Suggestions For Farmers Market Necessities

farmsteward(North Carolina 7)December 10, 2006

I'll be selling my cut flowers, veggies and plants for the first time at a local market in April. What are the basic necessities I'll need to set up my area? I've got some ideas, but I want to hear from the experts first!

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Did my first season at market last year.
Things you'll want/need:

-a table or some display fixture that is easy to set up. Remember, that setting up a display can take a while. Efficiences count.
- Good Signage. Signs should clearly indicate variety and Price. Don't make signs to "busy", that is, don't try to put too much info. on a sign. I've found it helps to use LARGE print for prices that are competitive/good deals. Also, you may want to have a banner type sign designating your business name/location. People always ask where you're from.
-Change. You will need to have an adequete supply of change to deal with numerous cash transactions.
-Transport. How will you transport your plants to market? In a closed vehicle or in the back of a pickup?
-Shelter. Depending on your market location, it may be wise to invest in a canopy to offer shelter from sun/rain. These can be found in the ~60-70 dollar price range at home depot type stores.Market weather is quite unpredictable. Account for the wind.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2006 at 1:54AM
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kydaylilylady(z6 KY)

One very important thing that's you'll need is container's to transport your produce and flowers so that they'll arrive as near to perfect as possible. Plastic milk crates can be useful to place flower container in so that they'll ride well. If you'll go to the produce section in most groceries and take to someone there you can usually get all the cardboard trays or tomato boxes and other boxes that you could want. The trays are nice. Try to get the same brand of tray as that way they will stack nicely on top of one another. Get the boxes with lids. They don't mind giving them to you because they're just going to recycle them anyway. If you can't get your wares to market in as good a shape as it left the garden you might as well stop there. You're selling tomatoes, not catsup! Recycling these boxes and flats will save you a good deal of money when it comes to supplies.

You will need some type of table. Produce sells much better when it's up off the ground and attractively displayed.


    Bookmark   December 11, 2006 at 10:49AM
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I'm a relative newbie myself. For the past few years I have been selling stuff from my garden at the local (and large) flea market but next year I plan on selling at a farmers market in a suburb of my city.

Up off the ground is important for two reasons - it saves your back (and your customers) and stuff gets stressed by the heat radiating off of hot asphalt on a sunny day.

Some of the customers want to talk and talk and talk about every little detail of the plants you are offering while others would rather read the info off of a sign. Handouts are nice but very time consuming to produce and keep handy (clean & undamaged).

Set up time is important. If your display is complex and labor intensive then you will be worn out before you even start selling - not good. Keep things simple and light weight so that you keep a natural smile on your face the entire time you are selling.

I use the cloth change aprons you can buy at any lumber yard (made to hold nails or screws, often have the store name and logo on them). That way I can sell plants on the fly and don't have to walk back to a cash box to make change. I use grocery store dye to color the cloth a dark blue and hide the lumber yards name.

I keep a bowl of cool water handy for dogs (but then, I'm a dog person).

I keep an eye on my competitors to see what they have that I don't, and I refer customers to them when they don't find what they are looking for at my stall. I never bad mouth my competitors, even when they misslable a plant or call something a perennial when it is not. You have to be creative to come up with diplomatic explanations but it helps the customers think of you as the guy to go to for gardening advice.

One feature that I do that I don't see other vendors doing is that I have a space behind my display to stash peoples purchases while they wander the market - so they don't have to carry everything around. I just write their name and phone number on the plastic bags and try to keep everything seperate.

This year I intend to have a website up and running so that customers can go there for plant care info and updates on future crops.

The best advice I could give is for you to do this in a way that you will have fun. If it is too much stress then it won't be worth it in the long run. Realize that the customers desires change throughout the seasons and that there is no way to predict what will sell from one weekend to the next.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2006 at 1:49PM
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you'll need a scale to sell veggies.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2006 at 4:25PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Regarding a scale, you might run into problems, as most kitchen or inexpensive scales aren't legal; i.e.; they aren't calibrated to give the exact same weight each time. You can get around that by weighing things out at home, erring on the generous side, or by weighing things generously at the market. Or, sell things by volume or piece, not weight. Some markets care about your scales and some don't so you might do better to check before hand, and probably better to check with another vendor, so you don't put nasty ideas in the minds of the management if they don't already have them.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2006 at 6:17PM
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PonderGuy(PA - Eastern)

