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Cultivating a Sustainable Farmers Market

Since 2013, the average number of vendors in attendance each week has risen from the high teens to the mid-20s, yet also in that time more than 100 vendors have come and gone. Some of our “steady Eddies” weighed in about the cyclical nature of farmers markets, and their advice for weathering the long haul.

Studying the cycles

A veteran of multiple farmers markets throughout Greater Houston, Patricia d’Agrella with PEAS Farm said that consumable items make for more consistent sales. “You have to know your products and the cycles of your products,” she said. “For me, October through January is historically the slowest time but they’re strong months for other vendors.” She said vendors have to factor in considerations like customers’ New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier, vacation schedules, school routines and after-school activities.

 

“I know how much to harvest and how much to take to each market,” d’Agrella said. “That knowledge didn’t happen overnight. Any new market we try, we give it a year so that we can see the cycle of our products at that particular market because each one is unique.”

 

Chris Kohnke with Pure Texas Honey also recommended new vendors try to stick it out for a full year before deciding whether or not the market is right for them. “It takes at least 12 months for things to be measurable. I’m in this for the long haul and if you don’t go into it thinking that way and you don’t plan for that, you’re not going to make it. There are seasonal cycles to any business and a farmers market is no exception. Have a plan, work the plan and stick to the plan until you have evidence to say otherwise.”

Neither passive nor pushy

Kohnke added that while there are a lot of factors beyond his control, like the weather or bad traffic, “I can control my product mix and how to interact appropriately with my customers and even with people passing by,” he said. “Also, you have to learn how to gauge your customers. Is someone simply stopping to buy honey, are they shopping for gifts, are they searching for something specific, are they budget shopping or are they looking to throw down some serious money?”

 

d’Agrella echoed that customer engagement is essential to long-term success. “You sell from your feet, not your seat,” she said. “You can’t be on your phone. You simply must make eye contact and interact with people passing by. Whether they buy something from you or not, you simply have to engage people. I say hello to everyone who comes by my tent, whether they stop or don’t. You can’t be pushy, but you can’t be passive either.”