Market Organization and Management

After the initial farmers market start-up and planning, it will be time to look at how to organize your market, so that everything runs smoothly throughout the season. Whether you will be the manager of the market, or if you hire someone else for that role, having a strongly organized market will make selling at the market more attractive to vendors and will increase visitors to the market, as well.   

Review the tabs below to learn more about the best practices for organizing and managing a farmers market.  

At some point in your market’s development, you will want to decide what sort of management structure to adopt. The structure will dictate many aspects of the market, including how decisions are made and who is authorized to make them. It is particularly important to have vendor involvement in this decision because they will be directly affected by the structure. Vendors who have an equal voice in how the market operates tend to be more invested in making the market work and more dedicated to the market’s mission.

Voluntary Structure

Most markets, especially during their startup, operate informally with a few key volunteers or a steering committee. There are few, if any, rules that govern the group, and decisions are made by consensus. As the market evolves, it can be beneficial to establish a voluntary board to oversee the market. Establishing a board of directors and developing a set of rules or bylaws provides a roadmap for how the market will operate, clarifies how decisions are made, and helps establish continuity for the market. This structure can also provide something to fall back on if a question or dispute arises in relation to the market. 

Sponsoring Agency Structure 

Some Montana markets operate under the management of another community organization or agency. This can be a successful strategy because the market benefits from the management capabilities and financial assistance of the sponsoring organization. The sponsoring organization may provide funding for a market manager, or the market may be part of the duties of someone in the sponsoring organization. 

Nonprofit Structure

Because of the formality of establishing a nonprofit and the associated filing fee, most markets do not seek to become a nonprofit in their startup years but may find it advantageous as the market evolves. To incorporate your farmers market as a nonprofit organization, you must apply to the IRS for nonprofit status (often called 501(c)3 status) and then file Articles of Incorporation with the Montana Secretary of State’s Office. Nonprofits are governed by a board of directors and follow a set of by-laws developed by the board about how the organization must operate. 


Pick a Business Structure, Farmers Market Legal Toolkit Website 

Boards and Advisory Committees, Washington State Farmers Market Management Toolkit Website  

Governance as a Risk Management Tool, Farmers Market Legal Toolkit Website 

Keeping Market Records and Creating a Legacy Binder 

Regardless of how you choose to organize your market, you will want to pay special attention to your market records. These records show how your market has developed and how it is managed and can serve as a useful evaluation tool as your market grows and matures. Records are especially important for transferring the market’s operation to new volunteers, managers, staff, or the board of directors. Many markets create something called a legacy binder, which the Farmers Market Legal Toolkit describes as a “collection of files and documents, both current and historical, about the farmers market.” The legacy binder can be a physical binder but consider also, or instead, creating a digital copy of the documents (using Dropbox, Google Drive, or another cloud service) so that they can be easily shared, stored, and updated. 

Important records to keep include in your legacy binder include: 

  • Incorporation documents 
  • Bylaws 
  • Staff and board member contacts, including past staff and board 
  • Staff and board member job descriptions 
  • Market insurance policies 
  • Lease agreements 
  • Market rules 
  • Vendor applications 
  • Other market policies: dog policy, severe weather policy, emergency protocols, etc. 
  • Passwords for websites, email accounts, social media accounts, etc. 
  • Marketing contacts: who to get in touch with, where, and when 
  • Membership and/or sponsorship materials 
  • Special event details/promotions 
  • Copies of annual tax returns 
  • Market metrics tracked on an annual basis (e.g., customer counts, revenue, etc.) 
  • SNAP Authorization paperwork 


Recording Keeping as a Risk Management Tool, Farmers Market Legal Toolkit Website  

Farmers Market Succession Plan Toolkit, Farmers Market Federation of New York Website 

Establishing Market Rules 

Market rules are the backbone of your farmers market. They outline who can sell, what can be sold and when, and under what terms the selling can take place. Rules create an agreement between the vendor and the market, and they establish rights and responsibilities. When developing market rules, be sure to involve the vendors who will be affected by the rules. People are much more willing to follow rules when they have been involved in their creation.  

