A Key to Farmer’s Success: Matching Market Size & Management Structure

Author: Garry Stephenson

Publish Date: Summer 2008

Farmers’ markets are rapidly growing in number in Oregon and throughout the United States. Keeping these markets open and operating efficiently is important both for the farmers that sell at these markets and the communities these markets serve. Research from Oregon State University shows that in order to avoid internally inflicted problems that could be detrimental to a market, organizers should use management tools that are appropriate for the size of the market. In addition, to avoid outgrowing their management structure and to assure the readiness of their market for future growth, organizers should plan for implementing appropriate management practices to match an anticipated market size.

Understanding the Link Between Farmers’ Market Size and Management Organization (Oregon State University Extension Service Special Report Number 1082-E) examines the relationship between the size of farmers’ markets and the type of management organization they use. The report compares four market size categories to the management tools and resources commonly used by farmers’ markets. There are significant differences in management tools used by markets of differing size.

Four categories for farmers’ markets size were created using research data: Micro (8 or fewer vendors), Small (9 to 25 vendors), Medium (26 to 55 vendors), Large (over 55 vendors). The analysis of market size and management tools revealed an increase in number of management tools and an increase in management complexity as markets increase in size. Here are some key findings:

  • Markets of different sizes use different management tools. As they grow, smaller markets add structures like the use of site maps and boards of directors. Larger markets add management complexity as they grow such as additional employees and sophisticated planning and budgeting. 
  • Matching management tools to current or anticipated market size makes best use of valuable resources and may reduce internal management problems.
  • There is an important transition between small-sized markets and medium-sized markets. Small markets anticipating growth into medium size should be prepared. A key feature of this transition is the addition of a salaried manager (rather than a volunteer) to handle market operations.

The report by Garry Stephenson, Larry Lev and Linda Brewer of Oregon State University is available online for free.