Selling at Farmers' Markets: How to Start and What Rules Apply - Free Enterprise
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Selling at Farmers' Markets: How to Start and What Rules Apply

High season has begun in many farmers' markets around the country. Farmers' markets offer small scale farmers and hobbyist gardeners an opportunity to earn money while providing fresh food and produce to their communities. So, how do you get started and what kinds of rules govern selling at a farmers' market?

Like the zucchini and corn at your local farmers' market, the rules governing farmers' markets are highly local. For this reason, often the best place to start is the person called the "Market Manager" (or "Market Master"). This is the person who oversees operation of a specific farmers' market, and who can point you toward that market's rules and procedures. Usually, the Market Manager can be found at the market on its day of operation. If not, your local Chamber of Commerce may be able to put you into contact.

Typically, the Market Manager decides who gets to sell at that market. Selection criteria vary by market or group of markets. As an example, the criteria used by markets in the California Farmers' Market Association include:

  • the seller's history of compliance with state, local and market rules;
  • the seller's past participation in the market;
  • the number of people selling the same goods at that market (to avoid monopolies and gluts while meeting buyer demand); and
  • the number of unreserved slots.

Once you inform yourself as to local procedure for applying, you'll need to know the rules that that govern selling at a farmers' market.

The rules governing sale of produce and food at farmers' markets are many. In addition to local rules, states have rules governing the production, packaging, labeling and selling of food goods. State rules affecting farmers' market sellers often include:

  • the need for certification as a producer (if you wish to sell at a certified farmers' market);
  • the need to meet labeling requirements -- particularly if selling prepackaged or closed container products, or selling for commercial resale;
  • the need for a health department permit if selling non-agricultural food products;
  • retail food sale rules governing things such as how high food must be kept from the ground, the extent to which preparation of food is allowed, the conditions governing any food processing and distance from any live animals; and
  • specifications as to "organic" labeling.

Local health rules will govern other aspects of what goes on in the farmers' market, such as how samples are given.

This year, there has been some concern regarding federal legislation proposed following recent E. Colli outbreaks. Whether it will pass, and whether it will apply to small scale local food sellers remains to be seen.