I started growing microgreens in my basement, but I got to a point where I was looking to take things to the next level. It looked like farmer’s markets could be worth it.
You can do a bunch of advertising online or locally, but a great alternative is to get setup at a farmers market or two. So, should you get into selling microgreens at a farmers markets?
Selling microgreens at farmers markets allows you to meet new customers, build brand recognition, get rapid feedback, and network with related businesses who could become customers themselves.
Don’t look at farmers markets through a purely transactional lens. If you come away from a market with $100 in your pocket, don’t discount it as a failure. You’re building brand recognition and awareness, you’re observing, you’re tweaking, you’re building familiarity. Play the medium to long game and you’ll start to build a foundation for success.
Why sell at Farmer’s Markets
Money can be quite good at farmers’ markets, but It might only make you a few hundred dollars. So why bother? There are a lot of reasons it can make sense to sell at a farmer’s market on top of the immediate cash you might make:
- Recruiting customers into your CSA or Subscription service
- Sign up Food Vendors to use your greens on their menu
- Meet Customers face to face, jumpstart relationships
- Build brand recognition
What does it cost to get set up for a farmer’s market?
The cost of getting setup to sell microgreens at a farmer’s market can be broken down into the following categories:
- Equipment: Canopy, Table, Coolers,
- Microgreens/Packaging: You actually should grow more than you expect to sell. (Keep reading to find out why)
- Insurance & Fees: Markets have weekly or seasonal fees, and most require some form of insurance.
- Promotional Materials: It’s worth investing a little money to make your business shareable. Get some simple cards made, and some signup sheets to capture emails.
Needed Equipment and Costs
I live in Canada where shipping is more expensive than the US, and our prices around 20% + higher on everything, so take these numbers as guidelines.
**Table of Costs of Getting setup for farmer’s market**
A canopy shades you and your offerings from the sun, and most farmer’s markets require them. Ask your local markets if they supply them, rent them, or you need your own. In my area you have to bring your own. Darker colors are nice because they don’t show dirt, but I prefer a white canopy, it reflects the sun, has a clean look, and it’s a blank canvas if you want to put a logo or something else on it.
I ordered a 10’ x 10’ canopy from Home Depot for $198.45 with tax and delivery. I needed to get some sand bags to weigh down the legs for wind, so add a few dollars for that. 40 lbs per corner is recommended.
A folding table is the main stand for your products and the centerpiece of your market stall. Microgreens aren’t very heavy so you can probably get away with something reasonably cheap. I had a local business liquidating, and picked up a 3’ x 8’ table with strong metal folding legs for $25, a similar table brand new would cost you around $100. I’d recommend getting something used, so you can get higher quality for a lower price.
You’ll want to keep your product cool, so it’s nice and fresh, and lasts longer for your customers once they get it home. Consider how long your market is, and plan accordingly. If you’ll be selling at an all-day market, you’ll want to rotate your microgreens back into coolers to keep them fresh for longer, especially if you’re selling cut-greens (not living). Set a sales goal in your mind and see how many coolers are required to fit that much product.
The old-standby is the Coleman 48-Quart cooler (click link to check price on Amazon).
Signage is really important to draw people into your booth, and let them know what to expect for pricing and product selection. You want to give people enough information from far away that they’re comfortable approaching. Bigger lettering and signage is almost always better. At the minimum you want some kind of Sign or Fabric Banner with your brand, and some way to show prices and the product you sell.
There are a ton of options, so I’d recommend google image search, or Pinterest to get some inspiration. You should also visit a few local markets and take a few pictures of the best-looking stalls you see.
Microgreens don’t do well for long in the sun. You want to set your booth up so that any product you have sitting out is shaded, and cool if possible. Consider ice packs underneath product, and sides for your canopy to shade your greens.
You’ll need a bunch of change to make it through the day! A lot of people bring $20’s to farmers markets, so it can be a good idea to set up your products in quantities with multiples of $5. That way you can pick up a stack of $5’s from the bank and you’re ready to sell. Plan for all your inventory to sell, and everyone to pay with large bills. Get that many $5 bills and you can reduce it in the future if it’s way too much.
Insurance is a cost of doing business that you can’t avoid at a lot of farmer’s markets. I paid about $160 for insurance for 1 year. And farmers markets in my area are around $50/week, a little less if you sign up for a whole season.
