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Farmers Market Economy

Our bakery booth at Kent Farmers Market, Kent, CT

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This weekend was our first Farmers Market of the season at the Kent Farmers Market in Kent, CT. Having a booth at one of these markets has got to be the best way to sell. The customers are friendly and always looking for something tasty, and the other vendors are fair and always happy to help out. Before the market started my wife and I heard the various farmers discussing prices so that no one was undercutting anyone else. We also heard a lot of, “well if you are going to make that, then I won’t bring any”. This can be nice if there are enough customers to go around, but when customers are scarce it can be challenging. If you are a fierce competitor, however, I would suggest staying away from these markets because you won’t last long, and I don’t think the fairness among vendors is going to go away any time soon.

About a week before the market, we practiced setting up the tent and loading the car. This was a huge help, and I know that if we hadn’t conducted a dry run we would have been scrambling to get there on time. The pictures above are of our Volkswagen Jetta, loaded to the brim with barely enough room for me and my wife to fit. We managed to fit (1) 10 x 10 tent, (2) 5 foot tables, (1) 8 foot table, (6) 18 x 26 bakery tubs, (4) cookie jars, (1) 3-shelf display, (4) table top displays, (2) cutting boards, (1) cash box, (4) jugs of water and (6) tubs of cookies plus a large box of packaging! Total preparation time – 12 hours including all of the baking and packing, plus 6 hours for driving, selling, breaking down and putting away all of the gear.

Now, let’s get into the economics of the Farmers Market. For smaller markets you are looking at $130-$200 for the season. Larger markets can be more, and if you have more than one tent, you can pay upwards of $600-$800 for the season, although this is generally not the case for bakers. Watch out for markets that try to charge a commission on top of their fees. If they really want you to join their markets, the fees could possibly be waived. Stick to your guns on this one, because the more you make, the more you pay.

The second factor with markets is figuring the potential income you can make, which can be limited not only by the openness of customers’ wallets but also the compactness of your transportation (see paragraph above). I can probably fit $600 worth of products into the Jetta, but this is on the low end of the profitability scale for me. Note the hours I put into this one market and factor in $8-$10 per hour for two people working the market multiplied by 5 hours – after this I am out $100. Then factor in the time it takes two people to make everything (let’s say it takes two people 8 hours) at $10/hour – another $160 gone. With a respectable profit margin (ingredients only) of 65% on $600 worth of product, you are looking at $210 to go back to buying ingredients. So, after all of that you are left with $130, and half of that is probably going back to paying the rent. If you are doing a lot of the work yourself, then you wind up with more than $65 in your pocket, and if you can fit more in your car you are a lot better off.

So, I hope I didn’t scare anyone away from a fun adventure! If this seems daunting, start slowly. If you handle stress well and are up for a challenge go for 3 or 4 per week. If you love to sell, you will definitely have a good time. Leave your comments or email me: basementbaker@bakelocal.com.

Andy

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    BasementBaker | 06/22/2009

    Farmers Markets are totally worth the trip, even if they are an hour away. Places like Kent are great because the market is in the morning, so a lot of people come hungry. Also, markets create a sense of urgency because you are only there once per week, so people buy more. Eventually, like you said, I would like to sell the cafes along the way, but first I need a bigger vehicle. So far each market has been worth the effort, but there is a little risk involved because you never know how much you are going to sell.

    As for the CSA, do you talk to your customers about how they are investing in the farm by purchasing shares? Getting the right customer is very important, and if they understand that they are sharing some risk in order to get a return on their investment, they would appreciate what they get more. To address this issue in another way, start printing a newsletter that features recipes specific to what customers are getting each week. Some recipes could be for cooking certain veggies, but others could tackle preserving. This way if you have too many cucumbers, you can prepare a great salad as well as pickle some. Fine Cooking has a lot of great recipes and I think they had an article recently about freezing.

  • User avater
    JohnnyAsparagus | 06/22/2009

    Kent is almost an hour a way from your bakery! Is it worth the trip? I was also surprised that Shortt's Farm goes all the way to the New Canaan Farmers Market. I suppose you can increase your profit by selling to a few cafe's along your route, but then you would be taking away inventory from your market stand. Do you bring marketing materials to display to potential catering customers?

    I work as a field hand at a CSA farm in nearby Redding, CT. I believe the Farmer's market would increase customer satisfaction, but the economics aren't quite there yet for us. The CSA pays for pre season prep and keeps the income stable, but the customers never get to choose what they get each week. And it seems they're always complaining of either getting too much of something or not enough.

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