Farmers markets have rapidly become a regular structure in communities across the nation. For many Americans, who have become aware of the despicable conditions of factory farms and the damaging effects they have on the environment, eating locally is the only way to go. With more than 4,800 farmers markets of various sizes already established in the U.S., there’s a huge demand for dedicated individuals to make these events happen. From the sales folks on the ground to those establishing and maintaining the stands, farmers markets owe their success to the hard-working people behind them.
If you’ve been thinking about working with a farmers market, read on to find out how you can get in on the action.
Step One: Choosing Your Career Path
There are three basic avenues to choose from when looking to work at a farmers market: tabling, selling produce, and working behind the scenes. The first step to a successful relationship with the farmers market is figuring out where you’d like to get involved most.
When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, a farmers market can’t survive without the folks at the tables, talking to the locals about the produce and the farming techniques used to harvest them. While some farms have a dedicated team that goes out to various farmer’s markets throughout the week, many hire contractors to work at farmers markets a few times a week or less.
Selling Your Own Produce
If instead you want to sell your own products at a farmers market, there may be a couple of options for you. While farmers markets at their root are meant to specifically sell produce, herbs, meat, cheese, and flowers, many also allow the sale of jams and jellies, honey, bread and other baked goods, maple syrup, and vinegars, as well as crafts, such as candles, soap, clothing, and knit pieces. This can also be a great community for artists to come together to help each other out, share tools and materials, and collaborate. Many farmers markets also welcome local musicians, who can play for exposure, sell their music, and make a couple tips. Going to these diverse, vibrant marketplaces is often seen as an event, a destination for the community, so getting involved can introduce you and your wares to a great community.
Working Behind The Scenes
Farmers markets also require the help of folks behind the scenes. Talk to your local organization to find their current hiring needs. Just like any other business, farmers market organizations need managing coordinators, marketing and promotion staff, communication directors, project managers, and community liaisons. Many associations also rely on volunteer services, for everything from graphic design and promotions to on-the-ground manpower.
Step Two: Search And Apply
Now that you’ve weighed the pros and cons of each vocational avenue, it’s time to apply.
There are a number of different ways you can apply for these positions. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce or find your state’s Farmers Market Association or organization, who can provide you with a list of farms that need help. Craigslist.com is also a great place to find contract work for farmers markets – try checking under “sales” or “food/beverage/hospitality.” If you want to work specifically at your local farmers market, you can also approach the farmers represented there and see where there’s a need for help.
Getting involved can be a long process, so it’s best to contact your local farmers market as soon as you’re ready to commit. Each market has different guidelines for what they sell, so contact your local farmers market or your state association to see if your products are included on the list of sellable wares. Most markets require you bring even basic structural elements like your own tables or tents, though this will also vary from market to market; some spaces are dedicated to the farmers market and will have some of the basic infrastructure, while others set up and break down every season or every week. Remember that some markets require a larger time commitment than others, but don’t fret if you only want to show up a few times throughout the season; many markets have spaces that rotate sponsors, so you can sign up for a handful of events.
Step Three: Understand What’s Required
Now that you’ve applied, read through this list of job requirements and see if the commitment to early mornings, independent transportation, and so on, work for you.
The early bird gets the worm … and the farmers market gigs. Because many markets open in the wee hours of the morning, each station needs to get the products to the market and get set up bright and early.
Some gigs require a car or available, reliable transportation, as most positions require you go to the farm to pick up the items.
You may not be working the fields, but you’ll still be breaking a sweat. As one lad from Happy Boy Farms at my local farmers market cautioned, it’s a demanding job. Loading produce onto flats at the farm, getting them into vans and onto the tables at the market, and reloading the remaining produce at the end of the day is much more labor-intensive than many realize.
Lastly, you’ll need to be passionate about local food and be ready to learn a bit about farming techniques. Of course, it’s always helpful to be confident chatting with strangers and fielding questions.
In the meantime, help support your local farmers market by regularly attending to purchase fresh produce and other wares. Show your support by picking up some great “I (lettuce)” stickers and bookmarks from the Farmers Market Coalition. Lastly, if your community doesn’t already have a farmers market, you can help start one! Get the word out in your community, contact farmers with existing CSA programs, and put your hopes in motion—you’ll be doing a service to your local farmers, your community, and yourself.