Here's my checklist...
1) Tables (2 6', 2 4')
2) Shelter E-ZUP -- around $200 at Sams club. While the sub $100 canopies will work they do not last (as long--in my opinion) through the constant up and down week after week. Don't get one of the many piece models unless you have lots of hands to help set up.
3) Canopy weights - I use four 4" x 30" concrete filled PVC pipes(one for each corner). The more weight the better. My canopy only has moved an inch or two in very gusty winds while other people's canopies have gone airborn!!
4) Box of "Thank You" bags (Always keep spare in the truck)
5) Bin with all selling supplies. Make sure that nothing ever gets taken out of here back at the farm.
My selling supply bin contains: straps for hanging anchor weights, signs(computer printed and some blanks), sign holders, big clamps, small clamps, pens, markers, bungee cords (few sizes), scissors, rolls of quarters(I keep my pricing on .25 increments), white board markers, paper towels, hand sanitizer, bottle clorox cleanup, farm banner, rope(for hanging signs/white boards above product). I actually have a smaller container in the bigger bin for holding the smaller easy to lose stuff.
6) white board(s)
7) chair for the slow times
8) change/bills (I always start with $200 (5 10's, 20 5's, 50 1's) I am usually very popular with my nearby vendors who always seem to need change for 20's (5's and 1's) early in the market.
9) FMNP signs. (farmers' market nutrition program)

  1. Display shelving to provide a tilted display on my tables.

That's the basic list. Of course things change slightly depending upon product availabilty.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2006 at 10:02PM
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Hi farmsteward -

The best and easiest setup I have found has been plastic sawhorses from Wal-Mart (2 for $12.88 the smiley face is free). They fold up very compact and are extra light, but hold a lot of weight. After I started using them, several other vendors (mostly the senior women) started using them too because they were so easy to use. I use 2Â X 4Â pieces of plywood to go over them. Even though I have a truck, they would easily fit in a car.

I also have a very cheap canopy that runs about $60. They donÂt live too long, but the EZ Ups are much more expensive. The cheaper Quick Shade will last longer if you know the secret to setting it up single-handed. I use a clamp from Home Depot that you ratchet up to push it in place  works great  with less stress on the metal, which is where the cheap ones usually break. I am usually completely set up in less than 15 minutes.

As for scales, I use a hanging scale with a large dial. The customers love it because it looks "farmie". Bear in mind that some state inspectors will insist that they bear an inspectors seal. Fortunately, our market seems to be off the inspectors radar so far! NASCO Farm Supply has one for only $40. (

I also have a bin with all of PonderguyÂs #5 stuff in. One thing I also have is lots of plastic bags from grocery stores to put produce in. I have cut a 4-foot section of 4" PVC sewer pipe (new, of course) and stuff it full of bags. They are easy to pull out one at a time. Many of our customers bring us tons of used bags (and plastic garden pots, 6 paks, etc.). There may be some statute against reusing bags, but as I said, no inspector has paid us a visit.

I suspect our market is a little different. First, it is in a very small town (578 people) but draws from a circle of about 15 miles. All the vendors know each other and we start the morning by looking over what we have and deciding what we are going to charge for stuff. I wouldnÂt expect other, larger markets to do this. But we all look out for each other and I frequently trade stuff I grow better than other for stuff I donÂt grow as well. In fact, this coming season some of us are going to coordinate what we are growing as we order seeds. We are also going to order something together so we can get them cheaper. For instance, I hate growing sweet corn. It takes up too much space, is hard to keep bug free and is just too fussy. But I grow tons of great onions and very good greens. Last season I traded onions for squash and this year I am going to trade greens for sweet corn. Actually, it is sort of funny when a customer asks what variety something is and the vendor says, "I donÂt know" then points over to somebody elseÂs stall and says "Ask her".

    Bookmark   December 15, 2006 at 9:17AM
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farmsteward(North Carolina 7)

Thanks for the great advice. I'm going to shop around for a canopy. Maybe there will be some year-end sales. I like the idea of the bin with all the necessities. Very smart. Now, waiting for Spring!

    Bookmark   December 16, 2006 at 1:07AM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

I use those cheap plastic shelf units that you can get at Walmart, etc. But instead of setting them up as a 4 shelf unit, I split them up and set each unit up as two low tables. They hold lots of stuff at just a little over knee high that way.They come apart easily, and and look white and clean looking. And if they get dirty you can scrub them.
Gotta have a canopy. And water jugs to tie to the legs in case of wind! And if you're selling cut flowers, you have to have shade. Found that out the hard way....
I also sell bananas and tropical plants, so a Jimmy Buffett cd playing low on a cd player, beachcomber hat, and a beach chair are always part of my stand. Hawaiian shirt required!
We are only allowed to use certified scales to sell things by the pound. But if you are selling by the bunch, cup, bag, etc. You can always weigh them out at home. prebox and then sell units that are "roughly" a pound. That will get you around that.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2007 at 8:06AM
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I prebag everything at home and make sure everything is in 50cent incriments because I am horrible at math and this way I don't need any really small change.
My father in law got me a canopy at Walmart on clearance for $30.00 I have no problem getting it set up by myself if need be.
I keep a rubbermaid container with wipes, paper towel, signs, sharpies, extra paper for signs, clips for my table cloths, table cloths, rubber bands, pens, business cards, smaller produce bags from our local wholesale store, and a couple of every size bag I use in case some break or I have customers who want a bag split in half for smaller portions(I also found people came back more often if I would do this for them). We have a lot of retired couples where we are and they like smaller serving sizes. 1 6' table and 0ne 4' table. I use recycled grocery bags and have a couple customers who save all their grocery bags for me now (They even roll them up into little balls so they are easy to grab and transport, so sweet of them considering I never asked them to they just showed up one day with a ton of bags for me)Metal Cash Box with close to a hundred in 5 dollar bills and lots of quarters and $25 loonies and 30 toonies ($1.00 and $2.00 coins)and those folding chairs and blankets, umbrellas, and snacks juice and water for my kids.
I use the large bread trays for many things harvesting to transportation, they stack and have ventilation if I stack them over night or need them for drying things.

