Getting Started

Starting a farmers market in your community is an exciting opportunity. Whether it’s a grower looking for an outlet to sell goods, a community member hoping to buy local products, or a community organization hoping to revitalize a downtown, people start markets for many different reasons, and that is what makes farmers markets so wonderfully diverse. While each market is as different as the community that supports it, there are some common strategies to use to begin organizing a new market.  

Review the tabs below to learn more about farmers market start up: 

Creating a Steering Committee

Building a core group of market supporters provides strength, stability, and longevity to your efforts. This group of people will help brainstorm ideas, divide tasks, and provide the support necessary to make the market happen. Ideally, a committee is composed of people who represent all aspects of the market and provide a mix of perspectives and needs during the planning process. Since this committee will do much of the initial planning for the market, aim for a group of four to eight individuals.  

As a committee, one of your first jobs is to determin

e the purpose or mission of your farmers market. It may be as simple as providing fresh produce to the community, providing an outlet for local producers to sell, or creating a vibrant downtown environment. Consider the focus of your market and whether you’d like to include the sale of craft items and/or invite organizations to the table with information, etc. Whatever your mission, be sure that you clearly and succinctly state why your market exists. For example, the Hamilton Farmers Market Cooperative states: “The Bitterroot Valley Community Farmers Market is a cooperative association organized to: 

  1. provide for its members – the Valley’s Farmers, Growers, Craftspeople and others – an economical place – a Farmers market – for them to sell their products and/or services.
  2. provide a venue where the community and visitors come together and socialize.
  3. stimulate the local economy.
  4. promote awareness about food, nutrition, health, and cooperative values.
  5. educate the public on the benefits of supporting local businesses.
  6. engage on a cooperative basis in any other lawful trade business or industry authorized by Montana law.”

Create a fact sheet that outlines the goals and intentions of the market, potential benefits, and contact information for key people on your committee. The fact sheet can be shared with community members as you build support for the market. 


Boards and Advisory Committees, Washington State Farmers Market Toolkit Website  

Assessing Community Interest 

A successful farmers market must have the support and interest of the community. Researching the feasibility of your market will help you understand factors that are working for and against the market in your community. There are three key groups of people to contact when planning a market: the vendors who will sell at your market, the people who will shop at your market, and local businesses, local government, and other community stakeholders that will support the market.


Talk to farmers, gardeners, and other potential vendors in your community. Questions you might want to ask include:  

  1. Would you be interested in selling at a farmers market in our town? 
  2. How far would you drive to participate in a farmers market?  
  3. What would you like to sell? 
  4. When are your products available?  
  5. What are your preferred days of the week? Times of day?  
  6. Do you sell at other markets?  
  7. How involved do you want to be in the organizing/marketing of this market?  
  8. When are other markets happening near you? 

If there is a nearby market, look closely to see if there is enough producer support for your market. This may be as simple as talking to the manager of the nearby market. He or she may know of producers that would be interested in selling at a new market.   

Visit neighboring markets to talk to vendors, but make sure you check with the manager of that market first. It is important to let market managers know that you are not trying to compete with their market.  

Community Members

Conversations with community members and assessments of area markets can help to determine preferred locations, hours of operation, and what products people are most interested in buying. Consider putting together a survey to gauge interest in the market and distribute it at community events, share on social media, or through email.   

Visit local grocery stores about their local food options and what customers request regularly. If allowing crafts or nursery items, check with brick-and-mortar establishments to learn more about buying trends for those products. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Development Center to see what kind of demographic data they have about your community. Census data can prove useful as well, you can access this information at the United States Census Bureau Website.  

This type of data can help you build the best market for your community. You might find, for example, that your community has a large percentage of people enrolled in food assistance programs, so participating in a Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program or becoming authorized to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) could be beneficial to the market and your community.

Business and Local Government Support

Contact local businesses to see if they would support a farmers market. Do they have any concerns about the market? If so, what are some ways to address them? Often, businesses that are located near a farmers market are concerned that they will have to compete with the market for customers—especially if their business is food-related. It is important to address these concerns. Most farmers markets find that the number of customers visiting surrounding businesses increases on market days. 

Local government support of the market will be helpful in obtaining required permits, particularly if the market’s location impacts a city property such as a park or street. 


Starting a Farmers Market Feasibility Assessment Guide, Michigan Farmers Market Association, (pdf direct download) 

Survey-Tips-for-Your-Market-Feb-2016, Washington State Farmers Market Management Toolkit, (pdf direct download)

Organizing Meeting for the Market

Taking the time to collect feedback from your community should give you a good sense of how to proceed. Assuming the response has been favorable, build on the interest that’s been generated by holding an organizational meeting. Invite contacts made during your initial assessment to attend. Opening the process up to the whole community helps ensure a large base of support. Consider posting flyers around town, sending the meeting announcement to local papers, radio stations, church bulletins, social media, and organizational newsletters.  

