The Challenges of Farmer's Markets for Hydroponic Growers

Posted by Amy Storey on January 30, 2015

If you checked in on the blog a few days ago, you read about all of the benefits of selling at a farmer's market.

High margins, a targeted market, fun, a competitive advantage, and sales outside of the market.

You're sold on the idea, right?

Not so fast!

Selling at a farmer's market is an incredible opportunity for a lot of Upstart Farmers, but that doesn't mean it's the best market for you.

If you make this decision hastily, you could end up losing money, being frustrated, and wasting your time.

So before you jump into this market, weigh the pros against the cons.

1) Farmers’ markets are often a high margin but low volume opportunity

In many cases, the farmers’ market maintains its high margin opportunity but revenue takes a hit by the volume of customers, which can often be low. Without enough demand, your sales opportunities are limited. Be sure to closely analyze the customer base of the farmer's markets you’re considering.

You can scope out your customer base by attending a market and talking to the market managers, who will probably give you weekly customer counts if you ask. Some states have state-wide organization information available for farmer's markets as well.

2) Selling at farmers’ markets can be expensivealtotting-352876_1280

Some farmers’ markets charge very expensive entry fees and commissions.

Be realistic about what you plan to sell during the market to determine if the fee is reasonable. A small Upstart Farm can probably do $500 - $1000 in sales in one market. If the entry fee is equal to or greater than that, it may not be worth your time.

3) Other vendors are regional distributors at farmers’ markets

Most farmers’ markets will have at least a few vendors that aren’t farmers at all. These regional distributors get their produce from large farms in other states.

Depending on how you approach this problem, it can be either a benefit or a hit to you. If you want this to play to your advantage, you have to be ready to compete.

And how do you compete?

By showing your customers the strong points of your farm. You have to demonstrate the value of your product!


This is super easy to do using live sales and there's no need to hide the quality of your produce.

Make sure market customers know that you’re the local option. Use signage that tells them exactly where your farm is located. Interact with customers personally and tell them how you grew your produce.

Be neighborly. Considering the caliber of people who typically run Upstart Farms like yours, this probably comes naturally to you.

4) Farmers’ markets often have inconsistent management

Especially in seasonal markets, inconsistent management can be a farmers’ market problem. With
new management comes new ideas, goals, and rules. This could be good, but it could also infringe
on your ability to sell how you want.

If you've ever moved to a new place, you know that getting plugged into community - book clubs, mom's groups, basketball groups, etc. - is always worth it in the long haul.

When the management of a farmer's market changes, the same thing is important. You've lost any relationship investments you made with the previous manager, but you can lessen the blow by getting to know the market manager right away and selling them on what your farm brings to the market. This will never be a waste of your time.

6) Weather can affect farmers’ markets sales

Some factors affecting your sales can be controlled, some can be influenced, and some are totally out of your' markets

When it comes to farmer's markets, that uncontrollable factor is weather.

Weather is a huge driver of customer demand and sales at farmers’ markets. If it’s raining, snowing, or uncomfortably hot, you’ll see a decline in sales. And there's nothing you can do about it.

What you can do is keep you eye on weather forecasts and make wise decisions. If you predict losing sales to weather, how will you make it up? How can you minimize your losses on that day?

7) Farmers’ markets can be difficult to get into

In highly populated areas, getting into a farmers’ market can be difficult.
Don't underestimate the competition between vendors. You can rise to the top of the competition by:

  • contacting the market management months in advance to determine when you can apply, if
    there’s a waiting list, and any information you’ll need to provide.
  • selling the manager on your farm, your produce, and the value you bring as a vendor – that way, if
    they have a sudden opening, you’ll be the first to come to mind.

phone-305027_1280If you feel uncomfortable about talking to the management, we'd be happy to run through talking points with you. You can contact us and set up a practice phone call.


8) Labor and cost-intensive

Farmers’ markets tend to be labor, time, and cost-intensive. There are a few factors that are hard to control. Again, this doesn't mean that farmer's markets aren't worth it.

office-594132_1280What is does mean is that you have to get very strategic about selling at a farmer's market. As you think through this decision, balance:

  • Unpredictable customer volume vs. high margins
  • Cost of getting a booth vs. long-term opportunities
  • Dealing with management vs. encouraging and valuable customer interactions

The bottom line here is that you need to be realistic about your goals and commitments for the market compared to other opportunities.

You should wisely consider all of the aspects of this decision, which are stated in detail in our Farmer’s Markets Grower’s Packet. We highly recommend that you read through this guide and discuss the decision with your partners and mentors.

And as always, we are happy to help you out! Feel free to shoot us a message.





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