How to make money at the farmers market

This is a guest post from Lee Doppelt and originally appeared on The Dollar Stretcher.

You enjoy sauntering around your community's farmers market each Saturday morning. Besides purchasing fresh produce, baked goods, and homemade crafts for gifts, you feel good about supporting local growers and producers. Additionally, it's fun to meet friends at the market.

The wood carving that you do is a fun hobby and friends have raved about your finished projects. They've encouraged you to create more and sell them. Perhaps having a booth at the farmers market would be worth trying.

Know what you're getting into before you become a vendor at the farmers market. There are many things to consider.

Selling at the farmers market can be a big commitment. You want to be sure it's right for you. Start by talking with some vendors at your market, particularly people you know personally, and ask specific questions. One vendor who built a specially designed motorized trailer for his booth, to sell healthy made-to-order sandwiches, didn't realize he'd need to be awake by 3 a.m. each Saturday morning to be ready when the market opens. After a year, he's closing shop. Interested in buying his vehicle for $75,000?

Peruse the website of your farmers market and read the vendor requirements. Many markets require that your goods be grown or produced in your state. You'll need to decide exactly what you'll sell, such as fruits or vegetables, baked goods (breads, muffins, cookies, or pies), arts, crafts (scented candles, chainsaw carvings, and jewelry), or body care items (lotions). Some markets require your commitment for the entire selling season; in many areas, it's about six months. Booth rental fees vary but expect to pay an average of $500 per six-month season. Some markets allow you to rent a spot weekly for approximately $20. Booths are about 10-by-10 feet; you can choose your spot on a first-come, first-served basis. If you think you'll need electricity or water for your booth, you'd better inquire long in advance.

It's a Business

Treat your farmers market booth as a business because it is a business.

You'll want to start small and grow, selling more varied items as you tweak your business. Before the season begins, you must follow your city and state requirements for registering your business. Also, you'll need to apply for a state resale number and know how to collect and pay sales tax that's required in your state. Like any proprietor, you must maintain accurate records of income and expenses to be prepared for year-end federal and state income taxes. Proprietors use Schedule C to record farmers market profits. Your expenses will include weekly or annual booth rental fee.

You'll need to be certain you're insured properly. For example, if someone gets cut from jewelry that you sold to them, you want to be covered.

You also want to be set up for customers to use debit and credit cards if your farmers market permits that. Each customer credit card purchase will cost you, the vendor, approximately 3%, so price your goods accordingly.

Setup and Transportation Issues

If you'll be selling baked goods, many municipalities require that they be prepared in a commercial kitchen; some vendors rent a church kitchen for this purpose. Additionally, you'll want to invest in a sturdy table that will survive when crowds hover over your goods, eager to pay you. Many vendors also buy a tent, about 10-by-10 feet, the size of many farmers market booths; a tent is good protection for you against sun and heat and helps define your area. Depending on what you're selling, you may need a commercial scale for weighing produce and also bags and labels for packaging. If you'll be giving out free samples — a great way to entice potential customers — be sure to have appropriate containers, as well as a nearby trash bin.

Be sure your family car or van is large enough to transport your table, tent, and goods for sale.

Be Prepared

Prepare well each season and each week to maximize sales and minimize stress.

If you'll be selling non-perishable items, such as crafts, use the months when there's no farmers market to increase your inventory so that you'll have enough to sell to make it financially viable to be in the market. Also, you'll probably need help each week at the market, so hire someone, such as a family member or a teen, in advance. Be sure to package and price everything and make signs. Your prices need to be competitive with vendors selling similar items.

On the morning of each market, arrive promptly, open on time, and dress appropriately. Remember a hat, sunscreen, sanitation gloves if you'll be handling food, an apron, cash for change, and markers and labels if you've forgotten to price some goods.

Selling your goods can be a great way to make some extra income. You may want to start by sharing a booth a few times with an established vendor to see if you enjoy it. Next time you visit your farmers market, imagine yourself there as a proprietor instead of a customer and consider whether selling at the farmers market may be something you'd enjoy.

Lee is a regular contributor to The Dollar Stretcher, a site dedicated to helping you “live better…for less.”

