Guide A Guide to Selling at Farmers' Markets

The purpose of this guide is to help farmers learn about how to sell at farmers markets.

Who Should Sell at Farmers Markets?

  • 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 farms wanting to do outreach for their farm among urban consumers. 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 or other farm products, and wishes to supplement their income and who enjoy interacting with the public.

Products

  • Under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 101, Section 15, farmers are allowed to sell their fruits, vegetables or other farm products raised or produced by them or their family at farmers markets without obtaining a hawkers' or peddlers' license.
  • In general, produce 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. 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.
  • 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 go to www.nofamass.org.
  • Depending on the market’s customer base, produce of interest to different ethnic groups can be popular. More information can be found at www.worldcrops.org.
  • 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.

Choosing the Right Market

Check with the market manager 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. 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.

  • Can you comply with the market’s rules? Get a copy of the market rules from the market manager. Make sure the market serves your needs. 
  • Does the market attract enough customers
  • Is the market’s operating days and times are compatible with your schedule?
  • How much it will cost you to sell at the market.
  • Does the market advertise, have a website, newsletter, etc?
  • Check with your insurance agent about adequate coverage. Individual sellers are generally not covered under a market’s insurance policy.

Equipment

  • A truck, van, or car, depending on the amount of produce you are planning to grow and the specific market's rules.
  • Create a neatly lettered sign identifying yourself, the name of your farm, what you sell, and where you’re from. This should be a permanent fixture that you display at each market visit.
  • Tables and/or saw horses for displays. Tablecloths or material to cover your tables; Baskets for displays.
  • Some sort of shelter such as a pop-up tent for your produce-both protection from hot sun and rain is a good idea. A height of seven feet will allow adequate head room. 
  • Price cards large enough to state the product and the price. Bring some poster board and felt tip pens (green, red, and blue are good colors). Print as neatly as possible.
  • If you sell by the pound, you’ll need a scale. Local weights and measure inspectors must certify or seal all weighing devices-there may be a small charge for this. Check with the market manager and town clerk’s office to be sure that you comply.
  • Bags, cash box and change. You’ll need “seed money” for making change and something to hold the bills down so they don’t blow away. Keep your money out of sight!

Display

  • Cleanliness, color and spacing are most important.
  • At the time of harvest, brush excess soil off your produce.
  • Don’t bring low quality or deformed products-they will only detract from your display.
  • Space your products nicely-contrast colors and keep the display replenished. If possible, tilt your produce towards the customer.
  • Keep produce off of the ground.
  • Add some color to your stand or table. A bright cloth will dress up your display.
  • Remove produce damaged by customers.

Sales

  • Use the same selling crew at each market visit, if possible. This, and your permanent sign, will help build familiarity. Courtesy, knowledge, friendliness and enthusiasm are keys to successful sales.
  • Know your produce-consumers are interested in how you grew it, what varieties you sell and even how to prepare it.
  • Although it’s sometimes difficult to be courteous to some customers, remember that arguing may send other customers away.
  • Hired labor is subject to minimum wage. Check with the MA Department of Labor and Workforce Development,(617)-626-6952 to make sure that you comply.
  • Serve one customer at a time. This will avoid customer confusion especially when handling money. Try to keep an idea of who should be waited on next.

It takes time to develop a profitable business. It will take several market visits to establish your reputation

Pricing

  • Post your prices. Print them legibly on poster boards with a felt tip pen.
  • Have some idea of what it costs you to grow and market your produce. Try to estimate your costs per pound, bushel or whatever units you sell in.
    Know your competitors’ prices and quality. Don’t panic if the guy next to you cuts prices; think of your quality and remember that customers like steady prices.
  • If you haggle about a price with one customer, others will want to as well. Also, a customer who pays full price will be very disappointed to see the next customer negotiate a discount.
  • You can’t please everyone. If customers complain about prices, you can often save the sale with a courteous, knowledgeable reply. You have a right to charge a price that covers your costs and provides you with some profit. If nobody complains about prices and you sell out very quickly, your prices may be unrealistically low.
  • It’s easier to lower prices than to raise them; don’t sell yourself short!
  • Customers want quality, courtesy and consistency! They are generally knowledgeable and willing to pay a reasonable price for quality and freshness.

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