As temperatures begin to climb and summer nears, so does the Farmers Market season. May is generally when most farmers markets kick off their seasons, but some opened in late April as fresh fruits and vegetables became available. Our video team spoke to market managers around the state to find out how they’ve adapted to COVID protocols and what they learned about customers and vendors during a challenging 2020 season, and Arkansas Farm Bureau’s John McMinn collected some important information about what markets are doing and what potential vendors need to know as we enter the 2021 season.
What to Expect in 2021: Markets & Vendors
by John McMinn
Director, Commodity Activities & Economics
Arkansas Farm Bureau
While markets have opened, it is important to note the difficulties and hardships the markets endured during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. What can farmers/vendors and customers alike expect to see at their markets this year? How will this year differ from the previous year? How can interested farmers/vendors get involved in selling at farmers markets? To be best prepared for selling or buying at your local market it is important to better understand how business will be conducted at your local market in 2021.
In 2020, things began as normal, but quickly turned upside down with the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately for our farmers markets, the virus hit just as they were preparing to open and soon after, communities across the country went into mandatory lockdown. These lockdowns resulted in markets having to adapt quickly but some couldn’t and as a result were forced to close. For those who could stay open they converted into drive-through markets and utilized online ordering. Although most markets saw a decrease in business, they all reported great success with these new methods. So much so, that most markets who implemented online ordering plan to continue that service for the 2021 season.
With the introduction of vaccines this year, it’s everyone’s hope that we will see an easing of restrictions. In the 2021 market season, mostly all markets plan to open as walk-through markets but will still have some, select restrictions. This will differ from community to community, but for the most part farmers/vendors and customers need to be prepared for mask mandates, social distancing signage, vendor table spacing of 6 – 10 feet and lower levels of capacity. Although these restrictions will be implemented, there is optimism that they will be lifted later in the season. In order to ensure a successful year, it’s important to respect these rules and each other’s space until markets are able to go back to business as normal.
For farmers and vendors who are new to market and want to get involved, it is important to reach out to the individual farmers market managers. As mentioned above, all markets are different. Some are more detail-focused and stringent, while others are more laid back. There is no specific way to manage a market, so the application process will be different from one market to the next. You can normally reach these managers by email, phone, or through their market’s social media account and, depending on the structure of the market, an application could be reviewed by a board of market members or only by the manager themselves.
It is important to note that before a farmer applies to a new market they should visit and see what the market is already offering. Most markets will not want a lot of competition between their sellers, so it is vital to offer a unique product. For example, if there is an existing and well-established tomato vendor, it would be wise to offer a different product. To make sure a seller can capture all customer segments it would be beneficial to enter into a market that offers online ordering and participates in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). According to Jeremy Adams of the Arkansas Farmers Market Association, not enough markets are participating in the SNAP “Double Up Food Bucks” program. This program allows recipients to receive a dollar-for-dollar match up to $20/day when they purchase fresh produce from participating markets and grocery stores.
“Double Up Food Bucks is a missing piece for farmers markets to be sustainable,” says Adams. “Last year we saw $40,000 worth of SNAP purchases at markets across the state, that’s $40,000 that those markets wouldn’t have seen if they weren’t involved in SNAP.”
All things considered, there is plenty of optimism for Arkansas Farmers Markets in 2021. The rollout of vaccines brings hope that more restrictions will be lifted, and we will continue to return to our normal day-to-day lives. Customers and sellers can feel more comfortable that their markets will be open and striving to offer the best variety they can. By doing a little research, farmers/vendors can increase their opportunity for success.
For more information, contact John McMinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.