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Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago

I thought of doing this last year with some craft products that I make. I never took the plunge though. This year I have started a lot of extra seedlings and have thought about selling some of my yield at the farmers market. I wouldn’t be able to sustain a booth with plants for the entire season though so this would only be feasible if I could rent a booth for a shorter time.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

I don’t think many people could sustain a booth for an entire season — or even a few weeks — with a side business. Where I live, it’s expensive to rent space and there’s high demand. (Not to mention taxes you have to collect and remit) You really have to make a big commitment and be selling something that’s in demand and really good quality. That being said, friends of mine have had good luck renting a table at a bizarre, craft sale, plant sale, etc. It’s a much smaller commitment and a lot cheaper — perfect if you’re looking… Read more »

My University Money
My University Money
8 years ago

Wow… who knew that regulations were killing the nimble farmer’s market – market? As a kid growing up on the rural Canadian prairies (I’m only talking 15 years ago or so) I can guarantee there was not nearly this many rules to follow. There were however lot of fresh produce, made without insecticides or herbicides, and hundreds of freshly baked pies (my favourite, and the least healthy thing there!).

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago

the only thing that protects us from the bureaucracy is its inefficiency…but technology is making the bureaucracy more efficient every second.

Priswell
Priswell
8 years ago

Bureaucracy in our town has some of the worst technical interfaces anywhere. The city site is poorly designed and has little real information, the business license site is horrible, and on and on. Yes, there’s a website, but it’s of little help.

Fred
Fred
6 years ago
Reply to  Priswell

I hate all these new regulations of the past 10 years.

I think we should all ask ANY candidates what their stand is on new regulations. If they are not against new regs and not for lessening old regs…..we need to vote for someone else. Our FREEDOM lies in the balance.

Get Rich Point
Get Rich Point
8 years ago

The Farmers Market can be used to assess the demand for your, newly created, product before you launch it on a big scale; say on eBay etc.It will give you an idea whether your new product will become a hit or a miss. When people come to your booth they will let you know the plus and minus points of your product. Based on these inputs you will be able to develop a refined product that will be more appealing to the target group. Thus you will be able to get the results of a focus group method which the… Read more »

Ru
Ru
8 years ago

I’d be wary of selling crafts that aren’t consumable (as opposed to something like soap) if you live in a small community without a high turnover of tourists/visitors. If you’re seeing the same 400 people every weekend it will be much harder to sell your goods because who realistically would buy a hand-knitted shawl week after week? Or a hand thrown bowl? Or one of those lathe turned wooden mushrooms? So if you live somewhere small it might be best to stick to seasonable craft fairs (e.g a Christmas bazaar), selling online (Etsy, Ebay), or carpooling with another crafter to… Read more »

Beth
Beth
8 years ago

I’m really surprised the OP didn’t mention weather. One of the best times to get deals at the outdoor farmers’ market where I live is when the weather is bad. Fewer people are shopping, and fresh foods have to be sold!

I always feel bad for the crafters and other non-food businesses who are there on those days. You don’t see many people shopping for jewelry or carved bowls.

Maria
Maria
8 years ago

There’s nothing I dislike more than a farmer’s market that has lots of crafts vendors.

They have their place, and farmer’s markets aren’t it.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Maria

The last thing the world needs is another person selling homemade scented candles or chainsaw carvings. Especially at a farmers market, but anywhere at all, really.

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

if there is a market buying it (and a farmer’s market selling the space) then who on earth are you to judge what “shouldn’t” be sold?

someone woke up crabby besides me.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

By your logic, a slave market is OK.

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago

honey, if you’re gonna jump right to slave market, then there’s no having an intelligent conversation with you. Apples & oranges.

Marie Cartwright
Marie Cartwright
7 years ago
Reply to  Maria

The modern farmers markets (at least the good ones) are usually in downtown central locations in most cities. If you just want to sell produce and food items, you might as well be in a church parking lot. Most people want a true handmade shopping experience – not just the equivalency of attending a gourmet market of often over priced produce and food items (as many farmers markets food items are). In other words, it would be a rather bland market without the artisans.

leaf (the indolent cook)
leaf (the indolent cook)
8 years ago

I’ve played with the idea of setting up stall at a market. I want to sell edible items though, and the food regulations can be pretty strict where I am (in Australia) so I just need to figure out how to navigate the requirements and start putting in the effort. It’s tough to have the discipline though when I have a full-time job and a couple of hobbies on the side!

PB @ Economically Humble
PB @ Economically Humble
8 years ago

Oooo, timely post. I also recommend finding a niche product, over everything else. Farmers markets are great opportunities to sell high quality food that others would not be purchased. Be sure, also, to have all of your permits in order if you are doing more than growing food.

