If your passion is vegetable gardening, you may have had this experience: All your children are grown, but your vegetable garden hasn’t gotten any smaller. Your neighbors and closest friends don’t seem to be at home when you, loaded down with garden produce, knock on their doors. You begin to get a distinct impression that they are trying to avoid you.
Sounds like your garden has been out-producing your needs and that of your friends and neighbors. The obvious solution would be to cut back on your gardening. While that may be obvious to the non-gardener, it’s not an option for an inveterate gardener like you. But there is a solution that will keep you and many more people well-fed and happy!
Why not consider becoming a vendor at your local farmers’ market? It worked for me, and it can for you, too. Your garden doesn’t have to be humungous to meet your own needs and still have enough produce to take to market. Farmers’ markets, especially those in small communities like ours, almost always need more fresh produce vendors.
For the past four years, my wife and I have been vendors at the Selah Farmers’ Market where we have sold vegetables, small fruits, and bouquets. We can count on selling out almost every week. The money we make is always welcome, but the real payoff is the joy we have in making new friends and knowing we are putting fresh food on the tables and beauty in the homes of our community.
Think back to last year when you visited your local farmers’ market. Think about the surplus produce you grew that would have sold quite well. How about some of the things you grew that weren’t available at the market? And if you can fill an unfilled niche, you will have a steady flow of customers coming back to your stall week after week. The niche we found and filled was supplying old-fashioned country bouquets.
Only one vendor had flowers-beautiful sunflowers sold by the stem. I decided to sell bouquets. I turned part of my vegetable garden into a cutting garden-mostly for annuals-but also some perennials to use in the following years.
Knowing that people who shop at the market spend a lot of time looking, buying, and visiting before leaving for home, I add some extras to my bouquet sales bouquets in vases packed securely in low boxes to stabilize them for the trip home. We also let all our customers know that we will hold their purchases until they are through shopping.
Plan your garden so you will have a steady stream of produce throughout the market season. You will need to use successive planting to insure that you do have a continual harvest right up to the first killing frost. Nothing is more disappointing to the vendor and customer than not having enough produce available.
Successful vendors greet all potential customers as they pass by their stalls. Take time to answer their questions about your produce and how it can be prepared for the table. Having copies of recipes available for your customers is a good idea, especially for unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. Do not hesitate to let your customers know that you stand behind your produce with a money-back-guarantee.
Take time to get to know the other vendors. Before the market opens each week, make the rounds to see what produce is available. When your regular customers ask for produce that you do not have, you can direct them to vendors who do. I also like to check prices being asked by other vendors so my prices won’t be out of line, but I don’t hesitate to charge a little more if my produce warrants it, or less if I feel their prices are a little high.
This is the time of the year to contact the market manager (sometimes called the market master) to talk about your interest in becoming a vendor. Ask for a copy of the rules and regulations that govern the market. It’s better to know well before the market season begins what the health regulations and expectations of vendors are. Market managers are excellent sources of answers for many of the questions you will have.
If you do not grow enough produce to make it worthwhile to operate your own booth, consider joining forces with one or two other gardeners. By pooling your produce you will have plenty and you can alternate weeks operating your stall. This is a common practice at some markets, but check first with the market manager to see if such an arrangement is acceptable.
Whether you have a market stall of your own or partner with another gardener, you will find that being a vendor at a farmers’ market is not only richly fulfilling, but will add another dimension to your gardening
Jim McLain is a Master Gardener in the Yakima Valley of Washington state. He used to teach in public schools and is now retired. Once a month, he writes a gardening column for the Yakima Herald-Republic’s “Voices of Selah” supplement. Jim has been a vendor for four years at the Selah Farmers’ Market in Selah, Washington. He has served on the operating committee of the market for the last three years.