Promotional ideas for farmers’ markets

This list is a compilation of promotional ideas for Farmers’ Markets that have been tried in Vermont and Maine from 1985 to 2000. We include some obvious ones such as “take out an ad in the paper or radio” but also list the more creative and customer-involving ideas we have heard of.

If you or your market has other promotions to add to this list, we would be happy to include them here.

Some promotions attract shoppers to the market; others enhance the shoppers experience while at market.

Suggestions for Farmers’ Market Promotional Projects

From the Vermont Federation of Farmers’ Markets

1. “Farm-city Day:” Cooperate with Farm Bureau bringing baby farm animals to market; advertising focused on children.

2. Specialty Days, e.g. “Sheep Day,” coop with respective association; ask that association to organize, e.g. MSBA; sheep in pens, spinning, shearing, lamb-burgers, wool, etc. (goats, rabbits, beef, deer, geese, etc.)

3. One market rents a space to fly a banner over Main Street, 3 times a season at $50 a time to advertise the market.

4. Several markets are regulars on radio talk show, either special interviews with different growers or regular interview to review what’s for sale this week (free).

5. Once a season fill a basket of samples from the market and deliver to local radio station to get them interested. They mention different items throughout the day’s show, which gives them often-needed time fillers.

6. Opening Market Day promoted as a “Plant Day;” 200 plant plugs given away.

7. “Dairy Day” was a big success. Coop with dairy and Nutrition Council. Display cows, goats, milking demonstrations/contest, give milk and donated cookies/ice cream. Gave $5 gift certificate to market to every dairy farmer who came to market.

8. Gift certificate/coupons given to entertainers at market; $30 worth of coupons stapled together in a “book” of $2, $5, and $10 denominations; also used for drawings.

9. For each event, assign one lead person/coordinator; everyone in the markets takes a turn at being responsible for an event; then no one is overloaded.

10. Targeting local restaurants/chefs; letters inviting them for a special day/half day; have chef doing cooking demo; gift coupons/drawing; get sponsorships from local businesses.

11. “Business Day;” letters inviting local businesses to market; purpose is community involvement/support; personal touch; show how one supports the other; walk them around the market; free coffee; shake hands; name tags.

12. “Feature Vendor;” each week feature a different stand/farm/vendor; put them in the center – in a reserved spot.

13. Some towns have a special evening in the park concerts; combine with that night; open the market one hour before concert to piggyback on their advertising.

14. End-of-season pig roast; sell tickets; combine with rotary street dance.

15. “Apple Fest,” “Maple Fest,” etc.: bob for apples, apple/maple taste testing; samples; posters/banners; equipment display.

16. “Flower Day;” dried flower wreath, bouquet demonstration; classes for people to learn to make a wreath (they pay a fee).

17. “Corn Roast Day;” pay 50 cents/ear; break even; sell corn when corn is most plentiful.

18. Tape vendors/farmers during off-season or at market. Send tape to a local radio; provide information on growing/items of interest to consumers.

19. “Strawberry Shortcake Day;” charge 50 cents.

20. “Pumpkin Festival” carving demo/contests; sell pumpkin/squash soup; variety of squash and pumpkins identified.

21. “Harvest Festival:” Huge salad, sell by the dish; put up big tent; fill with corn stalks, corn, baskets, etc.

22. Soil testing day: advertise to bring in your soils; extension test on the spot; can charge fee; invite local flower/horticulture society to co-host.

23. Sandwich Board; out front; list schedule of day and next week’s events.

24. Always put “Rain or Shine” in ads and brochures. Can increase sales 25% when they know you’re open.

25. Set events far in advance, e.g., 1st Friday of each month or a regular date.

26. Be sure to ask for non-profit advertising rates for radio, if applicable.

27. If a special event is planned, be sure to make a fuss over it, i.e. promote it; get story about it, etc.

28. Market in Government city; schedule it 2-6 pm; locate within walking distance of buildings; a mid-week day; cover buildings with posters; pass out opening day coupons.

