Farmers' Market Marketing
Farmers’ markets are growing in popularity in the U.S., up from 1,755 markets in the country in 1994 to nearly 4,700 in 2008. Farmers markets provide consumers with a face to face experience and fresher produce.
Taking your products to farmers’ markets is probably one of the most well-known ways that producers utilize in selling their fruits, vegetables and other products. To sell at farmers’ markets, you will need to understand if the market attracts enough consumers to handle your production level, and if the numbers of producers who attend that market are already meeting that consumer demand. If you go into an established market, that has a track record of large attendance, you have a greater chance of selling the products you take to market.
All farmers markets are regulated by the state as to what they can sell and how. All farmers markets must be approved by the State Department of Agriculture and they have to follow the state guidelines. But, they can create other guidelines that don’t contradict the state guidelines.
Regulations for farmers markets exist at every market, but they vary a little by locality. To understand what those differences are, you should seek out the Coordinator or Market Master for that particular market. They will have specific rules and guidelines that are provided for each market. Most markets require that you are local, for whatever region they have identified (by county and maybe including adjoining counties, or maybe anyone can participate), but you will need to get the rules of that specific market.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Horticulture and Farmers Market Bureau has a web page that provides links to information that are helpful.
A specific resource for farmers’ market vendors in Iowa is on that web site at the “Vendor Resource Information” link. For instance, if you are interested in selling meat or poultry products at a farmers market, you would need to know that all licensing and/or processing regulations must be met and information is provided regarding the sale of each type of product, and who to contact for more information, or who regulates that product.
An example of the type of specific information (on meat and poultry in this example) on that IDALS site is provided here:
Meat & Poultry
Meat and poultry can be sold at an Iowa farmers market. The vendor is responsible for all licenses necessary to process the product and all licenses necessary to take the product to market to sell. Two agencies are involved.
For processing contact:
Meat and Poultry Inspection Bureau, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship
For licensing to take the product to market to sell contact:
Bureau of Food & Consumer Safety, Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals
To sell at any farmers markets, you must follow the regulations of the state and the guidelines of that specific market. You have to have insurance and you have to be approved as a vendor. You generally have some sort of vendor fees to participate in farmers markets.
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Various state and federal programs provide benefits directly for consumer use at the farmers market only. The Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) includes WIC (Women, Infant and Children benefits) FMNP and the Senior FMNP.
You should investigate the Food Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp program), and explore the Electronic Benefits Transfer wireless project that has been used in many of the farmers markets in the state. The Electronic Benefits Transfer wireless project utilizes cellular technology to process credit, debit and food assistance purchases.
Be sure you explore and get to know all the regulations surrounding marketing food products in various channels, prior to selling in those avenues. Assistance can be obtained from several sources. Another good source is the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
The USDA has good resources on farmers markets at their Agricultural Marketing Services page.
Also, the USDA Economic Research Service has conducted research in farmers markets and specifically about selling at farmers markets for the niche markets. The publication “Organic Produce, Price Premiums, and Eco-Labeling in U.S. Farmers Markets” provides a look at the potential and status of those market niches at farmers markets across the U.S.