Farmer's Market

novelist(5A)September 8, 2009

I need your help. Next year I'm going to do a table at our local farmer's market. It is a smallish one, only 15 or so vendors, but they have robust crowds each week. I watched several vendors sell droopy basil for $2.50 for a few leaves and decided to try my hand. The cost is low, $200 entry, $10 a week, and I want to have my daughter learn about public sales - well, it's a shoddy excuse to take my 4 year old out and have fun with her, who am I kidding. OK, I digress.

I am starting to plan the "menu" and could use some help. If you did not grow herbs, but went to a farmer's market, what would you want to buy?

Currently I plan:

Thyme ( German, English, French and Lemon )

Basil (Genov., Purple Ruffle, Thai )

Oregano (Italian, Greek )

Fennel ( Florance and Bronze)

Dill ( uncertain about which one )

French Tarragon

French Sorrel

Parsely (Curly and regular)



Sage (Common and Pineapple)

Lemon Grass

Lemon Balm

Mint ( Lemon, Spearmint, Peppermint )



Garlic ( planing 15 kinds this fall for next year )

Shallots (fall planting)


Hot peppers (4-6 kinds)

I also plan to offer several non-kitchen herbs, just because I grow them:

Borage (some people do use this as a food item)


B. Skullcap

Any other ideas? I already grow all these, so nothing new just for Farmer's market. The only thing I'm doing is cutting down on the varieties of Basil I grow (23 this year) and sage (down from 10) to make more room for the sale items. As much as I like some of these lesser know varieties, I don't expect they have a lot of sale-ability. People will only buy what they know how to use.

I plan to bring home whatever I don't sell and dry them. I'll package the dried items and sell them alongside the fresh. I'll combine things and call them "Italian Seasoning" or "Chicken Rub", so people can just use it like a pre-packaged mix. My value will be organic methods, local crop, and no filler material.

I'm not looking to make a lot of money, it's more about sharing a passion and having fun with my daughter (2 younger daughters coming up as well. I hope to include them in future years). I've done the Farmer's market thing before, but with standard items: tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, spinache, beans. There was too much competition and my small size hurt my sales. This is a niche I think is underserved; I want to plan it over the winter and hit the ground running. So, tell me, what would you like to see at "Herb's Herbs" in your local Farmer's market?

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I do grow some herbs for personal use. However, I can tell you my favorites and what I think your biggest sellers will be (in order):

Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, Oregano, Dill, Mint, Thyme, and Rosemary.

Thyme is probably my favorite but I don't think many other people enjoy it as much as I do. I don't really like sage but I know many others that do.

Good luck and have fun with your little one!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 4:17PM
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CA Kate

I frequently buy herb plants at our farmers markets... any off your list when needed.

My question for this crowded market: how well will you be able to supervise a 4 year old while you're waiting on a customer(s)? I wouldn't take a 4 year old to our farmers' market without constantly holding their hand.... maybe even carrying them if the crowds are heavy. One moment of curiosity could pull that child away.... not to even think about unsavory adults.

Sorry to be an ol' p00p, but I had to say it.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 5:22PM
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You will quickly learn which are the best sellers, but you've got a good list there and most will sell well. As the clientele gets to know you, they'll probably keep asking for more and more different herbs (more medicinal herbs, especially), so be prepared for that if you want to branch out in that direction. I ended up with around 350 different herbs, and still they wanted more! You get the basil collectors, the mint collectors, the thyme collectors, the any-sort-of-herb-I-haven't-got collectors.....Somewhere you have to draw the line.

Keeping up stocks of bay trees was a problem for me. Any I had were snapped up. Same with stevia.

Of the medicinal herbs, echinacea and evening primrose sold very well for me, especially if they were in flower at the time of sale. Aloe vera was also very popular.

One of my best sellers was DANDELION, believe it or not!

I suggest you add chives and garlic chives to your list if you can.

If your find your 'business' is successful, keep up the public's interest in your stall by adding some new herbs from time to time. Make them your 'special of the day' drawcards. Think about herbs like ginger, turmeric, curry leaf tree, kaffir lime, cardamom for example.

Try your hardest to keep RECORDS of what you sell. Easiest way to do this is to count out your plants (each type) before you leave home, then do a second inventory at the end of the day to compare notes.

Hint: if the days are hot, or windy, make sure to have a squirty bottle of water so you can mist your plants as they begin to droop in the heat. You'll really appreciate some sort of shelter for both you and your plants. If it's windy, make sure you weight down the anchorage points of your 'tent'. I've seen many a tent fly away at markets!

I agree wholeheartedly with Westelle about having your daughter with you. She'll be bored to sobs in less than an hour, and if you're busy you simply won't be able to keep an eye on her. She'll love it for that short while, but after that, she'll have the capacity of all 4yos to make the rest of your day a living hell!!

