets grow a full line of fruits and/or vegetables. Competition in these markets may require that you fill a niche or seek a new market which may present a "fresh start."
By visiting established, well run farmers' markets, one can observe and learn what niche can be filled in the market with particular produce or product. Products that may fill a niche include:
- Specialty vegetables or ready-to-serve salad mixes for the busy consumer. Providing information on how to use a new variety or item and offering samples will increase sales and establish a steady customer base for your product.
- Growing different varieties of sweet and hot peppers is another niche, and they are an important ingredient in salsa, an expanding product line.
- Remember that restaurant chefs are often eyeing the produce at local farmers' markets, and your specialty product can become a steady item on their restaurant tables.
- Organically grown produce is another niche market to consider. It is a rapidly growing segment of agriculture and enjoys some price advantage. To learn how to become certified as an organic grower, Contact: Northeast Organic Farming Association, Massachusetts Chapter, Inc. (NOFA), 411 Sheldon Road, Barre, MA 01005, 508-355-2853.
- "Ethnic" vegetables can also specialize your product line for neighborhood farmers' markets.
- Flowers are another option. Growing annuals and perennials can be a profitable niche. Well arranged bouquets will enhance the appearance of your display and attract impulse shopping.
- Click here for market manager contacts to learn if there is room in a particular market for an additional grower, and for what type of produce. The managers are knowledgeable resources. Request the market's rules and application to learn if they correspond with your plans.
- Visiting markets and trying them out for period of time is still the best method to calculate if the chosen market is for you or if it has the potential for growth with your product line. Remember, though, it takes time to build a customer base.
Whom to contact to help with the development and outreach for potential and fledgling markets:
- Federation of Massachusetts Farmers' Markets
- Chambers of Commerce
- Conservation Commissions
- Grower Associations\Garden Clubs
- Planning and Community Development Offices
- Neighborhood Centers
- Cooperative Extension Centers
- Farm Bureau state and county offices
- Senior Citizen Organizations
- Development Corporations
- Churches or Church Organizations
- Mass. Dept. of Agricultural Resources
- A truck, station wagon, van, or car, depending on the amount of produce you are planning to grow and the specific market's rules.
- A sign with your name and the name of your farm and location.
- Price cards large enough to state the product and the price.
- A scale with valid seal from the Weights and Measures Department of your town, if selling items by weight.
- Tables and/or saw horses for displays
- Bags, cash box and change
The following publications pertaining to farmers' markets are available from the Department of Agricultural Resources:
Massachusetts Farmers' Market Manager Directory with names of contact persons and managers, the days and hour of operations and glossary of markets listed by days of the week for the purpose of planning your marketing schedule.
Information on the Massachusetts Farmers' Market Nutrition Program, established in 1986 to bolster sales for farmers, and at the same time benefit low income consumers.
Information on Massachusetts Generals Laws, standard rules and regulations pertaining to farmers' markets.
How to Sell at a Farmers' Market, a paper on the basic information, list of equipment, and display materials needed when starting to sell at farmers' markets.
How to Organize and Run a Successful Farmers' Market by Julia Freedgood. Available from the Department of Agricultural Resources.
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, National Farmers' Market Directory; write to: AMS, P.O. Box 96456, Washington, DC 20090-6456. Phone 202-720-8317