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Farmers Markets Help California Small Business People Grow

Local Farmers Markets provide regional farmers and craftspeople opportunities to build their business with real customers, specific niche product testing, and build a network of similar businesspeople at the same time. Systems work!

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Have you visited a Farmers Market recently? These street vending markets are the fastest growing segment of the agricultural marketing business sector. They provide local food and products, weekly relationship building opportunities ... and a way for small businesses to promote their business, their brand, and get paid for the effort. What a plan! But it's a bit more complicated than that.

California Farmers Markets

Farmers Markets in California were formally launched in 1977 when state regulations were written to allow farmers to sell directly to consumers at state-certified farmers markets.

Start-up challenges include expenses to create the booth and inventory, as well as tracking sales and expenses to pay proper local, state and federal taxes. And booth rental: farmers market vendors typically pay farmers market nonprofit management organizations a flat fee or a percentage of their receipts.

How much can you sell at one-local Farmers Market on one weekend? The Los Angeles Times reports that at a popular Hollywood farmers market, officials say many of the produce stands take in about $400 on Sundays, while a few make as much as $2,500.

  • Farmers pay 6.5% of their sales to the market.
  • Artisans bring in up to $500 each, spend $20 for a market stall and pay a 5% market fee.
  • Food vendors range from $100 to $1,100, with 10% going to the market.

Farmers who participate in Farmers Markets must be certified by the state of California, which is supposed to verify that they sell only their own local products.

Local marketing takes research and treating a venture as a full-scale business to thrive. Businesses have to work within the local and state laws and regulations, and handle customers professionally.

Food providers can find they have to deal with the local city health department red tape before a shop can open. This is a good market for organic or locally grown food, but there are regulations to make "organic" claims and to document local sourcing of products.

Nonfarm food vendors and craftspeople have been added to some Farmers Markets, but not all succeed with this new line of products. Local communities have very specific target populations -- and products need to meet those local consumer profiles. A heavily ethnic neighborhood can be a boon for ethnic food ingredients specific to that ethnic mix. And that varies widely by location.

Innovation to meet customer requests is also an important part of launching and growing a business.

If you sell basil ... you might find that customers request pesto. That gives you the opportunity to develop a line of packaged products to supplement the fresh basil. Other customers will ask if you have a regular store location -- and you have to find ways to make that a reality if the demand warrants growth in that direction. Creative business strategy could take you into your own storefront or arrangements with retail stores who will carry your product.

Selling your products at a Farmers Market can be a great way to build a green business. Local sourcing saves energy and pollution. Local food is fresher and that improves taste and nutritional value. Building strong relationships promotes sustainable communities. And a great business is based on having eye to eye communications with at least SOME of your customers -- and that's green, too!

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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