4 Secrets to Farmers’ Market Quality

What makes a great farmers’ market?

Most people say, “Oh, I love my market!” and point to that favorite vendor who grows a variety of kale you can’t find anywhere else, or maybe your favorite band plays there regularly and you love to hear their music.

But from our perspective, good markets don’t just happen by accident! They’re PLANNED. Here are our 4 Signs of Farmers’ Market Quality, which of course … shameless plug…. you’ll find at the Winter Farmers’ Market by Grow Oak Ridge:

All the produce is locally grown

This is actually not as easy to determine as you would think. How do you KNOW If a farmer is REALLY growing those mushrooms, or buying them at a produce warehouse somewhere and selling them for twice as much?

Well, first you would need to recognize what’s in season. For example if you’re at a Winter Farmers’ Market and you see a farmer in the wintertime with red, ripe tomatoes, you know (we hope you know!) that tomatoes only grow in HOT weather… as in at least 80 degrees for them to wake up. So this is a good time to ask the farmer, “Where did you grow this?” Now, most farmers are going to talk extensively about their greenhouses, and how many heaters they have to keep running all winter long. In fact, most farmers go on. And on. And on about growing methods until your eyes start to glaze over! Good farmers’ markets also will investigate their vendors, either by calling references and extension agents, or by doing an on-site inspection. Ask the farmers’ market management how they know each product is local.

The Manager is NOT a Vendor

In a well-run market, manager is NOT a vendor. Why? Because, frankly, if you’re a successful farmer or artisan you’re probably working HOURS each day getting ready for the market on a Saturday. Plus, you also might be working a real job somewhere to pay the bills. You simply don’t have time to run a farmers’ market. If the market manager is also a vendor, then that market is probably not going to have much music, kids’ programs, a SNAP (food stamps) program, etc. There’s just no time. Find a farmers’ market is separate from the vendors, and you’ll find all those extra things that make a farmer’s market fun and not just a place to pick up locally grown veggies (although that’s important, too!)

Assigned Spaces

You bought those stringless green beans last month when you were here, but don’t remember the farmers’ name, but they were in the back left corner somewhere….. Does this sound familiar? Most customers do NOT remember a vendor’s name, and just want to find them in the same spot week after week. A good market manager will make sure this happens as much as possible. Some farmers’ markets have a “first-come-first-serve” attitude toward vendors, and it’s a free-for-all during set up time. This may be fine for vendors who have nothing better to do than arrive before dawn for an 8 a.m. start, but again, professional farmers are BUSY. A farmers’ market that does not assign spaces also probably has vendors who are annoyed or downright angry with each other. You the customer might not notice it, but you will notice over time that the biggest, best vendors stop coming. Why? They’re just too busy to arrive 3 hours before set up and stake out a “good” spot. They’ve moved on to other markets that assign spaces!

Welcome Desk

Finally, the best farmers’ markets have a Welcome Desk for customer service. This is where the manager or assistant sits during the market, helping customers with things like SNAP (food stamps) EBT cards, maybe an ATM-like system in which customers who forget to bring cash can purchase market tokens, or maybe there’s a kids’ program, and more. When all the other vendors are so busy with their own booths, it’s a great idea to have a Welcome Desk to watch out for customer needs.

And that’s it, folks, our Top 4 Marks of a Great Farmers’ Market!

If you’re a vendor who makes, bakes or grows what they sell, consider applying for the Winter Farmers’ Market by Grow Oak Ridge.