Author: Melissa Matthewson
Publish Date: Summer 2008
As a new grower, bringing produce to your local farmers’ market is an excellent way to start selling your products and gain exposure for your farm. While the quality of your produce is extremely important, how you display your produce as well as how you interact with farmers’ market customers is critical to success. I have known farmers’ market vendors who have beautiful and excellent quality produce, but do not have attractive displays and have suffered for it. When creating your market booth, take time with the details. They do count.
What farmers’ market shoppers like is a display of produce that appears bountiful and abundant. Bring a lot of produce with you to market and build your display with copious amounts of vegetables and color. Create a display that incorporates many different depths and eye levels for people to look at. Have signs that clearly label your vegetables and articulate prices. Assume that people do not know what escarole or kohlrabi is. Give them cooking tips and recipe cards. People like to try new things and can usually be charmed into buying a bunch of scarlet turnips, for example, if you provide them with a good recipe on how to use that particular vegetable.
Use many different types of baskets or props that can hold salad mixes and loose greens and integrate bunches and heads in between those baskets. Shoppers can be shy, so make your booth accessible and less intimidating by thinking about table placement. Leave enough room for your shoppers to come in under your canopy. Double booth spaces help with this. Have bags hanging and accessible for people to shop and pick out produce. Think about using biodegradable or compostable bags as a marketing strategy. As well, integrate many different colors into your display. Think about alternating between red and green head lettuces. Put rainbow chard up front and center or purple cabbage in between a number of green cabbages. As well, invest in a well-made large banner that has
your farm name and location printed on it. People want to know who you are and where you are located.
Another important aspect of farmers’ markets is the importance of engaging with farmers’ market shoppers. Make eye contact with the person who is buying your vegetables and engage in conversation with them about how they may prepare the vegetables. Tell them about your farm. It takes a lot of energy to cultivate returning customers, but with a little extra effort on your part, they will come back and become steady shoppers. Also, stay active at your booth. Try not to sit and do not talk on cell phones. It makes farmers look disinterested to customers. Smile at people as they come by and seem interested in who they are and what they are doing at the market. Direct marketing is sometimes called relationship marketing, which is exactly what the farmers’ market is—building community and new relationships through the exchange of food. People are coming to buy vegetables for the week, but also to meet and talk with their local farmer!