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Farmers Market

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RI Farmers Market Vendor Guide
There is something here for every farmer involved with direct sales. You may be:

In this guide:

  1. Which Market is for You?
    Strategic considerations, Stand considerations, Types of products allowed
  2. Requirements to Sell
    Registrations, licenses, insurance
  3. Setup Your Table
    Weights & measures, Supplies, Keeping it Fresh
  4. Products, Packaging and Pricing
    Selling your food, Labeling, Playing nice, Donations
  5. Tips for Selling More 
    Your booth, your products, you
  6. Accepting WIC, Senior Nutrition Vouchers, EBT and Credit Cards
    WIC, Senior Vouchers, SNAP / EBT, Credit cards
  7. Events and Customer Promotions 
    Creating excitement for your products
  8. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
    What is a CSA?, Distribution
  9. Final Words

This guide was made possible by a partnership between Farm Fresh RI, RI Rural Development Council and the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program. We hope it helps, and if you have any questions or comments please just email us.

Which Market is for You?

Strategic Considerations. A successful stand at a farmers market can be a really excellent way to generate income, introduce people to new products, attract community members who may have never seen a ripe tomato the day it was picked, and inspire others to grow their own food. Additonally, it is always good to consider the following when thinking about joining a market.

In your considerations, think about what benefits appearing at a market might hold for you, but also keep in mind all that the Farmers Market asks of you and your farm.

You can talk to the market manager to get a better idea of who is selling and buying at their markets which may help you make this decision.

Farm Stand Considerations. Selling at a Farmers Market is a wonderful experience. You just want to make sure that your original market (whether that be at a Pick-Your-Own operation or a Farm Stand) is not totally phased out with this new endeavor. There are people who rely on your farm. You want to have enough food for your loyal customers and you want to make sure they know your new schedule. One suggestion is to make a flier telling your current customers about your new endeavor. They will be more than supportive if they feel like they are informed.

Types of Products Allowed. You need to know if your product mix is a good fit for the farmers markets where you want to sell. Here are a few examples:

Find a Market. See our list of farmers markets across RI and the region.

Requirements to Sell

New Business Registration. First and foremost, all new businesses in the state need to complete the RI Business Application and Registration (BAR). Another resource is business.gov which will take you through the registration process, step by step.

Is the food you'll be selling taxable? Check with this chart or if you're unsure, with the RI Division of Taxation at (401) 574-8955 to figure it out.

Town Hall / City Hall Requirements. Each town may have specific vendors licenses so please check with the town you will be selling in. See contact information for every City Hall in RI.

RI Department of Health Licenses.

Meat Producers Retail License. If you plan to sell farm-raised meat, you will need to apply for a Retail License from the State of Rhode Island. This license will allow you to sell directly to consumers both at the market and at your farm. To sell to restaurants, grocers or other wholesale buyers at a market, at your farm or by delivery, you will need additional permitting (for your refrigerated truck and on-farm freezer storage). The Rhode Island Raised Livestock Association has prepared guides and resources for you in this process, including wholesale permit, contact information for people and procedures.

Insurance / Product Liability. Insurance protects you in the unlikely event that someone gets hurt, sick or injured as the result of an act by you. Many markets require it. You should have proper insurance in place for the types of products that you sell, which include a General or Farm/Business Liability policy. Shop around for a good policy quote! Here are some webpages with more details:

Equip Your Table

Weights & Measures. Do not forget a scale if you are going to sell items that are not pre-packaged. You can bring either a hanging or an electronic scale to market, and you must make sure that you get the scale inspected by the Department of Labor and Training's Weights and Measures Department once a year so that you can make sure you are giving your customer a fair pound of squash... or that you aren't selling two pounds for the price of one! Market scales must be "sealed for trade" or legal for trade.

Market Supplies. Depending on the market, you will probably have to provide your own transportable tents, tables and chairs. Make sure that you’ll be comfortable for the entirety of the market and that it’s manageable for the number of people working the market to move and set up. Don’t forget to tie down your tent. Some roll over in a gust of wind! Consider weights, stakes and bungees. To keep delicate produce moist on hot days, you may want to bring a spray bottle for water.

Prices and Labels. Bring a cashbox, calculator and laminated price sheet for your reference. Bring cards to label each item on the table names and with prices. If possible, laminate the cards to withstand moist produce and the rain. Also consider labeling foods in Spanish or another language if it's commonly spoken in the area of the market. It will help you communicate with customers.

Cash. Don’t forget cash – go overboard with singles and quarters – for making change. Customers are more likely to spend smaller bills and so by circulating singles with customers around the market, you're helping to boost everyone's sales.