Gas and Travel
I budget 50 cents per mile (25 cents per kilometer) for fuel, wear and tear, and vehicle costs. It’s super rough, but it’s in the ballpark.
On top of your microgreen farming/growing costs, expect to spend about $500 on equipment to get setup for a farmer’s market, and another few hundred dollars of coins and bills to make change. Plus $160 for insurance, and $50 per week.
If you get into two-three farmers markets and go for 1 day a week each, that’s around 50 farmers markets through a 5 month summer, working out to $20/market for fixed costs, then the $50 fee for each day at the market, and about $5-$10 for travel. So anything above $80 is money in your pocket.
Commit to Multiple Weeks
A long term perspective is fundamental for building a business. Farmer’s markets are an incredible tool for building a microgreen business if you use them in the right way, and give them a chance.
Farmers markets are a ton of work. Harvest and get packed up, get it all ready. Displays, banners, coolers chair. Need to be there half hour or hour before. Then there all day.
Commit to at least a few markets in a row then judge the benefits. How many of your customers are seeing your stall for the first time, and they’ve already loaded up on lettuce, or have full fridges at home? Even if they love what you’re selling there’s a practical aspect to buying food. So give the new idea a chance to sprout in your customer’s minds.
To become known in your community you need to show up again and again. Show up in their Facebook feeds, show up at their house with amazing fresh produce, and show up at farmers markets. To become a fixture in your community, farmer’s markets are a great tool.
They give people the opportunity to get to know you. And remember, shoppers don’t all go to every market. The clientele is a little different every week. Some people only go a handful of times per summer, be there consistently.
A whole summer of farmer’s market can bring some money, but can build a winter CSA program where people order delivery.
Farmer’s markets are a great opportunity to network with other vendors and with people serving ready-to-eat food, hot or cold. Use leftover microgreens to barter with nearby vendors. Ask them if they want to trade! This can be a great way to spice up the markets and give people something to talk about.
Tell your customers about other vendors you love, and they might just go buy something. It will get noticed and everything comes around eventually.
Body Language and Positioning
Being approachable but not overbearing can be a tricky balance to strike, but once you have it you’re golden. If you’re solo at your booth you’ll have to manage everything by yourself, but with two people you have the benefit of one talking and one crushing through orders. This makes people less likely to walk away.
Your goal is to create a friendly no pressure atmosphere, interact with as many people as possible, and make them feel comfortable. People are comfortable with
You need to interact with people. Talk to people. Build relationships. A product may sell itself, but how many people even know what microgreens are? Have confidence to engage people and bring them in, tell them what micros are and why they need to buy them.
Go out of your way to talk to people. When you have people at your table, people are more likely to come over, it’s social proof. Social proof is the reason we trust products with thousands of reviews on Amazon, or restaurants that are highly rated on Yelp. Put that to work at your farmer’s market table.
If you’re in a market where things are slower, keeping customers at your booth for a few extra minutes each makes your stall look that much busier.
Language and Selling
You want your signage, prices, and product displays to invite people into your booth, and part of that is the language you use.
Farmers markets are an ongoing learning process. Don’t expect to have everything dialed in at your first market.
- Tell your customers how they can snack on your microgreens like a bag of chips
- A great thing to munch on while they walk around the market or drive home
- Learn what lingo resonates with your particular customer base: organic, water quality, freshness, convenience, health
- Keep practicing (sell at more markets!) and it will get easier and easier
Interacting face to face with your real customers is huge. It’s really motivating to see who you’re selling to! So get after it.
I haven’t experimented with it enough to tell the difference, but a lot of sellers are seeing great results selling the convenience of microgreens, instead of the health benefits. It sounds surprising, but I can see why that makes sense.
Upselling people by quickly mentioning the benefits of upgrading their order or telling them they have to try your newest crop because it’s so amazing is a great way to get a little more engagement out of your customers.
I like to use playful language, and one of the best examples I’ve heard of was a microgreen seller advertising “Ask us about our money laundering”. A joke about how they’re taking sanitation seriously following the unfolding of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus situation. They sanitize coins and bills before offering them to customers.
Designing Your Stall
Your signage can bring people in without saying anything through signage. People want to know what you’re selling, and for how much before they walk up to the booth. Make it clear and visible from far. People don’t like surprises, so answer their questions before they ask them.
