How to Make Money at a Farmers Market

The following post comes from Lee Doppelt at partner site The Dollar Stretcher.

So you enjoy sauntering around your community’s farmers market on Saturday mornings. Besides purchasing fresh produce, baked goods, and homemade crafts for gifts, you feel good about supporting local growers and producers.

But what if the wood carvings that you do as a hobby have friends encouraging you to sell them? Would a booth at the farmers market be worth trying? Maybe. But you need to know what you’re getting into first…

Selling at the farmers market can be a big commitment

You want to make sure it’s right for you. We know one vendor who built a specially designed motorized trailer for his booth to sell healthy made-to-order sandwiches. But he didn’t realize he’d need to be awake by 3 each Saturday morning to be ready when the market opens. After a year, he’s closing shop. Interested in buying his vehicle for $75,000?

Start by talking with some vendors at your market. Peruse the website of your farmers market and read the vendor requirements. Many markets require that your goods be grown or produced in your state.

Do you want to sell fruits or vegetables? Baked goods (breads, muffins, cookies, or pies)? Crafts (scented candles, chainsaw carvings, and jewelry)? Body care items (lotions)? Some markets require your commitment for the entire selling season – in many areas, that’s about six months.

Booth rental fees vary, but expect to pay an average of $500 per six-month season. Some markets allow you to rent a spot weekly for around $20. Booths are usually 10 feet by 10 feet, and you can choose your spot on a first-come basis. If you think you’ll need electricity or water for your booth, you’d better inquire well in advance.

Treat your booth as a business – because it is a business

You’ll want to start small and grow, selling more varied items as you tweak your business. Before the season begins, you must follow your city’s and state’s requirements for registering your business. Also, you’ll need to apply for a state resale number and know how to collect and pay sales tax that’s required in your state.

Like any proprietor, you must maintain accurate records of income and expenses to be prepared for year-end federal and state income taxes. Sole proprietors use Schedule C to record farmers market profits.

Your expenses will include…

  • The weekly or annual booth rental fee, of course.
  • If you sell baked goods, many cities require they be prepared in a commercial kitchen. Some vendors rent a church kitchen for this purpose.
  • You’ll want to invest in a sturdy table that will survive when crowds hover over your goods, eager to pay you. Many vendors also buy a 10×10 tent, which is good protection against sun and helps define your area.
  • Depending on what you’re selling, you may need a commercial scale for weighing produce and bags and labels for packaging. If you give out free samples – a great way to entice customers – be sure to have appropriate containers as well as a nearby trash bin.

You also want to be certain you’re insured properly. For example, if someone gets cut from jewelry that you sold to them, you want to be covered. You also want to be set up for customers to use debit and credit cards if your farmers market permits that. Each customer credit card purchase will cost you approximately 3 percent, so price your goods accordingly.

Prepare well to maximize sales and minimize stress

If you sell nonperishable items such as crafts, use the months when there’s no farmers market to increase your inventory. Also, you’ll probably need help each week at the market, so hire someone, such as a family member or a teen, in advance. Be sure to package and price everything and make signs.

On the morning of each market, arrive promptly, and dress appropriately. Remember a hat, sunscreen, sanitation gloves (if you’ll be handling food), apron, cash for change, and markers and labels.

You may want to start by sharing a booth a few times with an established vendor to see if you enjoy it. Next time you visit your farmers market, imagine yourself there as a proprietor instead of a customer – and consider whether selling at the farmers market may be something you’d enjoy.

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