The purpose of the first organizational meeting is to explain the market concept, generate support and enthusiasm for the project by highlighting community benefits, and begin forming the market. It also provides an opportunity to troubleshoot potential challenges as a group. A sample agenda for this meeting can be found below in the resource section of this page.  

 A good way to start working on the market is to establish subcommittees to break the work into manageable units. Each committee can research a different aspect of the market and then provide follow-up reports at subsequent meetings.  

Potential committees might include:  

  • Grower/vendor recruitment 
  • Market location 
  • Publicity 
  • Fundraising/budget 
  • Market rules and regulations 
  • Organizational structure 

This first meeting is also a good time to discuss the range of products that could be available at the market, and the level of supply of these products. You may have collected feedback from your community assessment to share with the group indicating what is available and what people are most interested in purchasing. At the close of the meeting be sure to set a date for the next meeting and make sure that each committee has its “homework.” 

Annual Market Meetings

Many markets, once established, host an annual spring vendor meeting to plan and evaluate the market. Annual meetings provide a chance for vendors to socialize with each other and the organizing committee, and address business of the coming season, such as setting vendor fees, and reviewing market rules. An annual meeting can also be an opportunity to educate vendors on related community programs such as WIC, Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, SNAP, or coordinating donations for the local food bank. Also, an annual meeting is a great time to plan special events, collect vendor feedback on aspects that would make the market better for them, and collectively brainstorm marketing ideas.


Sample Agenda for Market Meeting, (direct download document)

Skills for Successful Meetings, Washington State Farmers Market Toolkit, (pdf direct download) 

Discussion Pointers, Washington State Farmers Market Toolkit, (pdf direct download)

Common Decision Making Methods, Washington State Farmers Market Toolkit, (pdf direct download)

Finding Vendors for Your Market 

To begin finding vendors, the recruiting committee will want to spend some time considering the kinds of vendors that will be included in the market. Will your market include more than produce? Meats? Baked goods? Crafts?  

Will the market allow groups such as 4-H clubs and church groups to sell at the market? In Montana, over 90% of the farmers markets feature crafts, meat, baked goods, and food products in addition to produce. There are markets that require all products to be grown or made within a certain distance of the market and markets that establish ratios of produce vendors to others. The exact mix of vendors can be determined by your market mission statement and by the rules and regulations you establish.  

As you recruit vendors for your market, keep in mind that vendors will travel farther than your average customer to the market. Invite farmers and other vendors from your extended area. Try not to invite too many vendors from existing markets, unless your market is scheduled at a time when it won’t be competing with an existing market. Consider drafting a letter that outlines key market information, such as location, days and hours of operation, general market rules, and product guidelines, to leave with prospective vendors. Highlight any perks or vendor-driven considerations such as convenient parking, etc. 

Strategies for Vendor Recruitment  

Locating and retaining growers to participate can be one of the most difficult parts of establishing a farmers market. While the best vendor recruitment often happens in person, some other strategies for identifying vendors include:  

  • Spreading the word on social media accounts 
  • Use the Abundant Montana Directory or  Farm Link to find producers near you who may be interested in vending at the market.  
  • Reaching out to your County Extension Agent to find out about garden clubs in our community that may be interested in becoming market vendors.  
  • Utilizing the Directory of Hutterite Colonies in Montana  
  • Visiting the Made in Montana website and directory 
  • Placing an ad in local papers or agricultural bulletins 
  • Sending a press release about the market to local media 
  • Ask a reporter to write a story about the developing market 
  • Placing a Public Service Announcement (PSA) on your local radio station 
  • Putting up signs around town and in farm-supply stores 
  • Connect with local 4-H clubs, nurseries and garden centers, food banks, and other farmers and gardeners you know to see if they would be interested in vending at the market.  


Recruiting Producers, Farmers Market Coalition (direct PDF download)


Identifying a good, central location helps build community synergy around the market. The location will, among other things, determine the look and feel of your market, how many customers and vendors attend, and possibly what kind of special events you hold. Farmers markets around the state have found suitable locations in a wide variety of locations, from downtown streets to business parking lots to city parks or plazas. 

First, find a location that will be the same each week and ideally for years to come. You will want to make sure that the location is available to the market all season long as it is confusing to customers if the market changes from place to place.  

Second, make sure the location will provide enough room for your current list of vendors, as well as for future vendors that will join. There should be adequate space for vendors to park their trucks by their stalls, or space allocated elsewhere for vendor vehicles. A center aisle between rows of sellers should be a minimum of 10 to 12 feet wide to give plenty of room for customers to shop at the stands on either side of the aisle.  

Third, consider the ownership of the place when choosing your location. Regardless of where you choose to locate, your market will need to operate according to the rules of the property owner. You will want to carefully consider whether these rules will work for your market. For example, needing to move your market every week within a city park to protect grass may prove challenging. Additionally, the owner of the property may or may not have liability insurance for accidents occurring on the property. It is critical to determine who will cover the insurance.  