If you insist on taking her, have a friend with you at the stall for the day to help out - not just with the selling, but mainly for keeping the child occupied, taking her to the toilet etc. Better still, have a friend take your child for a short while as part of the visiting crowd, then take her home again when it's clear she's had enough. If you want her to enjoy the markets, give it to her in small doses for a few more years. One large dose now is likely to turn her off it for life.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 7:02PM
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Thanks for the advice. I have chives and garlic chives, but simply left them off the list. I had not thought about bay trees, that is a nice idea. I'm also thinking about herb flavored vinegar and olive oil. I do have to see if I would need to get my kitchen approved for that.

I hope that people start requesting things; that would make the entire venture much more fun. I am really branching out into medicinal herbs, but for my own entertainment. I don't want to give medical advice - as you would probably all caution me about.

I'm grateful for the concern for my daughter, but I'll also have a teenage boy or two with me and my kids are pretty well behaved. When you have ten children you get pretty good at keeping your head on a swivel.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2009 at 8:44PM
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I have a suggestion for the cilantro. It goes to seed so quickly that it's hard to keep a good supply going. One of our marketers plants it in deep tubs (about 6" deep)with holes drilled in the bottom. Then he sells directly out of the tubs - just sets a pair of garden scissors beside it - and people can cut just the amount they want. The tubs are replanted immediately after the market so there is a continuing supply. His sign says "None fresher!" and that's the truth. When I was selling, my biggest sellers for cut herbs were parsley, basil and dill. That seems to be what most people in this area are familiar with. I couldn't find summer savory this year, and since mine didn't do well, I would have paid more than normal for it. So far as plants go, just about all of them sell reasonably well.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2009 at 2:32AM
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23 varieties of basil and 10 of sage. Please tell us what you grow!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2009 at 6:28AM
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It is guaranteed that people will ask questions about the use of medicinal plants. Be prepared for it! You don't have to give advice, but people will expect you to provide some information. You can get around this by saying, 'Well, traditionally, it's used for....' or 'it's SUPPOSED to help with.....'. That way, it's unlikely you'll be sued! I used to end such conversations with a comment like 'For myself, I just grow it because I think it's pretty' or some such.

I think it's wise to start out with just plants. There are so many things you could include on your stall - dried herbs, herbal wreaths, soaps, creams and lotions, perfumed sachets, lip balms, vinegars and all the rest - that you could really stretch yourself beyond your capacity to cope.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2009 at 6:12PM
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Right, concentrate on getting plants and cuts the first year. If I bit off too much...yeah, makes sense.

This year I grew these types of Basil:
Blue Spice
DiGenova (3 types)
Dark Opal
East Indian Lemon
Lettuce Leaf
Sweet Thai I grew common, golden, tri-color and pineapple for culinary use. The other varieties were for "show"

    Bookmark   September 9, 2009 at 8:22PM
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May not happen but if your children are helping you please keep a tip jar or envelope labeled with the child's name. My hubby thinks it is great when a youngster helps and depending on how child is acting will leave a tip. Fussing or not paying attention to customers, mother, no tip.

If they are tipped do not put with other money because you will never remember how much it was.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2009 at 12:55AM
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Sounds like fun! A nice experience for you and your daughter!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2009 at 2:49PM
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Are you thinking of selling more plants or more cuttings? I didn't sell plants, but supplied a market stall with some cut herbs. She grew parsley and basil and mint, I supplied her with some others.

My experience is minimal, but when I took in sprigs of bay leaves or curry leaves, they sold well. The other herbs,except for rosemary, less well.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2009 at 12:01PM
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I'll package the dried items and sell them alongside the fresh. I'll combine things and call them "Italian Seasoning" or "Chicken Rub", so people can just use it like a pre-packaged mix.

Check your state's food laws to make sure this can be done without having certificates and inspections. In some states it's considered "food processing".

    Bookmark   September 13, 2009 at 5:43PM
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My bundled herbs sold well - just enough for one big meal. You can identify the cooking style ("classic Italian, southeast Asian" etc.) and expect to bring some home but people love to see it offered and to know you have it even if they don't buy it every week.

Fragrance is also a big seller. I would rotate out some sort of distinctive aroma herb ever other week or so. You'd be amazed at how many scented geraniums you can sell.

My hispanic customers liked to buy a cilantro plant each weekend that they would snip from all week and then toss so I sold a lot of them in 4 inch pots.

I sold a lot of garlic or shallots in the spring for the people that didn't know you're supposed to plant them the previous fall (around here at least).

    Bookmark   September 14, 2009 at 2:38PM
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