Based on comments and questions we’ve heard in our (limited) farmers market experience, I’m going to briefly describe a day in the life of the farmers market vendor. We regularly participate in a local farmers market every Saturday morning where we take eggs, heritage pork and grass fed beef, honey, and occasionally some produce. To meet farmers market and health department rules, we spend about 2 hours washing eggs and then putting them in our super cool refrigerator. (See our observations on egg safety elsewhere.) We also spend a varying amount of time making sure we have enough flyers, supplies, and so forth, and Friday night, we make sure the truck is loaded. We get up at between 4:30 and 5 on Saturday morning and by 5:30 (hopefully) we’re rolling down the lane. We arrive at the market location (on a good day) about 6 so we can be set up by the time the market opens at 6:30. The market is open until noon but we generally leave between 10 and 11 or we sell out of non-frozen things, depending on the tolerance level of our 11 year old and how busy the market is.
So here’s the reality check. Just the time the three of us spend *at* the market is 5 hours, not including prep time and travel. For those of you who aren’t economists, we have to profit at least $300 to make the time spent worth our while. Most weeks we’re lucky to make a third of that.
So the next time you think about asking your farmers market vendor why they’re not there more often, think on that. As long as there are people to talk to, it’s not so bad spending every Saturday morning hanging out in a huge asphalt covered parking lot. It makes it easier to not think of the fences that need to be repaired and the farm clean-up and housework that is being let go, not to mention the fun family outings we could be enjoying.
And we don't typically take produce. For farmers who bring produce to the market, add the amount of prep time exponentially - harvesting, making it pretty (washing off dirt and bugs, removing dead leaves, etc), packaging as needed, keeping it cool and fresh, and so forth. And then, guess what happens to fresh produce after it's been sitting out in the hot sun all morning or afternoon and someone didn't buy it? It has to be tossed. Farmers market produce vendors often experience a high level of product loss.
So the next time you’re at the market, please take a moment to thank the farmers for taking the time to bring you the fruits of their labor. And then buy something :)