Maine Farmers Market Promotions

1. Brunswick Market collects items to fill a monthly “Food Basket,” which is then raffled off. Raffle tickets are used to collect names and addresses of market customers.

2. Machias and Brewer markets print market flyers with listing of vegetables and their season of availability. Many customers post these at home to remind them of what is in season when.

3. Brewer market takes out a classified ad for its entire 6 month season in the Bangor Daily News changing weekly as items come into season.

4. Brewer market has mailed a flyer with a $1 coupon to 4800 homes in city of Brewer. One hundred twelve were redeemed, with names and addresses. Probably brought a few new customers to market.

5. Brewer has mailed a packet to all restaurants in the greater Bangor Brewer area. It included an invitation to shop at the market plus an “in-season items” flyer, and a “meet the farmers” flyer.

6. Brewer has posted notices in local campgrounds and motels about the fresh produce at the market. Many Canadians make special shopping trips and stay overnight in the area. Ease of bringing produce back over the border is emphasized.

7. Bethel uses sandwich signs 200 ft. on each side of the market to notify approaching traffic of market.

8. Waldoboro had two “Meet the Animals” days, one “Talk with Quilters” day, and articles about each of them submitted to three local newspapers. Quilters sell at no charge and make their own posters.

9. Brewer set up a booth at the Agricultural Days at the Bangor Mall, sponsored by Maine Farm Bureau, which they are a member of.

10. Ellsworth has done a series of ten 10 second TV commercials for $200.

11. Brewer has invited authors of cookbooks to the market for a day of sales and autographing.

12. Brewer has invited a local TV weatherman to the market to talk to the public about how the weather affects gardens, and about weather forecasting in general.

13. Belfast invites an elephant-costumed person to market to talk to the kids.

14. Camden has used their annual market brochures to announce a series of “special events” running throughout the summer, including Morris Dancers, Free Plant Day, Farm & Animal Day, Farmers As Artists, Downeast Barbecue, French Food Day, Homemade Breads & Spreads, and Harvest Festival.

15. Brunswick also produces a handout with “Farmers’ Market Events,” which have included Opening Day, Alpacas at the Market, Mothers Day Plants for Kids, Lilac Bush Raffle, Goat Kids at the Market, Pee Gee Hydrangea Raffle, Art Show, and Hallowe’en Costumes and Scarecrows.

16. Brunswick has a public bulletin board at the market where special market events are publicized to members.

17. Local weekly or monthly newspapers may find having a feature on area farmers’ markets more appealing if each of several local farmers’ markets writes up a description of its particulars and submits them as a packet to be included alongside the feature article.

18. Orono sets up a free hot/cold cider table in the center of the market area for customers in the fall.

19. Orono has had fiddlers come in and set up just like a market vendor, only their product is the music they play. An open fiddle case gathers donations. Damariscotta has a similar musicians booth, but a basket of donations is collected from the vendors for the fiddlers.

20. Damariscotta has a “sampling table” set up in the middle of the market offering samples form the various vendors. The mess of sampling then occurs in one centralized location instead of at every member’s booth.

21. Each year Camden starts off the season by mailing a “welcome back” postcard to a mailing list of customers compiled from all market members.

22. Orono and Fairfield Farmers’ Markets each make up two books of thirty $2 coupons redeemable at market. These are then contributed to the Public TV auction in April.

23. “From our gardens to your homes… In its season” Orono newspaper ads, 2002.

About Tom Roberts

When I started attending the Brewer Farmers’ Market back in August of 1983, my sole concern was being able to sell the produce my farm was growing at a good price. After attending market for a year or two, I began to realize that how the market was organized had a great impact on my sales. And how the market was organized also influenced how it made decisions about dues, new members, what could be sold at market, and how it promoted itself—and this, too, had an impact on my sales. So I got involved in the market’s steering committee and began to understand how various market members thought the market should operate. Some wanted a market czar, some wanted everyone to be allowed to do their own thing. But everyone seemed to agree that if the market as a whole did well, then so did they.