Market rules should include the following: 

  • The market’s mission statement  
  • Hours and days of operation, including the first and last day of the season 
  •  Set-up and take-down schedule  
  • Who can sell at the market  
  • What can be sold  
  • Vendor responsibilities and guidelines (for example, appearance of the vendor and booth, safety issues, quality standards, signage requirements)  
  • Stall fees and assignment procedure  
  • Guidelines for organic sales—what can and cannot be labeled as organic 
  • Disciplinary actions  
  • Grievance procedure  
  • General market guidelines (for example, are pets, skateboards, or bicycles allowed?) 
  • Cottage food laws that apply to vendors 

Keep in mind that effective rules should be easy to understand, enforceable, and outline operations in enough detail for the market to function. Market rules will vary in complexity based on the needs of the market.  

Make sure all vendors receive a copy of the rules before each market season begins to ensure everyone starts the season with the same shared understanding. We suggest requiring your vendors to sign a document acknowledging their understanding of the market rules. As your market grows and evolves, rules can be revised from year to year if necessary. 


Example of Market Rules from Kalispell Farmers Market

Market Rules and Procedures, Farmers Market Legal Toolkit Website 

Vendor Stall Fees  

Most farmers markets establish stall fees that vendors pay to sell at the market. Stall fees are a good way to offset the costs of running the market and are used for advertising, insurance, rent, electricity, restrooms, and other market expenses.  

There are several different ways markets assess stall fees:  

Annual fees: Vendors pay one fee for the whole season and reserve stall space at the market. The fee can be determined by estimating market expenses for the year. Annual fees that are collected at the beginning of the season can provide start-up dollars for the market to use for early-season costs.  

Daily fee: Vendors pay a per-day fee to sell and are assigned space on a first-come, first-served basis.  

Percentage fee: Vendors pay a small percentage of their sales on the honor system. A percentage fee can be an equitable way to assess stall fees on both large and small vendors. The Whitefish and Columbia Falls Markets ask for 5% of sales and $1 each week.  

Different fees for different types of vendors: For example, some markets have a separate fee structure for produce and non-produce, different rates for different booth sizes, or different rates for nonprofits, out-of-state vendors, or Montana Grown vendors.   

Many markets offer vendors the opportunity to reserve stall space for the season but accommodate vendors who don’t want to participate every week with a daily fee. Other markets establish lower prices early in the season and then raise prices during peak times.  

Other questions to consider when establishing vendor stall rates and assignments: 

  • Will all the stalls be the same size?  
  • Can vendors rent more than one stall?  
  • Can vendors sell out of the back of trucks, or should tables be used?  
  • Do vendors get the same stall each week or does it change each week?  
  • Do some stalls cost more than others? 

Vendor Stall Assignments  

Once you have determined how many and what type of vendors will be selling at the market, you will want to take some time to consider how the stall assignments for these vendors will impact the overall design and flow of the market. It will also be important to determine which are your anchor vendors for the market.  

Anchor vendors are vendors who are popular with customers, have a consistent product, are savvy at booth display, and are willing to help promote and work toward the success of the farmers market organization. Anchor vendors should be placed at either end of the market as well as in the middle to help encourage a steady flow of traffic. The remaining vendors should be placed in between the anchor vendors. Depending on the types of vendors you have at your market, consider how best to pair certain vendors.  

Do you have an anchor vendor that is a bakery and another vendor who sells honey or homemade jams? Placing these two vendors next to each other can help promote sales for both vendors.  


Understanding Anchor Vendors, Farmers Market Coalition Website 

Market Manager Duties and Responsibilities 

 A market manager is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the farmers market. The manager is generally on-site at the market during the entire season and may work during the off-season. The market manager’s job description depends upon the needs of the market and, if a paid position, the available budget. The Farmers Market Coalition recommends compensating a manager based on the market value for the skills they bring to the market and the time they spend ensuring the market is a success.  

