Ideas For Your Farmers Market Booth Or Vegetable Stand
Give Your Produce Stand Some Pizazz
Once upon a time, my husband and I lived on a small New England farm. And on that farm we had a garden full of organic vegetables. Intending to grow only what we needed for ourselves but being new to gardening and not confident in the greenness of our thumbs, we not only tilled far more ground than necessary and planted more seeds and seedlings than necessary but, by george, it all grew!
Needless to say, we had vegetables of all kinds -- some we had no idea what to do with (kohlrabi?) -- coming out our ears.
So we gave some away, traded vegetables for farm products we didn't grow or raise, and, when we still found ourselves with excess, we set up a self-serve stand out in front of the farmhouse (complete with "The Headless Harvester" pictured here, who had butternut squash for a neck).
Finding the self-serve produce stand to be a success and enjoying meeting new people when we happened to be nearby when they'd stop, we took a friend's advice and signed up for a booth at the local farmer's market.
Some of the photos you'll see here are from our early days of selling produce, before we got better at making our displays look tastier and more inviting. But, over time, we improved our farmers market tables and our sales, and I'd like to share with you my tips for making at least some extra spending money, not to mention pay for next year's seeds, by selling what you grow.
My husband, up to his ears in corn
Beginners' Luck In The Vegetable Garden
Broccoli, onions, beans, oh my!
And lettuce and tomatoes, squash and cucumbers, peppers, herbs, cabbage and potatoes. Out of the ground also came garlic and turnips, carrots and celery and ... well, let's just say I made good use of my Victory Garden Cookbook, to make use of all that fresh produce.
Matter of fact, I think I saw a neighbor duck inside and pull the curtains when she saw me coming with an another arm-full of zucchini.
And Speaking Of The Victory Garden Cookbook....
I LOVE this cookbook. It saved us from yet another night of steamed broccoli. And my husband was about to go on a hunger strike if I made one more vegetable stir fry. But then I bought this book, and a veggie wasn't just a veggie anymore.
This, to me, is a vegetable grower's must-have recipe book. It's been around a while -- since 1982 -- and is still a best-seller for good reason. Sure, you can find a gazillion vegetable-based recipes online, but there's something about sitting in your favorite chair or outside, perhaps while gazing at your garden, and flipping through a classic cookbook with lots of tasty looking photos.
This classic cookbook makes a great gift for any gardener, too.
You don't have to be a gardener to wear out the pages of this book, which grew out of a public television series called The Victory Garden. It was a how-to program aimed at home gardeners, with a recipe segment thrown in in each episode.
And they grew and grew and grew....
A Self-Serve Vegetable Stand by the House
Pay-and-take on our customers' honor worked very well for us.
So, after the neighbors starting politely declining our plethora of free produce, we took to the street. We figured, well, if people just take the extra vegetables and fruit, that's fine. But we posted some prices per piece or per pound, bought an , set that scale out along with saved grocery bags and baggies, and placed a shoe box on the table with several dollars of "seed money" inside for making change. Then we went about our business of tending to the farm and running errands. inexpensive food scale
The evening of our first day as bona fide market gardeners, as we were heading back to the house, I noticed that our vegetable stand was looking a bit ... sparse? I hurried over and, to my delight, found the shoebox was full of green! There was even a note from a lovely gentleman, with his name and phone number, saying he'd return the next day with the additional $2 he owed for the tomatoes!
Off To The Farmers Market
In Kent, Connecticut
The following spring, as our garden once more looked on the verge of exploding with organic produce, we paid $30 for a spot at the local farmers market in Kent, Connecticut (small town, very inexpensive booth space, at least back then). And when the lettuce, spinach and other early veggies began making their appearances, we grabbed our old card table, miscellaneous baskets and plastic bins, some plastic baggies and an old dry-erase board we had lying around, and off to market we went.
Our produce table was pathetic. As other growers set up their booths, we looked from their displays to ours and back again, and felt like kids with a lettuce stand. So, as buyers began to trickle in, we outdid ourselves with niceness and, despite our sad little table, we sold every last head and leaf of lettuce.
At the end of the afternoon, we had enough money to go celebrate our farmers market premier with pizza, then buy a few things to help spruce up our table for the following week.
My Farmers Market Sales Tips and Display Ideas
Work Your Farmers Market Table
Don't just sit back and wait....
First things first, though: Before any decorating or other display ideas, I say that working the booth is number one. By that, I mean both interacting with shoppers and continually keeping your display neat, clean and looking nice, even if it's very basic.
As people buy and produce goes home with them, fill in the gaps on your table, either with extra stock or simply by rearranging what's left, and, if need be, offer some late discounts to last-minute customers. Unless, of course, you want to go home with all the leftovers (which we'd usually preserve or share with the pigs).
