What would you like to know about being a vendor at a Farmers Market?
September 14, 2017 11:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm with a group of like-minded folks who are trying to bring a Farmers Market to my city. One of our goals is to "grow our own" vendors from our community. We are going to be holding a panel discussion with community member panelsts that are already Farmers Market Vendors/CSA farmers. The audience will be filled (I hope) with both wanna-be vendors and with people who have a general interest in Farmers Markets. I need to come up with some good, thought-provoking questions for the panel. Help?

Our goals with the panel discussion are:

- to empower wanna-be vendors with the steps needed to become a vendor
- for the panelists (experienced vendors) to impart wisdom and tips about vending
- to answer questions by general community members about the farmers Market

We will also have vendor applications on hand and lots of information about the legalities of vending in the City/County/State.

Here are the questions I have thus far:

Can you tell us a bit about what you do in the alternative food economy (introductions + what we do)

How did you decide to get into selling food at a Farmers Market/CSA? (getting into the philosophy of why we do what we do)

What steps did you take to get started in your adventures as a Farmers Market Vendor/CSA farmer? (this is what everyone wants to know)

Can you tell us about a time in which you failed or ran into a roadblock, and how you handled it? (it's fun to hear tales of woe followed by victory)

What are two key things that prospective vendors should know before they begin the application process? (this will bring out the key points that they will take home with them)

Any other suggestions for questions? We will be taking questions from the audience as well.

Also, any general suggestions for running a successful panel discussion? I have looked at the Toastmasters website for some tips already. Thanks.

(this question is anonymous because I don't want my neighbors to know my metafilter handle)
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If I were a prospective vendor, I'd want to know how profitable it is for the vendor -- how well their produce sells there? what kinds of costs, both financial, time, and whatever else, you invest in doing this? and how does it pay off, both financially, for getting your name into the community, etc.
posted by flourpot at 3:08 AM on September 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I work with a vegan food festival and my biggest advice to you is to include a representative from your local health department. Giving people accurate info on what they need to do to safely and legally sell and serve food where you are is like step one for our vendors. If you have a bunch of new people who are have been preparing food in their homes or growing food for sale for the first time, making sure they are comfortable with knowing what the health department expects makes for a super successful event.
posted by katinka-katinka at 4:09 AM on September 15, 2017 [11 favorites]

As far as I'm concerned, the two big questions to ask are:

– What would make you want to shop at our farmer's market?
– What would make you want to be a vendor at our farmer's market?

What you're going to need to be successful is a solid clientele of vendors and shoppers. Your panel should be about listening to prospective vendors and shoopers tell you what they want, so that you can then try your best to give it to them. Avoid telling them why they should be excited, and instead ask them what you need to do to get them excited.

Hopefully you'll have done your homework and will be able to talk about some of the things you already have in mind that speak to the things your audience is telling you they want. But overall I feel like the goal here is to have a discussion about what would make a really great farmer's market that people would want to participate in, and that discussion should be driven by the prospective participants (the audience) with the panelists basically acting as facilitators. That's my take, anyway.

Also, I'd drop the "tell me about a time when you struggled" question. This isn't a job interview, and nobody likes that question even when they are at a job interview. "Tell me about something you didn't like at another farmer's market" might be useful, though.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:28 AM on September 15, 2017

The "time you struggled" question struck me badly as well. Also, people use these questions to tell a pretty boring story because they all have to force into that same struggle-victory frame. It seems like you're asking it because maybe you want to get into problem-solving and creative solutions, and get them to talk about their inventiveness as a vendor. A lot of times market challenges aren't about a vendor "failing," but about a market administration or marketing problem, or lack of consumer education, or weather. So maybe ask something like "what was the most surprising challenge you ran into? Has it been resolved?"

I also suggest you might ask something about consumer education - a big part of what makes a market work. What does the public not know that surprised you? What do you do to help educate consumers about market prices, seasonal availability, growing processes?

Finally, it's a good idea to end on a short-answer, super-positive thing, like In 30 seconds, please share one of the brightest moments from your time as a vendor" or "think of a great day at the market, where you go home feeling fantastic, and describe for us one snapshot of a moment in that day."

I would suggest you share all the questions in advance with each participant so they can have some time to think and prepare a substantive response.

Also, a word to the wise: people think of farmers as taciturn but many of them are most definitely not. Let them know the answer time is limited and do rigorous timekeeping to ensure they are sharing the air.
posted by Miko at 5:39 AM on September 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, I'd drop the "tell me about a time when you struggled" question. This isn't a job interview, and nobody likes that question even when they are at a job interview. "Tell me about something you didn't like at another farmer's market" might be useful, though.

