How to become a vendor at an Arkansas farmers market
Aug. 25, 2022
By Rebekah Hall
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Farmers markets are key to community, cultural, economic development
- There are at least 113 farmers markets in Arkansas
- Potential vendors should consult the Farmers’ Market Vendor Guide
(Newsrooms: With file art at https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjA4pmq)
LITTLE ROCK — Throughout Arkansas, farmers markets are important sources of fresh, local food as well as locations for community gatherings. For budding entrepreneurs, they may offer an opportunity to market their goods and services to that community.
Rip Weaver, extension program technician for local, regional and safe foods for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said anyone interested in becoming a vendor at their local farmers market should consider the potential success of their product and the effort required to get their product from “farm to market.”
According to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s proclamation of Arkansas Farmers Market Week in June, there are at least 113 farmers markets in Arkansas, with direct-to-consumer sales taking place in nearly all of the state’s 75 counties. Weaver said these markets “play a vital role in community, cultural and economic development.
“Not only are farmers markets places where local residents may find affordable, fresh food, but they’re also where people socialize, discover information and resources, listen to music, see art, spend time outside and feel a sense of belonging,” Weaver said. “Markets provide spaces for folks to come together around their various skills, goods, services and needs, all at a reasonable cost to those involved. It’s a win-win, especially for isolated rural communities and urban centers.”
Weaver said the first step a potential farmers market vendor should take is to consider “what they have to offer to the market customers.
“Does their product provide something that no one else sells, or is it something that customers would want to buy?” Weaver said. “Also, they should consider what efforts and inputs will be required to get their product from ‘farm to market.’ Do they have the time, funding and permits to make this a reality?”
Weaver said “virtually anyone who has something to sell” may participate in a farmers market, including those who offer fresh and packaged food products. However, there are restrictions and permit requirements in place for market vendors in the state of Arkansas. Potential vendors should review the Arkansas Department of Health’s and the Arkansas Department of Agriculture's Farmers’ Market Vendor Guide to ensure their product meets these requirements.
A food product falls into one of three allowance categories. The first category is foods that do not require a permit from the ADH, including food that does not require time or temperature control for safety; raw, fresh fruits and vegetables; commercially pre-packaged food; and maple syrup, sorghum or honey.
The second allowance category is food items that must be prepared or manufactured at an ADH permitted and inspected facility, including canned low acid food; smoked, cured or dried meats; sprouted seeds or beans; any food product that must be time and/or temperature controlled for safety, such as dairy products or non-frozen meats; and any ready-to-eat food that is prepared on site or commercially prepared food that is not prepackaged.
The third allowance category is food items that are not allowed to be sold at a farmers market, which include raw milk and wild mushrooms.
“It is incumbent upon the vendor to know which category their food product falls into prior to vending at a market,” Weaver said.
Weaver said he encourages potential vendors to reach out to the manager of their local farmers market, fill out a vendor application, review any required fees, and “visit the market to talk with other vendors and get a sense of customer traffic.” He also said they should consider becoming a member of the Arkansas Farmers Market Association, which provides resources and support for market vendors and managers.
Jeremy Adams, executive director of AFMA, said he encourages farmers markets and vendors to join the organization “for an additional opportunity to promote themselves, their farm or their product.” Adams said AFMA “works hard to promote all its members” and can help clarify state regulations and provide technical assistance.
“Farmers markets are really the front line and storefront for local food,” Adams said. “They are also a great opportunity for a variety of entrepreneurs, and that entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well with many Arkansans. Some of the small businesses launched at farmers markets go on to much bigger markets and distribution.”
“For the community as a whole, farmers markets strengthen relationships, and the revenue generated usually stays in the local community,” he said. “Local food also ensures we will have food available in times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The organization also hosts an annual conference where market managers, farmers and vendors can “network and learn from each others' experiences at market,” Adams said.
Many farmers markets have long operating seasons and are often open from late March through October and beyond. Weaver said vendors could use the winter months to improve their online presence or brush up on their marketing skills.
“During the winter months, vendors could establish and maintain a website or social media accounts, attend trainings on how to use computer-based tools to manage their business, or even create audio or video resources to market their products,” Weaver said.
Extension’s local, regional and safe foods team, as well as extension county agents, could also direct potential vendors to additional resources.
To find a local farmers market, visit the AFMA’s vendor guide website, which features an interactive map of Arkansas farmers markets and a list of AFMA members. The Arkansas Department of Agriculture's Arkansas Grown/Arkansas Made program website also has a searchable map of local vendors and growers.
Weaver said potential vendors who may need a required permit for their food product should consider becoming a client at Share Grounds, extension’s commercial kitchen facilities. Share Grounds connects Arkansas growers and food entrepreneurs with the technical assistance and infrastructure needed to start or scale up a food business. Learn more at the Share Grounds website.
To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu. Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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