Fun, friendly conversation with customers really made all the difference for us, even more so than anything we did to our display.
Make Colorful Displays
Your farmers market table can be a work of art.
Just by laying around, being themselves, vegetables and fruits are pretty to look at, so making colorful produce displays certainly isn't hard. But be mindful of presentation when setting up your farmers market table.
That is, you might not want to group everything green together but, rather, separate greens with oranges (like tomatoes) and reds (such as strawberries and red peppers). Bunched radishes are great for adding a splash of color variety here and there, and mix up the various shapes, sizes and colors of squash and pumpkin.
I say, treat your table like an artist's canvas and paint the most eye-catching picture you can with your produce.
Use Baskets And Other Attractive Containers
Display your produce the countrified way.
Woven baskets sure look better than cardboard boxes and plastic bins for displaying produce; although, we used the latter two on our table, along with stock pots and buckets, when we first started selling at the farmers market.
As weeks went by, however, I collected dozens of fun baskets, some for just a dollar or less at garage sales and flea markets and some for free, from neighbors and friends who had unused baskets lying around in garages, barns and closets, that they were happy to donate or at least loan to the cause. I've also found free baskets on Craigslist and Freecycle.com.
I'd often line my smaller baskets with cloth napkins to absorb moisture and for an extra added touch of country. Rustic wooden boxes and crates also make attractive containers, particularly for large quantities of an item, such as green beans and baking potatoes.
Use Flower Arrangements at the Farmers Market
Decorate and sell as bunches or singles.
We not only combined flowers, like marigolds and nasturtiums, with our vegetables for companion planting as a means of organic pest control, but we also grew flowers to decorate and sell at the farmers market. Sunflowers, which come in a variety of sizes and colors, were not only easy to grow once they got started, but were a big hit at the market.
We grouped flower arrangements in various places throughout our display and often that was the first thing shoppers commented on when they approached the table. Of course, those arrangements were also for sale, as were vases full of flowers that could be bought as singles, and we rarely had any left at the end of the day.
Use A Tablecloth at the Market
Countrify your display ... and hide an ugly table
Just about any table or makeshift stands will do for the farmers market, but covering them with pretty, countrified cloths makes your display look more uniform and attractive.
In our early days at the farmers market, we used a combination of old card tables and plywood on top of stacked cinderblocks to create our stand. And, in our first week, we actually used some old but clean sheets-turned-table cloths to cover them up. And they didn't look bad at all. Eventually, though, we spent some of our earnings on good ol' red-checkered cloths, not to mention better tables.
Table cloths, if long enough, also help to hide extra stock and supplies stored under your table.
Pick A Cloth, Any Cloth, For Your Farmers Market Table
Yes, this is a pretty basic checkered table covering, but that's the look I like for the market: simple and countrified.
Or if you are really keeping to a tight budget and have an old but pretty flat sheet around, maybe with a floral print, that will do as well. I think it partly depends on what the sellers around you are using. Some farmers markets are more ... shall we say, formal and "foofy" than others. In that case, I'd opt for a regular table cloth rather than a sheet.
Craft Your Vegetables for Market
Braids, ristras and wreaths for example
This was a big selling point for us, particularly when it came to garlic, onions and spicy peppers. In addition to selling singles, to be purchased by the piece or the pound (or part of a pound), we made braids of onions and garlic and "ristras" from the peppers.
We'd create varied lengths and quantities, to give the customers more choice (especially the early birds) and even sometimes mixed the varieties, combining yellow, white and purple onions, for example, in one braid.
We also made some wreaths out of these vegetables. Though that took more time and effort and the results were priced higher than the braid and ristras, we always sold out.
The nice thing about these "crafted" vegetables was, if we didn't sell them all one week (which we usually did), they'd be fine to sell the next. After all, dried ristras are often used simply as decoration. They also added some pop to our display, though we had to improvise ways to hang them.
Want to learn how to make a chile pepper ristra? Here's a good how-to:
Learn how to make a garlic braid at: Bloomingfields Farm: How To Braid Garlic
Display On The Stalk
Add even more interest to your farmer's market display.
This was a fun way to sell brussel sprouts, not to mention a perfect way to store them in a root cellar--right on the stalk. We even added these stalks of sprouts to flower arrangements on our farmers market table, and promoted them as interesting candidates for late summer and early fall centerpieces for customers' country-style dinner parties.
In fact, these on-the-stalk displays were so popular, some people who bought them said they didn't even like Brussels sprouts; they just liked the look of the stalks and hadn't ever seen how they grew.
Kohlrabi was another vegetable we sold on the stalk, as well as some tomatoes on the vine.