In general, market managers attend to the following on-site duties:  

  • Be present from set-up to close, managing daily market functions
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Manage booth allocation and payment
  • Provide pricing and merchandising help to vendors 
  • Manage voucher exchange programs for vendors such as SNAP. 
  • Enforce health and agriculture guidelines and market rules 
  • Organize collection and donation of extra food to food banks 
  • Evaluate the market day/season, including gathering feedback from customers, volunteers, vendors, etc.

 Other duties can include: 

  • Maintain market records 
  • Coordinate special events 
  • Act as liaison between sponsors, board, and vendors 
  • Advertise and promote market 
  • Recruit new vendors 
  • Acquire permits and licensing 
  • Build community relationships 


Understanding and Evaluating the Success of Your Market 

Once a market is established, it will be important to understand its success over time. There are many different methods to help market managers to evaluate the market, such as: 

  • Visitor counts 
  • Visitor surveys 
  • Market day reports 
  • Vendor sales reports 

Each of these tools will help track and measure growth or opportunities for improvement in the market over time. Links to resources for implementing these tools are provided below.  

Customer Feedback  

Providing customers with an opportunity to share their thoughts on each market is another way to collect information about the market and to evaluate its performance. Making available a customer comment box at the market information table is one way to do this. Customer comments can provide ideas and suggestions for ways to quickly improve the market, as well as an opportunity to share praise about the market operations.   

Create a form that includes a space for the customer’s contact information so the market management can follow up with the customer if appropriate. Positive feedback and praise from customers can be used to bolster vendor morale, and constructive criticism can provide immediate information about how the market could improve. 


Farmers Market Metrics: Resources Website

This resource offers information about tracking data and metrics for your market and identifies free how-to resources. 

 Evaluation 101 from FMC, Farmers Market Coalition Website

(direct pdf download)

This resource provides information about designing an evaluation and metrics plan for your market.  

Who Can Sell at Your Farmers Market?  

Most Montana farmers markets feature a range of products, including baked goods and crafts in addition to fresh produce, with an emphasis on homegrown and handmade. The rules you develop for your market should reflect the variety of vendors you hope to attract to your market. Many markets in Montana limit their products to those grown or made within Montana, their respective county, or within a certain radius of the market. 

For example, the Yellowstone Valley Farmers Market requires that produce and food items sold be grown or prepared within a 120-mile radius of Billings. The Ronan market requires that all fruits, vegetables, and foods sold at the market are raised and produced by local growers, and no items imported from outside Western Montana will be offered for resale at the market. This keeps the market’s focus on supporting community vendors, which is part of its mission.  

Your committee may want to consider non-local fruit or produce if the product is not available from a local vendor. Typically, non-local vendors are charged a higher rate to reserve stall space than local vendors. Be sure to clearly state any selling requirements in your market rules. 

Vendor Applications 

Once your market steering committee has decided on the requirements for selling at your market, developing a vendor application process will be the next step in recruiting vendors.  

Consider developing an online vendor application form through a web service such as Google Forms and have it linked on the market’s website as well as having hard copies of the application to distribute. Or, like the Clark Fork River Market, embed the application directly into your website.  

When vendors apply to sell at the market, it is the perfect time to share the market rules and any specific regulations that your county sanitation department may require. If there is information you want to capture about your vendors, such as farm size, distance traveled to the market, or social media handles, include those requests in the application at the beginning of the season.  


More about Vendor Eligibility, Farmers Market Legal Toolkit Website 

Become a Vendor Application Page, Clark Fork River Market Website 

Vendor Application Example, Burlington Farmers Market, (pdf direct download)   

Farmers Market Integrity & Farm Verification, Washington State Farmers Market Management Toolkit Website 

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