J Marie
J Marie
8 years ago

Interesting information. The regulations are really driving people out of business! With the state of the economy, you would think that the govt. would be trying to encourage business.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  J Marie

I think it’s case of “freedom to” versus “freedom from”. Do we want the freedom to sell and buy whatever we want, or do we want to be free from potentially unsafe products and foods? Food and product safety has been a big issue in recent years, and side businesses have to play by some of the same rules as major companies.

It’s frustrating, to be sure, but perhaps necessary?

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

the big companies do not have to play by the same rules as the small (waivers ya know) and once they stop accepting cash, independent markets will eventually die (Louisiana) and you’ll be left at the mercy of the big guys.

thanks, I’ll take “freedom to” and watch out myself for “freedom from”…from whomever it may come, Meglabusiness included.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

Yes, but you sound like a reasonably intelligent person who takes responsibility for your choices. Unfortunately, safety regulations are geared towards people who need reminders like “do not iron clothes while wearing.”

Eileen
Eileen
8 years ago

I’m a volunteer with my local farmers market, and I have to agree with the points in this post. To add: -I agree with the person who advised against selling crafts. Unless you sell soaps, candles, or other consumables – which people could theoretically buy more of every week – most farmers markets will probably turn you down. People want a place to buy produce, not a place to buy sweaters. -Show up every.single.week. If you get a following, people will come to your booth every week and will plan their menu for the week around *you*. We had a… Read more »

Tracy
Tracy
8 years ago

I would also check with your farmers market about occasional openings. We see a few vendors just a few times a season when they fill in for someone who can’t be there.

Frugal Portland
Frugal Portland
8 years ago

Keep in mind, farmers markets exists so that actual farmers can make a living wage. Just because your garage has extra room in it this year does not mean you should grow extra bean plants and try to undercut a farmer who relies on this for a living.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

“try to undercut…” whaaaaattt?? So I can’t ride my bike cuz I’ll undercut the bus and deprive the driver of her job? I can’t ride the bus cuz I’ll undercut the car companies and send auto workers home? Where do you draw the line, Madam Secretary of Side Labor? I can’t breathe now cuz I’ll undercut professional marathoners who need the oxygen? If a farmer cannot bring to market a cheaper and better quality bean than some tinkerer with extra room in their garage (!), said farmer does not deserve to be in business, and the land will be better… Read more »

Frugal Portland
Frugal Portland
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

So, in your scenario, how do farmers make a living against someone who doesn’t care about making a dime and just wants to get rid of the extra zucchini in their backyard? Most markets won’t allow hobby farmers for that very reason. In your scenario, the farms go to forest, and our vegetables come from where?

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

Our vegetables come from where? Garages, of course! Why own a whole farm when you can grow enough produce next to the minivan, right? Clearly, the current agricultural model is obsolete!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

And now without the irony: Farmers make a living by growing more and better produce than the amateur and at a lower cost thanks to their skills, experience, and economies of scale. Farmers also have a larger supply, and a larger base of clients– not just Saturday morning shoppers but restaurants, retailers, etc. And they have established loyal customers who come back every week. In every field established businesses have to compete with non-pros, start-ups and technological alternatives. It’s part of the territory and everyone in business needs to understand this. Journalists have to compete with bloggers. Wedding photographers have… Read more »

KSR
KSR
8 years ago

South America. Our produce comes from everywhere, but South America is a biggy. American rice (yes, rice– and we harvest a lot of it) goes to Asia. This is a world economy where we tell farmers what to grow and how much to grow. Then we set limits on imports and exports and let the world market determine the price, not farmers. Mass manipulation.

El Nerdo. I read your advice on my vice and damn dude—that works. Breathe?!? I was——-yeah, right. But it works!!!! Thanks man!

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago

If no one was allowed to lose their jobs, we wouldn’t have email, cars, or even farmers for that matter. Farmers must have put hunters out of business at some point in human history. Ford put blacksmiths out of business. Google is putting postal workers out of business. Innovation for a higher quality of life for everyone means short-term hardship for few. Those farmers can get new jobs by providing something of value that people are willing to pay for. If they can’t, then that’s a heck on an incentive to get the skills to do so. If people can… Read more »

Josh
Josh
8 years ago

This post alone would be worth the effort for GRS to add a thumbs down button.

What a ridiculous comment.

