Types of farmers’ market members

It may be useful in discussions about markets to categorize all the various members of farmers’ markets in some way.

It is acknowledged that there are certainly other ways to categorize market members and that this particular method of ignores the size of their operation, although most of Maine’s farmers’ market members are micro-businesses, too small to even be considered a “small business” by the federal government. It also ignores the age of the participants (most of the new ones are under 40), their sex (men are in a definite minority), animal versus plant based, food versus non-food, etc. There are many other ways that market members could be categorized; this particular method, however, can be useful in thinking about how markets are evolving and how to respond to that evolution.

What affect does having folks from each of these categories as members of a market have on the character and nature of a farmers’ market?

Group 1. Farmers. These are the people who historically have started and sustained farmers’ markets. People who are producing food or fiber from the land or who work with soil or animals in some way to produce food or other agricultural or horticultural product. Includes greenhouse operators, seedling raisers, perennial and tree growers, beekeepers, mushroom growers, and maple sugarbushes. Some farmers also produce and sell processed items, and sometimes these are their farm’s primary item offered for sale. For example, a goat farmer who only brings their goat cheese to market. Products from this category may be raw or processed foods.

Group 2. Non-farming Food Producers. These are people who produce more complex foods from simpler items, or who procure foods via “hunting and gathering.” Examples are bakers, meat smokers, non-farming food processors, coffee bean roasters, jam/pickle/salsa producers, brewers, vintners, fisher folk, and wildcrafters.

Group 3. Non-farming Non-food Producers. These are local people operating micro businesses who aren’t farms and who don’t produce food. Examples are Product Producers (crafts, soaps, balm, candles, knitted goods, stained glass, paintings, prints, sculpture, wrought iron, jewelry, etc.) and Service Providers (tool sharpeners, buskers, recyclers).

There is beginning to be discussion within some markets of how other farmers’ markets have been dealing with allowing non-farming members into their market and what the perceived benefits and drawbacks are. Although many farmers also offer items other than raw food and non-food products, the greatest concern seems to be with market members who do no farming at all.

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.