Small businesses are playing a big role during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing essential services to their communities. Food producers have been especially pivotal during this time, continuing to offer goods to consumers through retailers and restaurants – and directly to community members via farmers markets.
While farmers markets may look a little different this summer, these centers of commerce have largely continued to be staples of their communities. Farmers markets contribute about $9 billion to the U.S. economy every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) says that the number of farmers markets in the U.S. has grown from just under 2,000 in 1994 to more than 8,600 today.
Small businesses, including We Grow Microgreens – the SBA’s 2019 Microenterprise Business of the Year for Massachusetts –greatly contribute to local farmers markets across America. Founders Lisa Evans and Tim Smith specialize in growing nutritious microgreens and edible flowers using sustainable growing practices. Lisa and Tim sell their products to retail stores and restaurants in the Boston area and consumers at farmers markets in Roslindale, Wayland, Newton, and Natick.
We Grow Microgreens is just one of many small businesses that benefit from participating in local farmers markets. During National Farmers Market Week, we’re highlighting just a few reasons why selling at farmers markets is good for business:
- Farmers markets enable more direct profits. According to the USDA, farmers and ranchers only receive 15.6 cents of every dollar that consumers spend on food in the United States due to processing, supply chain, and marketing costs. When you’re selling directly to consumers, you can avoid some of these extra costs.
- You don’t have to be a farmer or food producer to participate. Depending on the rules for your local farmers market, you may also be able to get involved as an artisan, selling items like soap, candles, jewelry, pottery, and more.
- Marketing and networking opportunities abound. Getting to talk face-to-face to prospective customers can do wonders for your business. It can also potentially facilitate business connections within your local community – especially as you network with fellow vendors.
- You are doing a service for your community. FMC says that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it apparent that “local food systems with short supply chains are resilient and dependable in making food available to their communities.” The organization has also emphasized that “emerging research supports conventional wisdom … that outdoor marketplaces like farmers markets are often safer than alternative indoor retailers.”
If you’re interested in getting involved with a local farmers market, check USDA National Farmers Market Directory to find one near you. From there, you will be able to gauge requirements to participate, like paying vendor fees or obtaining permits. If you plan on selling prepared foods, you will also want to research your state’s cottage laws to make sure your food is compliant.
Also, meet virtually with an SBA resource partner to discuss logistics, marketing, and other ideas for scaling up. For example, the We Grow Microgreens owners, have been meeting with their SCORE mentors for five years. SBA is here to support you through every business stage and help your company sprout, grow, and flourish!