Also, anyone growing beans in their garage is not going to have the inventory to keep a booth stocked or to even make a scratch in the supply side of supply & demand. The farmer will be just fine. I’d imagine any hobby farmers would sell close to market rate as well, otherwise the farmer could just buy all those beans and resell them for a nice profit.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Josh

Oh! Yes. Buy cheap hobby product + resell for a profit! (Provided it doesn’t taste like cardboard). I forgot that option. LOL.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

Before I leave, one last thing that’s still bugging me:

“farmers markets exists so that actual farmers can make a living wage.”

I thought they existed to provide customers with fresh quality produce at competitive prices! Silly me…

Matt at Healthy N\' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N\' Wealthy
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

The free market exists for the consumer. It’s where consumers decide prices: it’s the economic equivalent of democracy, and that’s why democracy and free market capitalism go hand in hand.

Matt at Healthy N\' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N\' Wealthy
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Spot on. In the free market, the consumer decides the prices. It’s the economic equivalent of democracy. That’s why they go hand in hand.

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

funny, agribusiness stole that line…y’know the part about if ConAgra et al didn’t exist, the farmer would have gone extinct and we all would have starved.

funny how ficfacts are made huh?

sarah
sarah
8 years ago

I have never been to a farmer’s market that sold crafts. I think that would annoy me. (And I have a side business selling crafts…)

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

I think some people are confusing a farmers’ market with a flea market that allows booths of produce and foodcraft…in a lot of places they are one and the same.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

Our local market is a farmers’ market and flea market, but produce is sold in one area, baked goods in another, and non-food items in another section. The layout makes it really easy for people like me who just want to grocery shop.

Sara
Sara
8 years ago

A couple of times a season, our local market has a crafters market. It is just an add on to the regular market. I actually really like it, but I don’t think they would do great if they were there every week. But a couple of times a season they draw interest to the market and I enjoy the products.

Barb
Barb
8 years ago

My towns farmers market does have a craft section……..in it’s own section if you will, which includes soaps, candles a woman who spinns wool and sells yarn. Also people who sell non farm but food items including jams and jellies, wine and baked goods and texas olive oils. They all fit in well. The big city (Dallas) farmers market has them all under another tent.

This Aggie Saves
This Aggie Saves
8 years ago

I’d totally do a farmer’s market if I had a hobby that would lend itself to selling something there. There’s a huge market for that sort of stuff in my area.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

This must be very location-dependent. The Beverly Hills farmers market has no craft vendors – only foods, things made from food (the honey vendor has beeswax things, the goat cheese vendor has goat’s milk soap), and a knife sharpening guy.

Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
8 years ago

Do research and see what other people are selling at your local farmers market. You don’t want any competition.

RMS
RMS
8 years ago

I used to sell photos at an outdoor market. It was mostly crafts, with a few farm stands as well. My product didn’t sell well, mainly because it was not diversified enough. On the other hand, my friend sold jewelry and would take home about a thousand or more each show. It just really depends on your pricing, salesmanship, and how good your product is compared to others. So yes, the post is right that IT IS A BUSINESS. I spent many beautiful summer weekends selling instead of being out with friends. I also spent A LOT of money preparing… Read more »

Donna
Donna
8 years ago

Last year I committed wholeheartedly to working three farmer’s markets in my area, and due to growth this year will be working four, in addition to providing a local restaurant and filling special orders (I am a baker). All of the people I know who MAKE A LIVING at these markets treat it very, very seriously as a business. This really shouldn’t be a hobby for people – the fees alone seem to prohibit that, and most good farmer’s markets won’t take anyone who seems *junky* – selling cookware, Avon, etc., non-handmade clothing or doodads…guess all I’m trying to say… Read more »

Andie
Andie
4 months ago
Reply to  Donna

We grow organic certified cereal grains and will be producing flour from our on farm flour mill. The California wheat commission has advised that farmers markets may be a good place to start as we will be one of the first to bring back certified organic on farm milling—as well as being certified organic in the process. We know there is a market but being unfamiliar with the farmers market aspect of selling I have a question. Will you do one or more farmer markets and will you have one or more booths at different farmer markets landing on the… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
8 years ago

Easier to put up a sales table in your front yard a few days a year.

Denver Kindley
Denver Kindley
7 years ago

I like Facebook, but I hate that their notes section is not as appealing as MySpace blogs. I recently transferred a blog from MySpace to Facebook using the “share” icon located beneath each blog .. . However, I do not like the way in which appears on my Facebook page. Are there any better ways to import my blogs?.

Nick
Nick
6 years ago

There are a lot of ways to make money at farmers markets and this definitely put a good grasp on it. I get a lot of people who order off of my website that sell my products at farmers markets

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