The Farmers’ Market Bri Built, Sort Of: Part III

Bri DeRosa (Red, Round or Green)

Bri DeRosa (Red, Round or Green) › I like to think of myself as a young, cool, urban fringe locavore, but the reality ...

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How hard is it to start a winters farmers’ market? Bri DeRosa knows! She details her experience starting a farmers’ market in her Rhode Island community with her series “The Farmers’ Market Bri Built, Sort Of.” Read Part I here. Read Part II here.

It probably sounds like everything that happened with the planning for our farmers’ market was done in just a few days, but the reality is that, to get to this point (recap: THIS POINT was the point at which we had a space basically available to us and a bunch of vendors who wanted to sell stuff there, and that’s about it), it took several weeks of back-and-forth. And after all those weeks of talking about things, it was the end of October and we had to start making some decisions.

I wasn’t going to totally give up on the web portal (yet), but I had other things to think about if the farmers’ market was actually going to happen. Little things, like:

  1. Insurance
  2. Permits
  3. Financials
  4. Rent
  5. Marketing
  6. SNAP benefits for low-income families who wanted to shop at the market.

You know, trivial matters.

Putting together a new farmers’ market for a neighborhood is NOT, as it turns out, exactly like throwing together a musical revue in this here old barn. So with many, many hands in the cookie jar and many, many people trying their best to figure things out, we progressed to early November and this was where things stood:

  1. Insurance. The individual vendors had insurance. The church had insurance. We were insured. (Go, us!)
  2. Permits. I asked the market manager from the summer market about things like permits, and I *thought* I understood her to say that the permit for the summer market followed the market even through changes of venue. Note the *thought*.
  3. Financials. The summer market is set up so that you can use your debit card at the market manager’s table to buy tokens, which then can be used like cash at the individual vendor stalls. At first, it seemed like we could continue that set-up since the market pays a continuous fee for the card reader whether it’s in use or not; but ultimately, it came to light that the additional fees charged per debit transaction would probably be too large a burden on the winter market. We had to make the choice to revert to a cash-only model for the start-up market.
  4. Rent. There had been some discussions about this, all of which included a bunch of mumbling about “mutually beneficial” arrangements, etc. Basically, no one wanted to be the bad guy, and two very humble, good-hearted community organizations were coming together with a purpose that didn’t make talking about money exactly fuzzy and comfortable. What we ended up with was an arrangement that was based on the farmers’ experiences with a local farm-to-restaurant model: The vendors would each contribute 10% of their weekly market earnings to “overhead.” 70% of that would go to the church for rental fees; the other 30 would go to the summer market entity as the umbrella organization under which much of the market was being brought together.
  5. Marketing. The summer market had a pretty robust email list as well as a Facebook page; the church had an email list; some of the vendors had email lists and Facebook pages. Yes, we could try to advertise in local papers, etc., but we were starting small and word-of-mouth and, well, free. At the final two summer markets of the year, sign-up sheets were available for people to leave their email addresses so they could get additional information about the winter market plans, and those addresses were added to the master list. Both the market and the church sent out communications about the upcoming opening day, and I started a Facebook invitation that made the rounds.
  6. SNAP benefits were really important to me – the church is located right smack in between a relatively comfortable neighborhood and one of the most food-insecure areas of Providence. Knowing that we had neighbors on both sides of the equation, I wanted to ensure that people could use their EBT cards as necessary to get good local food. This has been an ongoing program at the summer markets, so we’re carrying it forward through the winter market, but with one big catch: Generally, the summer market holds fundraisers to supply “Bonus Bucks” to SNAP customers. That way, a SNAP family can get an additional 50 cents in credits for every dollar of SNAP they use at the market – making their money stretch farther when they buy local goods. I believe in that program and think it’s really the only economically fair way to offer EBT transactions at a farmer’s market, but the Bonus Bucks from the summer market were depleted by early fall. If we were going to have Bonus Bucks for our neighbors, we’d have to do some fundraising of our own.

With just weeks to go before the first market was set to open, there were still far more unanswered questions and problems than I realized.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Bri’s adventures in forming a winter farmers’ market!

Photo Credit: Tomiko Peirano