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What Works at a Farmers' Market?

March/April 1991

By Keith Mayberry, Farm Advisor, Imperial County

First, the produce must be fresh! High quality is essential to keeping the market attractive to weekly customers. Commodities are best when picked the day of the sale. Customers like to see carrots with the tops on and melons that are fully ripe.

  • You need to have a wide variety of products. If you have a display that offers only lettuce or carrots, you'll draw fewer customers than if you sell both carrots and lettuce. Colors are an attractive draw. Stands with three or four items seem about right.
  • Organically grown crops are popular at the market.
  • It is possible to sell too many items if you don't have very much of each. People like to see that you offer a lot of each vegetable. If you have only one carton of squash on display, it may appear that your vegetables are "picked over". The higher the heap, the better it sells.
  • Make displays that look like they came from the farm. Wooden crates or boxes work well. Slant the boxes toward the customer and have the items at least waist high. No one wants to bend down to inspect your product.
  • Have your prices on signs that are prominently displayed so customers don't have to ask. Shy customers will walk on by rather than ask for a price.
  • Too often farmers charge too little for their products. Check the prices at the local supermarkets before establishing your going rate. Your products are farm fresh and are worth a good price.
  • Keep a good supply of change on hand, especially quarters, one's and fives. You would be surprised to see how many twenty dollar bills are offered for a fifty cent sale.
  • Customers are impatient and don't like to have to wait for change. A carpenter's nail apron has nice deep pockets good for holding bills and coins. Then you are ready to offer the correct change on the spot. It also helps to increase the speed of sales.
  • Supply thin film bags for your customers' use. The cost is minimal and you can buy a roll of 2000 for about $10.
  • If you use a scale or sell by the pound, the scale must be certified by the Agricultural Commissioner.
  • Markets are funny in that the middle hours seem to have 70% of all sales. You need to be prepared for the "rush hour" swarm.