Packaging. Consider how much packaging you will use. It's easy to use too many bags and containers, which will turn off customers who shop at markets for environmental reasons and also be a waste for you and your bottom line. (Although many customers will bring their own reusable bags, make sure you do have some plastic bags available.) Many customers will bring back empty egg cartons and berry containers if you let them know they can. Be supportive. Recycling last week's egg carton is a reason for customers to come back the next week, and they may buy another dozen eggs.

Hand Truck. Another item that may be of use at a farmers market is a hand truck. The hand truck can save you a lot of time moving hundreds of pounds of produce, and could be the difference between needing to hire an extra hand to setup and clean up your market table.

Keeping Your Food Fresh during the Market. Growing beautiful produce is only half-way. It still needs to survive through the market. Keeping your food looking fresh is important and making sure that it remains safe is essential. Here are a few tips to keep your food safe and looking beautiful.

For More Information on Food Safety, please see FoodSafety.gov or USDA's Basics for Handling Food Safely.

Products, Packaging and Pricing

Product Considerations. Depending on the the rules of the market, you may only be allowed to sell products grown or made by you. These restrictions on how local market products must be are designed to support both the health of the community and the robustness of the market. Respecting these guidelines as well as your fellow vendors is crucial for long-term market viability. For example, if you sneak non-local fruit into the market at your stand, you will diminish the trust customers (and other farmers) have in your stand and undermine their understanding and appreciation of seasonality and RI grown fruit. Use the market as a chance to highlight what your farm does best, whether it's a special hot pepper jam, heirloom beans, or beautiful braided garlic. Giving yourself a niche helps customers remember you and draws on your strengths as a producer.

Packaging. Some vendors sell by the piece, others by weight, or by bunch or bag. Selling by the piece implies that each piece is approximately the same size or otherwise equivalent. If you decide to sell by weight, making a display of a stated amount of that product can assist customers. For example, bag up a pound of green beans price $2/lb to show people. (Often people will just go for the pound, for instance, if that's what you show them.) These signs should be beautiful, and uniquely you! Its another way to attract your customers!

Specialty Items. At many markets, you are pre-approved to sell a specific set of items. This was determined by your application and your discussions with the market manager because perhaps you are providing the market with a special item that others may not have. These items cannot change without telling the market manager. Meaning, you cannot bring jams or cider without discussing it with the manager first. You may have applied to the market to sell your apples and cider. Imagine how your business would be affected if a vegetable vendor all of a sudden started to buy apples in to sell at their table without any prior notice on their application. Please respect your fellow producers and make sure you communicate with your market manager about these issues.

Pricing. While price fixing is illegal, it can be difficult to know how to price a product. Some other things to consider:

Labeling. Clear labeling of your products is incredibly important in furthering the relationship between you and your customers. This, too, is a valuable form of communication. Consider the following when labeling what is on your table.

Playing Nice. Most of the information presented here about selling at farmers markets has been about you, your presentation, and your produce. What hasn't been expanded on is the amazing diversity of personalities that are at any given markets. They are your new friends and coworkers. You make the market what it is so make the most of the situation. Every farm has its own draw, and the number of people at your market is dependent on that, so that should be acknowledged if/when comflicts come up. The market is a place of work and a community space, and everyone needs to work together to ensure that. The market manager is always there to help with anything if it arises.

Leftovers. You have many options when you have an excess of product at the market. As the market is coming to a close, you might have customers who are interested in purchasing your seconds (items that aren’t at top market quality), or you could try giving bargains on your remaining product. This can be a really useful way to clear out the day's product, but this practice can also encourage challenging customers to count on your end-of-the-day blow-out sale, so be mindful.

Alternately, if you go to market two days in a row or more, some types of produce (i.e. winter squash) can maintain their quality to come back to market a second day. In fact, harvesting enough hardier produce for more than one market day at a time can streamline your process. 

Donations. Another option is organizing with your market manager and other vendors at the market to donate leftover food and products that you can’t sell or use to a local soup kitchen, food bank or shelter. Sometimes you can find a volunteer in the community who is excited about helping out with this and check with your market manager about any donation programs already in place. There are a lot of folks and small food pantries in your community who would appreciate it.

Tips for Selling More

What does your booth look like?

How do you place your product?

What do you say and how do you stand?

What are you selling?

Is your booth distinctive?

Accepting WIC, Senior Nutrition Vouchers, EBT and Credit Cards

Being able to accept WIC, Senior Nutrition Vouchers and EBT is a great way to increase sales as well as expand your clientelle base.

WIC. WIC stands for Women, Infants and Children. The national program is funded by the US Farm Bill and administeredin RI by the Department of Health. WIC provides nutrition-based food assistance to low-income pregnant women, and mothers with children up to five years in age.

There are a few types of WIC checks, some of which can be used at grocery stores and some at farmers markets. Know which are which to avoid costly bank mistakes:

In order to accept WIC FMNP vouchers, you must fill out a Farmer Agreement with the Department of Health along with a crop plan. In addition, your market must have at least 3 farms participating and be approved by the Department of Health.