I actually like that question. One of tbe things that keeps me from participating as a vendor at a famers market is that I dont have the opportunity to ask anyone about their experiences as a vendor, especially the potential negative ones. But I do agree that Mikos phrasing might work a bit better.

I also think the suggestion to have health department reps there is a great one.

If you held something like this in my community, I'd go. I'd be very interested. I think its a good idea.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:54 AM on September 15, 2017

Questions for the organizers: Where and when will the market be held and who are the expected customers? I have seen two local weekday markets fade, I think because they were not held where a lot of people worked. An area with lots of businesses would likely have been better. A Saturday morning market at a farm is wildly successful, probably because it has become an entertaining destination, especially for families. Musicians are scheduled every week and other vendors sell crafts, coffee, pastries and more lunch type food. So mix of offerings is probably helpful. There are vendors of meat, cheese, eggs, seafood and bread so one can do most of a week's (rather pricey) shopping, so can the customer base afford the market?
How will the market be advertised? The successful one offers a weekly email newsletter with lists of vendors, their crops and other offerings.
What dates will the market cover? Farmers need a lot of lead time to plan harvest dates like early spring or late autumn crops. When local successful market found winter quarters and became year round they added more root crops, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc.
For experienced sellers: How do you do quality control and display so the stall and produce is appealing?
posted by Botanizer at 7:33 AM on September 15, 2017

Tips on preparing for and moderating a panel discussion from my favorite scifi convention, which has a lot of panels.

In the time leading up to the panel, if possible, you should tell the panellists about your proposed lightweight structure and agenda for the panel, giving everyone a chance to suggest additional topics and to prepare their own anecdotes, talking points, references, etc.

Ideally, you and the panel’s members ought to meet 10-15 minutes ahead of time, giving everyone a last-minute chance to prep agenda, learn each others’ faces, etc.

Make sure every panel member has, in front of them, a name card, to make it easier for people in the audience to figure out who said what. Also, make sure each of the panellists has a piece of paper (you can put this on the back of the name card) with the names of the moderator and the other panellists.

As for specific questions: some topics I could imagine prospective vendors having:

* how safe is it to park, unload, run, and load with only 1 person? What works to guard against casual theft of food or money?
* can I accept food stamps? How do the logistics of that work?
* how do you deal with people who want to pay with credit cards or personal checks, or Apple Pay or Venmo?
posted by brainwane at 7:58 AM on September 15, 2017

One of my side gigs is making soap and lotion. One thing I run into at farmers markets is that even though they allow soap and lotions to be sold, they also have rules that something like 75% of all materials used must come from the local area. That's just not possible - most parts of the USA don't have coconut oil producers, or shea butter producers, nor producers for most of the ingredients I use. So i would suggest making allowances for things where the end product is produced entirely locally, even if the ingredients come from somewhere else.
I mean, I could maybe find local lard, but I don't want to make lard soap, and very few people would buy it.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:19 AM on September 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd want to know if the vendors are resellers or from the farm. Resellers can be dodgy about this question, and some farmers markets only have resellers and goods vendors and have no vendors from a farm. I'd like some transparency around this.
posted by vivzan at 8:30 AM on September 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think the panel to attract customers should be separate from the one to attract vendors, as it could waste farmers' time. They know what farmers do and why people should consume farm food.

I think for the potential vendors, the nuts and bolts are way more important than the philosophical questions. Laying out everything clearly and not wasting busy farmers' and businesspeople's time will go a long way toward selling vendors on the idea. I'd want to know profit potential, competition, cost, liability, employment issues, licensing and regulations, supplies, parking, what's provided as far as tent/stalls/registers/etc. vs what I have to buy/rent. All this info should be presented briefly and written up clearly, with a q&a with past vendors.
posted by kapers at 8:47 AM on September 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm a farmers' market founder, manager, and I've founded and ran a multi-farm CSA. I hope my advice helps!

My first question for YOU would concern any feasibility studies or research you've done in your planning. Have you assessed the size of your town and it's ability to support a market? I know your question is more geared toward what you should be asking / telling, but this is really important and any vendor worth their salt will absolutely want to know that, as the person running this, you've done SOME sort of research on the viability. I'm not saying this has to be super in depth but you've got to know your target market and whether or not it exists with enough force and enthusiasm to keep this thing running.

To second flourpot, vendors will absolutely want to know about profitability. I'd integrate that into your presentation if you can.