Luckily my truck is used almost exclusively for market so I can leave all my tables on it and don't have to load everything in the morning.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2007 at 9:18AM
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garliclady(z7 NC)

Regarding scales In NC the state cerifies scales. I went several years with an illgal scale (because I didn't know and saw others with little kitchen scales like mine and figured it was ok . I finally got a "for Trade" scale and with in a couple weeks the inpector came by . He certified mine (I was glad I bought a new one). Some markets even have the inpector come at the beginning of the season to certify scales .

    Bookmark   January 5, 2007 at 8:37PM
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deansfba(z9 SanFranArea)

I have done markets for 6 years on weekends and evenings and now am getting back to them. I went to something like 10-15 a month which had a lot of variety: from poor to rich, all different races, small [a few hundred visitors] to thousands in a few hours, people who had the best clothes to people who had no clothes or 15 rings in their faces. Never dull and I learned a lot. The following are some observations that might be helpful:

I always have a plate/s of food samples to pass out. Many people who aren't interested in some food will try it if you start by saying " Please try this [and then something interesting about the fruit or how to serve it]. You can cut these after you set up, before a lot of people show up and you're waiting anyway.

Try with their kids. Saying 'It's sweet like candy usually works'. Check with the parent before you give it to the child [diabetes,etc]

I brought left-over Halloween candy in Nov which was a big hit and kept me from eating it, too.

You can get by without a scale if you sell them by each piece. You can make a basket with a pound's worth check it with someone who does have a scale, and keep the basket as a model. All purpose duct tape over it will help keep it as a model. When they give you a basket add another to it for free. People really appreciate it and it allays their fears of not seeing a scale.

Bring in your market box: extra socks, extra shirt, sun screen, duct tape, bottles of water to drink, bandaids,markers, plastic covers for signs [ from Staples, in case of rain/messes ] handiwipes for you and customers, money box with extra rolls of quarters, dollars and fives, business cards, a clipboard for people to write their e-addresses on: then you can send out emails before market day telling them what you will have and perhaps one attractice price loss leader, a roll of bags[neater/cleaner], extra paper and pens, a broad brimmed hat [ eases the eye strain and helps prevent cancer...don't forget you'll be out in the sun for hours...when you're old you'll thank me]

Learn extra things about the things you are selling. For instance I always tell the people I sell tomato starts or tomatoes to -that leggy tomato plants are good-you can bury them deeper nearer the water table and, in the case of the fruit: don't refrigerate tomatoes...they start losing flavor below 55 degrees.

Plastic milk crates are great for gallon plants-holds 4 each, stacks, is easy to transport and when you bring them home the plants can stay in them another week.

I always put my purchases from Costco in their strawberry lug boxes that stack. Then I have a big supply which helps pack thing up to the roof of the car. Store them on top of the fridge and freezer in the garage...they don't weigh much. Also I'm doing Costco a favor because many people just leave these boxes in the aisle ///creating a hazzard.

There are special colored trays which stack if you put them one way and compact if you do it the other way. Check other people at the market or google.
I always drill a hole in each, so I can water starts without causing a muddy swamp in them. Carry extra water, in addition, to revive wilting plants.

After you set up and the market is going, check to see what other people are selling. If you are selling food no one else has then you can raise the prices. I sold figs from the tree on the north side of my house in Dec for $4 for a strawberry basket 2/3 full. They all got to taste them and they all sold out.

Think about other products that are related to your main product. I could get free horse manure so I sold it in the white pails with a deposit for the pail,or put it in plastic garbage bags with strings. Bring a carton of Epsom Salts from the store which is cheap and makes better tomato plants- a Tb per plants. Also made up a sheet of instructions on how to grow the best tomatoes and common mistakes... Sell products/varieties that aren't available in most stores. People will come back to you year after year. I used to sell a lot of brandywine starts until the nurseries and the big box stores finally caught on...

