Rainy Days at Market

After a particularly cold and rainy late May market Saturday, some of the MFFM Board members engaged in this exchange of emails, commenting on how to decide whether to go to market at all, and wondering what sort of rules or policies that markets might have regarding inclement weather.

Anne K. Saggese, Belfast and Camden Farmers’ Markets:

As someone who didn’t go to market this past weekend, I’ll give one perspective –

Markets are rain or shine, I’ve only ever seen one day cancelled for hurricane-type winds. I make it to most rainy markets, but this past weekend, it was cool and incredibly humid so the moisture in the air settled instead of rising and most of my product would be ruined – the cookies I did bake off were literally soggy by the time they were cool enough to bag, the baklava I had left over from last week lost half it’s height even sitting under it’s “airtight” dome. If it’s just raining, I can adjust how much I make for the day and be satisfied with a smaller customer volume, but I can’t afford to make product that is going to be ruined. So, it’s a judgement call on my part and it does not happen often. I do let the market know I’m not coming and post to the fb page to let customers know and why. Since I’ve been around a while, customers with a real addiction have no problem calling me to arrange a mid-week fix.

I know many fiber people don’t go on rainy days and I can see why. But some do show up anyway. I’m sure some people use it as an excuse to not go to markets where sales will be lower than expected and I think each of their justifications for it will be different – I really don’t want to be lifestyle police, if they are solid marketers to a sufficient degree, a couple absences are fine.
It also brings to mind any number of vendors that miss for other reasons – fairs and festivals they are part of, family events, there are any number of reasons people don’t make every single market every single season. It makes little difference to the customer why a vendor isn’t there, so I like Camden’s rule that more than three absences in a season can bring you up for review. A group discussion will decide whether the reasons are good and develop a good tool to let customers know when  someone won’t be there (and pair it with who WILL be there, giving them a reason to come anyway).

Sherie Blumenthal, Lewiston Farmers’ Market:

I was also thinking about this. We are lucky in that we have a parking garage adjacent to the parking lot where our market is. This year we came up with a rain set up where some vendors whose products are more sensitive i.e. soap, fiber are more sensitive can be under cover and those who are not are outside in the lot and leading up to the garage. It worked pretty good and people were glad for the assurance of being dry even though it ended up NOT really raining and it was a bit cooler in the garage than out.

Nonetheless we were still missing 8 vendors! Mostly, produce vendors interestingly which I think has to do with the minimal product this early in the season.

In any case, I was toying around with the idea of somehow rewarding those vendors who DO show up for market on rainy days. Whether it’s a small amount off there fee for the season – which might be tricky, or something out of a donations pot (we do raffles and things that bring in donations)

I haven’t decided if this is a good idea or not but I was thinking about it yesterday. It is hard to penalize those vendors with sensitive product for not showing up but certainly making sure people call in at least.

Jack McAdam, Springvale Farmers’ Market:

Does anyone have a good policy for rainy market days?

It rained on Saturday but not as bad as predicted. We had a pretty good turn out as far as customers go. Even those vendors that showed wished they had brought more product because they almost, or did sell out of certain items.

We had about 1/3 of the vendors show. Our by-laws state “rain or shine except torrential downpours”, like a tropical system or thunderstorms.

I don’t see how I can punish someone for not showing and I don’t think I should have to but how do I get them to see that they are actually hurting the market members that do show on a rainy day.

We had requests for jam, bread and pickles and those 3 vendors were not there. The next time it rains those customers probably won’t make an effort to come see us.

Maybe I’ve answered my own question but wondered if any of you had any insight.


Janet Weaver, Wells and Kennebunk Farmers’ Markets:

You need tougher vendors…  Only joking!  I was assuming 31 vendors for Memorial Day weekend. Our secretary, Marilyn Stanley, does a roll call on Wed every week to be posted on FB and Web Friday morning. She email’s the list of expected vendors, and you send a message back only if you should be taken off the. List. Needless to say, the bakers, soap makers, and several plant vendors started dropping out immediately.  By Fri, I was down to 22. 2 vendors were no shows without contact.  They will be reminded of the importance of calling in. This system takes a bit of work, but for a larger market it’s nice to be able to “tuck in” and not have holes between vendors. We also have an attendance list at season’s end to use when assigning spaces the following season.  This is our 3rd year with this system. The hardest part of implementing it is to get the vendord in the habit of checking the roll.   Best of luck to you Jack.