Sell Value-Added Produce at the Farmers Market
Take some of the work out of your customers' food preparation.
In addition to selling produce "as is," you might want to try doing a little chopping and mixing, which will also add some dollars to your farmers market earnings.
For example, we had great luck with baggies full of chopped cabbage, carrots and onion a la coleslaw mix. Chopped stir fry veggies and dry soup mixes were also a hit. Mixed dry beans were another value-added homegrown product that sold extremely well--combinations of dried pinto, black, navy, anasazi, red, garbanzo, lima and/or kidney beans.
With all of these pre-chopped and mixed items, we included a handwritten recipe card, stapled right onto each baggie.
Give Out Recipes For Uncommon Veggies
Tasty ideas will encourage people to buy the ingredients.
As with the value-added produce, we also offered free recipe cards for all of our less common (or less popular) fruits and vegetables, including things like rhubarb, kohlrabi, kale and quince.
Oftentimes, shoppers would be perusing our display and ask, "What's this?" while holding up a vegetable or variety they'd never seen before, or one they'd seen in the grocery store but never had anyone around to ask what to do with it. So be prepared with cooking tips and recipe suggestions for all of your produce.
Those questions about uncommon fruits and vegetables nearly always turned into fun conversations, complete with those free recipe cards. More often than not, the customer went home with something new to try. And, many times, those same customers would return the following week to buy even more.
Group Produce By Recipe
Make it easy and even more appealing to your customers.
Another idea for your farmers market table is to group some of your fruits and vegetables according to what one can make with them.
For example, why not take some of your sauce tomatoes, garlic, onions and bunches of fresh basil and set them a bit apart as a group, along with a sign that says something like, "Ingredients for your own homemade tomato sauce," and put out some recipe cards too. Depending on how much sauce the customer might want to make, you can help them select the right amount of each ingredient. Perhaps you might even price that sauce combination as a group by weight.
You might even have a "recipe of the week" that you customers can look forward to, and each week have the ingredients you grow set aside along with a catchy sign with the name of the dish.
Recipe categories might include:
Gee, that's allotta "esses" there. Well, okay then, how about:
- Stews (oops, there's another "S")
And don't forget about growing some of the herbs for these recipes as well.
Offer Samples at the Farmers Market
A little taste can go a long way.
We saw other sellers doing this and soon followed suit, and our sales increased even more.
One of our first freebies was a little refreshment--a cup (or two or three) of what we called "rhubarb ade" to anyone wanting a taste. It was my husband's concoction: pureed rhubarb pressed through a cheesecloth, with water and sugar added to taste. We'd set out our pink drink in a large punch bowl, with ice and a ladel and a stack of small paper cups for shoppers to help themselves.
Throughout the rest of the summer, we offered a different sample each week, including slices of zucchini and pumpkin bread, roasted garlic, sliced tomatoes with basil, homemade coleslaw, and grilled and seasoned mixed vegetables. The ideas are nearly endless.
We did find, though, that the most convenient samples were those that could be eaten with the fingers or on toothpicks, cutting down the cost for small, plastic utensils, not to mention the waste.
Offering free samples is a great way to draw shoppers to your table and show off how tasty your homegrown fruits and veggies really are.
A Great Idea!
Consider offering online pre-sales for customers with just a little time on their lunch hours or who can only swing by at the end of the day.
Here's an interesting article from Small Farm Central.
Helpful Market Garden Reading & Recipes
Here are a couple of books I've used and recommend.
The authors divide this book into three sections:
Part 1 covers selling at a farmers' market, offering advice on choosing crops and products, keeping records, staffing a booth, setting prices, setting up displays and merchandise, and using color and texture to enhance visual appeal.
Part 2 gives information on starting a neighborhood market, attracting sellers, market demographics, advertising, publicity, tastings and other special events. Location, timing and day-to-day concerns also are discussed.
Part 3 deals with such topics as social issues and websites. Also, in five appendices, the authors discuss insurance, a market study, customer surveys, market profitability, and benefits.
Fresh From the Farmer's Market Cookbook
In this cookbook, you ll find a wealth of inspired creations. Selection and storage tips are included, along with color photographs. Among the 75 tempting dishes are Fingerling Potato Salad With Fennel, White Peaches in Raspberry Wine Sauce, Apple and Dried Cherry Crisp, Radicchio With Raisins and Pine Nuts, and Penne With Broccoli Sauce.
Find a Farmers Market Near You
Locate a farmer's market near where you live or where you'll be traveling.
Do a Farmer's Market Search on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.
Thanks for Stopping by my Stand
Do you have any additional ideas to share to help others spruce up their farmers market booth and increase sales?
Please leave your comments in the guestbook below.
© 2009 Deb Kingsbury