What Does it Take to Run a Farmers Market

Spring is here and so are outdoor farmers markets! Farmers across the region are dusting off their tents and getting their products ready.  As you grab your shopping bag and jot down your grocery list, take a minute to think about the planning that goes into pulling off a weekly market.

Most farmers markets have a manager who makes sure the market runs smoothly each week. They coordinate the vendors to make sure there’s a good mix of products. They put together activities to engage the public and troubleshoot issues as they arise.

As you can imagine, it takes a little bit of juggling to make it all work, so having resources and the support of other market managers can make a big difference.

In February, about 30 market managers came together at ASAP’s Business of Farming Conference. Mike McCreary, the market manager for Asheville City Market, facilitated the Farmer Market Summit.

The summit kicks off a networking effort designed to bring together market managers from across the region. The room buzzes with energy. Some people drove hours to be here, and they’re eager to share their experiences with each other.

Today is also the debut of new resources that managers can bring to their markets—like activity packs for spring strawberry festivals. A strawberry festival might sound like an easy thing to put together, but it takes weeks of planning. You need activities and prizes, packs of recipe cards, strawberry costumes, even small things like colanders to wash the strawberries.

ASAP created a lending library to help market managers access the materials they need. Each pack includes strawberry costumes, contest boards, containers for prizes, and more. Market managers can email ASAP to reserve a pack and pick up the materials in advance of their market.

The strawberry games and costumes bring a pop of color to the three-hour summit. Market managers spend the morning reviewing a pre-season market checklist, engaging in round table discussions about management issues, and signing up for more networking and workshops.

Jan Harris drove about three hours from Dahlonega, Georgia to come to the farmers market summit today. She describes Dahlonega and the surrounding county as a food desert, and says having a farmers market there is especially important.

“As far as a place where people can get locally-sourced food, the farmers market is the location,” she says. “So our goal for being here today is to try to find ways to add fertilizer to our market and make it much more of a destination for downtown.”

She’s learned a lot from today’s programs, and while the logistics of the lending library might be difficult given the distance, she wants to partner with local artists to incorporate some of the games and activities she saw today.

“We all love to play games, so any way we can spin a dial and win something fun or learn more about how to cook a patty pan squash, things that can teach us and broaden our vocabulary as far as what is good to eat and how can we cook this. I think is going to be beneficial not only to the local food economy, but also to ourselves to make us a healthier community,” she says.

There’s one last surprise at the end of the summit. Mike McCreary reaches into a cardboard box and pulls out a stack of brightly-colored vests that will make it easier for customers to spot managers at the market. They’re a hit and the group cheers.

If new vests can make market managers this happy, just imagine what it’s like when their farmers markets were packed with customers. Find the opening dates of markets throughout the region on ASAP’s website: www.asapconnections.org

Aired: April 8, 2019

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