Caitlin Hunter, Bath, Union, Belfast, Camden, Rockland, Damariscotta, and Orono Farmers’ Markets:

“Fair weather” vendors are one of my pet peeves! Several of the markets that I am in have a review clause in their by-laws: if a vendor is absent for three or more markets, then their membership is up for review. Another market has a bad weather clause: if the weather makes it unreasonable for certain products to be at market (such as bread or soap or dried flowers), then they are excused. Personally, I understand when foul weather keeps some vendors at home. It’s the vendors that only show up for the best weeks of the market, leaving the early and late season for the rest of us to keep it going, that really bug me.

Communication is the best tool. Ask vendors to give you the most notice they can if they will miss a market, and make sure other vendors know, so when the inevitable question, “where is —?” comes up, there is a good answer. Nothing makes a market look bad as not knowing what’s going on.

Tom Roberts, Pittsfield, Unity, Orono, Waterville and Newport Farmers’ Markets:

Last Saturday at the rainy Orono Farmers’ Market there were a number of soap and bread makers in attendance. It wasn’t long before the tent sides were put up as soon as the wind started blowing the rain sideways. Even so, the hand pie I bought was a bit moister than usual. But it certainly makes sense for someone whose product will be definitely damaged by the weather to skip market rather than disappoint shoppers with poor quality.

As for inclement weather generating low sales, Snakeroot had our best day of the year to date! Of course the experience included a dose of cold misery and sales doubtless would have been ever better had the weather been sunny, but we were quite pleased with the strong shopper demand, even during the rain. As markets mature and shoppers become more confidant that at least most of the market members will be there regardless of weather, even on rainy, cold or sweltering days there is a good turnout even in harsh weather.

But it may take several years for shoppers to begin to respond this way. Newer markets have more difficulty in foul weather because shoppers have not yet been trained to show up regardless of what the sky is doing to us. As farmers, we understand that some things need doing regardless of the weather, but since most of our surrounding population has become so divorced from the culture of agriculture, they do not understand that shopping even in the rain can be fun in its own way. Just like transplanting can be. And it’s a gift that allows us to appreciate the beautiful days all the more.

Janet’s “tougher vendors” comment also contains a grain of truth. I can understand why market members from Somalia or Alabama, or those who are new to attending market may need to learn the value of going to market in harsher weather conditions than they are used to. It’s a learning process as well as a process of accommodating your expectations to the range of conditions you are likely to experience at market. Just like shoppers need to learn how to shop outdoors regardless, market members need to learn how to dress and how to prepare their stands and products for a wide range of inclemency.

As for rainy days being responsible for market gaps when some members do not attend, this is solved at some of our markets by having positions filled on a first come basis. So each arriving market member sets up next to the previous one. Because folks have pretty much the same schedule for arriving at market each time, the set up from week to week is remarkably similar. But the notification system for folks who aren’t going to show up is a good system for market where each vendor has an assigned spot. The difficulty that gaps presents in the overall market is probably the point to emphasize when encouraging members to call about being a no show. As is being able to answer the customers’ queries about “Where is . . . ?”

As for punishing no-shows or rewarding those that do show, I think that letting the market control this would work here. Sharing info on sales, as I did above in my second paragraph will show folks that they missed out by missing the market. If you and I have a similar product line and you don’t show up, well I can only smile at my stronger sales even while knowing the market’s rep is taking a hit.

And if someone is a now-show too many times during the season, then it needs to be known that this will be taken into account when considering new applicants who offer the same product line as the frequent no-show member. This is part of balancing the interests of the market with the interests of the individual market members. Members need to show up whenever possible as part of the responsibility of being a member of the market.

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.