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PHOTO: North Charleston Farmers Market/Flickr
Opportunities for hobby farmers and other small-scale growers to sell at farmers markets are available year-round in much of the country. During colder months when sales are slower, some farmers sell early greens or produce grown in greenhouses. If you choose this approach or even if you follow a more traditional growing schedule, you can sell many items at farmers markets before your main crops are ready to harvest.
A farmer needn’t sell a wide variety of products to succeed in the off-season. In fact, becoming known for a handful of items you produce or collect can be a successful strategy. Consider things you already make well and those you enjoy making. Are your pies, cookies or cake pops legendary in your family? Do you have bees and a surplus of beeswax that’s ready for a project? Do you possess quilting, wood-carving or needlework skills? Maximize such abilities. Dark, cold winter nights when holiday commitments have passed and the garden doesn’t need weeding are ideal times to work on products for the farmers market. Here are lists in eight categories of homemade items you can sell.
1. Homemade Bath & Beauty Products
- Beeswax Lip Balm
- Herbed Soaps
- Goat Milk
- Bath Salt
- Sugar Scrubs
- Hand Creams
- Natural Deodorants
2. Crafts & Handmade Items
- Baby Items
- Doll Clothes
- Hand-painted Nativities
- Christmas Ornaments
- Hand-carved Spoons & Honey Dippers
- Needlework on Pillow Cases
3. Baked Goods
- Specialty/Regional Items
- Cake Pops
- Homemade Candies & Caramel
- Caramel & Candied Apples
4. Home-Canned Goods
5. Resale Items (New or Vintage)
- Cookie Cutters
- Vintage Glass Rolling Pins
- Other Market Items That Fit Your Brand & Niche (Check with your market to make sure it allows resale items.)
6. Made-to-Order Food
- Fresh Lemonade
- Fresh Juices
- Homemade Ice Cream
- Any Number of Foods on a Stick
- Popcorn or Kettle Corn
7. Gourmet Dog Biscuits
- Peanut Butter
- Sweet Potato & Pumpkin
8. Garden-Starter Supplies
- Vegetable Cages
- Starting Trays
- Seed Potatoes
- Unusual Varieties of Starts
Tips for Success
Once you know what you want to make and sell, your success depends on the execution of your plan and the presentation of your products at your farmers market booth. Here are some lessons I’ve learned.
I find it important having several regular items, such as chocolate chip cookies and my made-to-order fresh lemonade, that customers can depend on getting each week. However, I’ve also noticed that customers like to shop and to see new things. I’ll occasionally offer a new baked good or different flavors of lemonade. (Strawberry rhubarb lemonade was a huge hit early in the spring while strawberries and rhubarb were in season locally.) Even though my produce changes with the seasons, my customers have come to know me for my lemonade and cookies.
No matter what you sell, be sure the price is obvious. If you sell small items, put them in a nice basket or vintage enamelware bowl with a small sign attached. Poster boards and large chalkboards can work for a few things, but place pricing as close to the product as possible. Include important information such as what’s in the product (or what’s not in it), when was it made, your logo/farm name and care instructions. Offer business cards for people who want a way to remember your products or recommend them to others.
3. Rules & Regulations
Many states have specific rules and regulations when it comes to selling homemade foods and products, so don’t assume you can set up a booth and sell whatever you make. You must comply with your state laws as well as the rules of the farmers market where you want to sell. Contact the market ahead of time for its guidelines, and look up your state regulations online. Utah’s requirements are found in the document called Outdoor Market Requirements produced by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Your state’s rules are probably called something similar. When doing online research, get information from an official government site.
Depending on what you plan to sell, you might also have to look up additional details for the following areas:
- If you want to sell food products made at home, what’s required for you to establish a legal cottage kitchen?
- Do you need to obtain a food handler’s permit for foods prepared on site?
- What does your state require for selling cosmetics such as lip balm or deodorant?
Doing your research will not only keep your customers safe, it will keep your business safe as well.