Senior Nutrition Checks. The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) provides low-income seniors with $5
checks that can be exchanged for locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs from farmers markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture programs. To accept Senior Nutrition checks, a vendor needs to be authorized by the Rhode Island DEM Division of Agriculture.

SNAP & EBT. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provides supplemental assistance to low-income residents of the towns/neighborhoods of your market on debit-like cards called Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT). SNAP was previously called Food Stamps. In 2010, over 1 in 10 Rhode Islanders received SNAP, which averages a little over $100 per month to spend on food. It adds up to millions of dollars a month being spent on food in Rhode Island and that's a huge opportunity for your farm if your market accepts SNAP.

Most markets in Rhode Island that accept EBT use wireless card-reading machines and $1 metal coins called Fresh Bucks. Learn more about how Fresh Bucks work.

Credit Cards. Most markets in Rhode Island that accept credit and debit cards use wireless card-reading machines and $5 metal coins called Fresh Bucks. Learn more about how Fresh Bucks work.

Pricing for WIC, SFMNP, and SNAP. WIC Farmers Market, WIC Fruit & Vegetable and SFMNP checks and $1 Fresh Bucks coins come in price-specific amounts for which you cannot provide change. Having items available that add up to an even $5 is helpful for WIC and Seniors customers. Be flexible and proactive to help these customers find the right mix of food to add up to the amount they can spend. Also, most people use their checks right before they're about to expire at the end of October -- be prepared for a rush!

Also see the USDA webpage for more information about WIC FMNP and SFMNP.

Events and Customer Promotions

Many markets will host special events to encourage more customers to come and spend time at your market. Work with the market manager to play a larger role in these events.

Plan a calendar:

See what you can accomplish with other vendors!

Markets may organize a "Seniors Day" or "Chef's Tour" or a similar event to welcome certain populations to the market. Make signs that highlight your specials, post images on your table that show your customers what a day in the life of your farm is like. Remember, the more you share with them, the more they will want to be a part of your community.

Being at a market is a great way to showcase who you are. Be creative. Have a special on your greens because it's getting greener out -- or just because you have way too much mizuna! It is your personal party.

Send customers home with your product, plus a little something extra. Give them a pin, a pen, a hug. Tell them to come visit the farm. Have people sign up for your emails. The market manager works to get folks to the market, but your email reminders are also helpful to the shoppers.

Make your farm stand out with events, flyers, and little treats for shoppers and they will be undoubtedly loyal to you.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is another way for you to sell your produce. Unlike a farmers market, where people will pay for their food at the time of their purchase, CSAs are paid for by members before the growing season and are give a fraction of what is grown every week that you harvest. This continues for as long as your CSA lasts, a time frame that you decided,  and the members get local delicious food, while you get some early-season financial stability and support. Let us try to explain further:

A CSA is set up so that you can be given some financial support before you grow anything to cover your initial costs (seeds, any big expenses, some support before you can make any money selling food, etc). Folks in your community, friends of yours, a cousin with the opposite of a green thumb, invest in your opperation early spring as a way to tell you "we are part of your growing season and whatever you grow, we will be happy to take part of it". In the early spring (February, March), folks will sign up to be part of your CSA. Membership in the CSA is based on shares (or percentage) of the harvest and you have to take that into account when you start your CSA. Some CSAs ask for a check as payment for your share, others ask for a payment as well as time working and learning on the farm. The choice is up to you and your model.

Creating Community. Beyond being a way to support your farm, a CSA is a great way to form a community. If you think about it, a number of people are trusting you to grow food for them, which is paramount in our times. These people can be more than just your shareholders, they can be your friends. Often, farmers with CSAs will ask for folks to come volunteer on the same day so they can meet each other. Other times, the farmers will organize potluck lunches or dinners either on their farm or nearby, or ask for volunteers to help distribute food on delivery / pick up day. Even people carpooling to the farm can unite folks. You can really get people talking about the food system in a very organic way by just helping them get away from their daily lives and bring them to the farm.

Distribution. Again, every farm is different when it comes to the best way to run their CSA, but here are a few ways people distribute their shares of the harvest.

See the CSA page on our Local Food Guide for more info about current CSAs in RI. Or any of the following resources:

Final Words

Thank you for your efforts in helping to grow a local food system that values the environment, health and quality of life of Rhode Island farmers and eaters. You have made an incredible first step toward securing land for preservation, food for delicious consumption, and furthering your success as a businessperson, salesperson, farmer, community organizer, and general inspiration to the thousands of people who shop at farmers markets in the state of Rhode Island. We look forward to seeing you at our markets, or any of the other markets statewide.

This guide doesn't end here. Contact us. We are happy to answer your questions or connect you to the people who can.

The Farm Fresh Rhode Island Team