And most important, smile and enjoy yourself!!!

    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 3:51AM
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Our market had Honey Buckets but no handwashing facilities and we saw this as a market opportunity right away. We brought a 2 gallon thermos container with hot water and a spigot. We washed our hands regularly and of course after using the facilities. Customers started asking why we had it and we'd just point to another vendor coming out of the Honey Bucket going back to their booth and then dig their hands into their salad mix to pack for someone. The next year the market got a hand washing unit but that first year we sold out of our salad greens quickly. Tom

    Bookmark   March 8, 2007 at 10:23AM
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iloveroosters(zone4-5, NH)

Wow, you should have a great idea as to what you'll need this season! I had my first season last summer and it was really fun. I got my tent/canopy at Dick's Sporting goods for 69.00. My tables I got at Walmart for 35.00ea. they are about 4x4 ft. I made my own canvas sign with my farm name and picture painted on it, which I hang from the back of the canopy facing the front. This year, my sister in law, who sells with me, had some shallow wooden crates made to sit in a tilted stand to disply larger items like squash, turnip, cucumbers etc...

We sold our things by the ind. piece, thus avoiding the weighing issue. However, she is getting a scale so we can sell by weight this summer. If you buy a scale that is legal for trade, you can probably take it to your dept. of agriculture to get it calibrated, then if your market is visited by the dept., you'll be all set.

Have fun in your first season!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 8:11PM
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I'm going into my fifth year at the local small town market, which gets a few hundred people every Saturday. Almost everything I take and do is in the suggestions above. A couple of things to add:

- A spray bottle (prefilled with water if no supply is handy at the market) is good for misting some veggies, like lettuce, on hot days.

- EZ-Ups (the brand specifically) I do swear by. They are double, triple, even four times the price of other solutions, but they're also incredibly rugged and you can get parts. And as promised, you can get one up or down, even alone, in under 60 seconds! Mine is going into its fifth year, it spent a whole season not only at the market, but all week staked to the ground in an open field (I only took it down once for extreme wind), and it's fine! I replaced the canopy more for looks, last year. If you can afford it and appreciate a quality tool, it's recommended. It probably evens out over cheaper ones in the longer haul.

-Display trays: in the first year, I made up around a dozen shallow wooden trays, about 12"x20"x3" deep, from 1" rough cut cedar. I line 'em up edge to edge on a regular plywood-and-sawhorse table set-up. I use lengths of 4x4 to prop 'em up at about a 20-degree tilt. It's a really simple, distinctive display look, unpretentious, clean. Bigger veggies go in bushel baskets on a lower second tier, and some on the ground. The trays take some space to transport, but if you have the room (truck, trailer), they're really no problem to handle, an extra 5 minutes on each end. I have maybe 20 now.

- Nothing beats knowing some background about each of your crops and varieties and being able to talk about it. Where does a particular heirloom come from? What's the simplest way to prepare an unusual green? Really observing and listening to customers plus a little research (the web works great!) is all it takes. You absolutely don't want to BS, you gotta really know what you're talking about, but you don't need decades worth of experience to be able to know and pass on some extra facts.

-Already mentioned, simple per item signage is a core necessity. I use index cards and thick red marker to block print, in smaller letters at the top, the type of crop (some people won't recognize a golden beet as a...beet), in big letters the variety, and in almost as big the price/sales unit. I put the variety name not because everyone wants to know the exact name, but because it draws in attention and interest. And it's fun! Especially when you have, say, two or three varieties of orange carrot side-by-side, all named...people ask!

-Other vendors: also mentioned above, and really important, is surveying the market for day's prices and what's available, and recommending and giving upbeat replies about other vendors. I don't ever lie about my opinions, but I also don't put others down or make negative statements. I regularly recommend some others if they have something I don't. And pricing and display I'll sometimes adjust slightly based on the day's going prices and availability.

-Freshness: If there's any choice possible, go for absolutely last-minute harvest. During summer, I cut mesclun in the hour of light before time to head to market, rather than the night before. I do most harvesting Friday afternoon right into the dark for Sat market. It's a bit crazy, but the response to fresh-as-possible is great. A customer saying that was sooooo god, or that they forgot a bag of salad mix in the fridge for two weeks and it was still fine is incredibly great to hear, especially with others around.

Um, that's it for now. :)

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 11:11AM
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If you follow the above suggestion you'll have better produce than most of the other vendors. I'd base my prices on what I need to make and not on what others charge. We found that most people sold way too low. If they went home with cash in hand they considered it "profit" even if they spent more to produce than they made selling. We made good profit if we used the local Safeway prices. If we grew something we couldn't sell for a profit because everyone else was selling them at a loss we'd quit growing it. Tom

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 11:20AM
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