Your location can be a great way to develop a partnership with a community group or business. The following are desirable in a market location:  

  • Visible, well-traveled
  • Easily accessible
  • Central location 
  • Easy pedestrian access 
  • Easy-to-describe location (for ads, etc.) 
  • Close to customers (not necessarily the producers) 
  • Convenient parking 
  • Streets that can accommodate trucks for set up and takedown 
  • Cover
  • Shade 
  • Seating for customers 
  • Level, hard surface 
  • Good drainage
  • Access to water and electricity 
  • Restrooms 
  • Lighting for early morning and late evening


When planning the market season, be conservative with your start and end dates. Adding days to the season can show how your market is growing, whereas subtracting days can indicate that the market is not successful. Pick your start and end dates based on when you will have plenty of goods to sell. At least for the first season, it’s better to wait until you have an abundance, rather than trying to get off the ground when only a few products are ready. Try to make your market look as full as possible. Bare market tables at the beginning and end of the season can discourage some customers from returning.  

Choose days of the week and hours of operation based on when the customer flow will be the largest. Assessment of potential customers can help identify preferred shopping times. One market, for example, shifted its hours later into the evening on Fridays from 4 pm-7 pm to draw people in when they would typically be doing their shopping in preparation for the weekend. Weekends can be great times for a market because families and businesspeople alike are free to attend the market. Some markets have shifted to a weeknight schedule in anticipation of weekend travel by residents.  

Some markets choose a time that coincides with another regular community event so people have several reasons to head to the market. Most markets do not need to have long hours. Vendors like to stay busy, customers like shopping with others, and it is these limited hours that make the market different than the grocery store. Again, keep in mind that it is better to offer fewer hours in the beginning and then add more hours if necessary. Also, be aware of other markets and events in the area when you schedule your market. It’s a great idea to collaborate with a weekly community event, if possible, but only if the event organizers view the partnership as mutually beneficial. 


Hours, Location, Parking, and Weather, Market Umbrella via Farmers Market Coalition, (pdf direct download)


Developing a Market Budget and Bookkeeping 

Getting a new market off the ground requires some initial start-up money. Start-up costs can include printing for vendor recruitment and publicizing the market, advertising, signage such as banners or sandwich boards to guide customers to the market, and liability insurance if not provided by the site owner. Depending on the site and property owner specifications, portable toilets may be required. 

 Fundraising for the Market 

To help cover initial start-up costs of the market, or to grow the capacity of the market, which could include paying a part-time market manager, it is likely you will have to do some fundraising. Some revenue can be generated for the market from vendor booth fees and market merchandise; however, insufficient market revenue is one of the top five challenges that markets face. Without funding to support paid hours for a dedicated market manager, promotional and outreach materials, insurance, or any other fixed expenses, a market can find itself struggling to survive.  

One of the roles of market leadership is to determine where these revenue streams will come from. Here are a few ideas:  

Sponsorships: Develop a tiered sponsorship program that allows businesses to financially support the market at different levels in exchange for recognition through the market’s advertising. Local government offices, such as parks or community development departments, could be potential sponsors, including your local Chamber of Commerce, or civic organizations such as Exchange, Lions, and Rotary Clubs.  

In-Kind Donations: Services or skills donated by businesses or individuals, in exchange for advertising from the farmers market, are a great way to build a partnership with community members.  

Friends of the Market: A “Friends of the Market” organization may be started by an individual or by the market itself. Friends of the Market are sometimes incorporated as a nonprofit to conduct fundraising and apply for grants that can help support the market financially.  

Cash Donations: Set up a donation box at the market information table to allow direct donations from customers (just remember not to leave it unattended). Most websites and some social media platforms support a donation button that allows visitors to make donations directly to the market.  

Special Events: Special events differ from regular market day events like live music, and they require more organization. This may take the form of a ticketed event, such as a dinner and silent auction, where the proceeds of the event go to supporting the farmers market. Sometimes these events require some financial investment, and that’s where  partnerships with area businesses and local restaurants can be useful to help offset the initial costs.  

Vendor Fees: As a market grows, it may be necessary to update its vendor fee structure. Some markets require a yearly membership fee from vendors, as well as the booth fee to sell at the market (paid weekly or in advance). Vendor fees will only be a small part of what is required to run the market but reviewing the amounts and updating requirements as the market grows is something to consider.  

Grants: Applying for state or federal grants that support farmers markets and local foods is another option. The Farmers Market Promotion Program is a federally funded grant program that is available annually. Montana grants include the Montana Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) Program and the Montana Growth Through Agriculture (GTA) Grant/Loan Program 


Best Practices for Market Bookkeeping, Washington State Farmers Market Management Toolkit Website 

Raise Money and Build Community with Engaging Online Fundraising, Farmers Market Coalition Website

Ypsilanti Farmers Market Sponsorship, (pdf direct download)

La Grande Farmers Market Sponsorship Brochure, La Grande Farmers Market Website

Federal Grant Example, Troy Farmers Market, (pdf direct download)

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