It's great that you've got an outline of the local laws for folks to see! As katinka said, this is important and usually folks think it's much harder to sell at a market than it really is (and I say this as someone who's ran a market on a federal military installation where there are OODLES more regs that one outside the gate). Research and print out for prospective vendors your state's cottage food laws and the local regs. Even better, perhaps integrate this (if you haven't already) into your vendor handbook.

And I can't echo kapers comments more seriously: for farmers and even potential customers, the philosophical stuff isn't necessary. They need, as was said, buts and bolts info. In your vendor handbook, lay this stuff out: what do they need to bring, cost, etc. Include a mission statement as well.

Do you plan farm audits? This will go a long way towards convincing your farmer vendors that you're interested in their work and will let them know there is integrity behind your market. Farmers know that the work of building loyal customers comes from making them feel a part of their farm and if you can assist your farmers by conducting an audit and being the a solid source of information about practices, etc., for customers, you'll gain their trust and that will be absolutely essential for a successful market.

Is this a producer-only market? I'd absolutely recommend it and if you're going that direction, define that and let your panelists talk about it, explain it to interested attendees, and give the reasons of why this matters.

Perhaps include information on the economic benefits of farmers' markets to attendees. This info can easily sway someone to shop with you instead of their more convenient local grocery. Look to the Farmers' Market Coalition for info here -- they've got great printable infographics detailing this stuff.

And if you're lucky enough to get some good community engagement from this panel session, take the time to take suggestions from your community. This dog won't hunt without knowing what potential customers want to see and what they're likely to buy. If you're able to field these questions in front of your panel of interested vendors, both audiences will massively appreciate it! Vendors can plan appropriately with this info and letting the community "have their say", so to speak, creates the buy-in you're looking for.

Potential vendors and those looking to get into your market are absolutely going to want to know about things like insurance and fees. I know this is kind of a boring thing to discuss but before you'll ever be able to talk someone into vending for you, you're going to have to work to dispel the myth that it's not profitable or worthwhile. Your market HAS to have insurance and by doing so, this alleviates a burden for some vendors (most will already have sufficient insurance if they own an actual farm). Let those thinking about it you can help with this because it's a big hurdle.

Since it's outside of your question, I won't address it here but if you'd like information on economics of markets, best practices, attracting good, loyal vendors and customers, etc., feel free to memail me or shoot me an email at hometownhomegrownmarket@gmail! I've amassed a HUGE library of info on this sort of thing (in fact, I built the cost associated with the time it took to do this into a grant and the library was available to our vendors who used it regularly and greatly appreciated it!) and I'm happy to share!

Good luck! I think it's wonderful you're taking the initiative to make this happen and I'm certain that when you're up and running, your community will heartily appreciate it!
posted by youandiandaflame at 9:32 AM on September 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

The best farmers markets around are very well organized, and that means having a very well understood and mutually supported governance structure in which all vendors have a voice and vote. If you are organizing a new farmers market, you don't want to impose rules and governance — you want the vendors choose their own rules and their own way of making group decisions. Models can be borrowed from good existing markets, of course, (here's a good example) but even that needs to be the decision of the vendors. What I've noticed is that farmers market governance structures can be rather complex. For example they might have a committee that just deals with who gets what location each year, and who fills the empty spots when somebody can't show up one week. There may be committees to deal with finance, personnel, marketing, jurying, website, trash and recycling, rules, operations, entertainment, you name it. All in all, this governance complexity is necessary in order to have a market that, to consumers, is attractive, useful, well-organized and enjoyable.

So, I'm seconding kapers in saying that it's the nuts and bolts that make this happen, not philosophies about local economics and such. So, ask your panel lots of questions about governance structure, rules, management, conflict resolution, etc. Without doing that part right, up front, your market will not thrive.
posted by beagle at 9:37 AM on September 15, 2017

Echoing youadiandaflame.

A#1 all time important question:

What are you going to do to attract people away from grocery and warehouse stores (Safeway and Costco) and bring them to the Farmer's Market?
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 10:49 AM on September 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a 12yo who would be sitting in the front row for the vendor talk, and she would want to know the answer to every single one of kaper's questions. In fact, I am now considering using this week's question to ask "how/can my kid with a burgeoning candy business sell at a local farmer's market?" because that would make me mom of the year. (Maybe you should FB live it, and maybe you should tell use when we can watch it.)
posted by instamatic at 6:58 PM on September 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Offer the audience blank 3x5 cards where they can write down any questions and pass them in near the end. The moderator can then skim the through the questions, group similar ones to together and make sure everything relevant gets asked efficiently.
posted by metahawk at 4:28 PM on September 16, 2017

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