But leaving them with a hook, or something that begs a question is a good idea too, just not about your products or pricing. It could be a really colorful offering, like bright red tomatoes, or it could be a funny sign.
I like to have a chalk board with the current varieties, chalk or acrylic paint pens work really great, and are easy to clean off or paint over.
It’s also useful to have signage talking about microgreens and what their benefits are and how they’re grown.
- Make things Easy to read from a distance
- Creates conversation points and can spark questions
- Tablecloths and table décor is crucial to make buying experience positive
What about samples? Should you offer them? I think so.
Consider cutting microgreens in front of customer for samples. They can see exactly how they’re growing. Bring microgreens you’re going to harvest the next day, so they’re at maximum flavor and tenderness.
Check your health regulations, they might dictate how you can do samples at the market.
One way to offer samples is to cut a little bit of each and put them in bowls with a set of tongs so people can grab their own samples. It’s less wasteful than having little sample cups or anything like that. Replace the samples as they wilt or are consumed.
This can be a great way to help sell unique flavors. People might be wary of trying something exotic in a full sized package, but they might love it once they try it.
Often people that haven’t tried microgreens don’t expect them to have such a strong flavor. They’re often pleasantly surprised! It’s a great way to give value to your customers before asking them to buy (a good practice in all forms of selling).
People might try your greens once, then find out they love them and want to come back, so be there when they do!
Scout Your Market Ahead of Time
By scouting your market you can get a feel for what’s working, who your competition is, and find out how the market operates. Tailor your approach to your market. Markets can be indoors or out, short or long, high volume and high pressure, or quite relaxed.
Pay attention to which booths are getting the most customers, take note of their signage and how they’re presenting their products. If there are other microgreen sellers see what seems to be working for them and adapt your approach.
It’s important that your microgreens stay cool and shaded. Pay attention to where the sun is shining at the start of the market, and where it moves throughout the day. Direct sunlight on microgreens will cause them to wilt and spoil quickly.
Some farmers mist their produce with a bottle of ice water to keep it hydrated and fresh. Greens wilt because they run out of water, so if you can keep them cool to keep evaporation down, and humid, they will last longer.
If you have a choice, try to get a stall that won’t have as much sun shining on your product. You can also use sheets of fabric or mesh to shade your produce and keep it cool.
Pay attention to how busy or slow the market is overall, ask the market manager about numbers and try to get a feel for the bustle of the market.
Community Supported Agriculture and Subscriptions
Try to get people on your email list at the farmer’s market! Have a nice signup sheet with good pens.
As people become familiar with you and your product throughout the season, you can introduce them to the idea of a subscription for deliveries year-round. In my area the farmer’s markets are seasonal, just running during the summer and fall. Towards the end of the season you can increasingly funnel people into your subscription service so they can keep getting the greens they love all year round.
Farmer’s markets also have food cart vendors. Start relationships with them and sell them microgreens. They might open a restaurant a year or two later and you can keep supplying them and build the relationship.
Advertise CSA towards the winter or whenever you’re signing people up. If you’re at a really busy market offer some kind of incentive to getting them to sign up online, consider having a tablet handy if you have one, but a paper sign-up sheet for emails works great too.
If it’s a little slower, you can sign them up yourself while you chat with them!
Refine your Checklist
Creating a checklist for your farmer’s market stall can really save a lot of time and reduce the chaos. Depending how far you live, you might be crippled if you forget something crucial at home.
Set up your stall at home and go through the motions as if you’re going to actually sell. Think through:
- Samples: keeping them cool on the table, cooler space
- Coolers: your main product needs to stay fresh during the drive and at the market
- Tools: keep some extra tools, tape, scissors on hand for incidentals
- Cash: enough change in case everyone buys with bigger bills
Don’t overlook paper work. Can sell seed packs too! If people want to grow their own.
Big blue Rubbermaid totes. Keep checklist per tote. Tape string scissors, binder with inventory pre and post. Cash box, bring hundreds of dollars of fives.
How Much Product should you Bring?
It’s kind of chicken and the egg problem, you want to grow enough microgreens that you can sell them all, but at first you have no idea how much you’ll be able to sell.
Without knowing anything about your scale, the size of your customer base, or what you’re growing, I’d recommend bringing around $500 of product. At around $20 per 10” x 20” tray, that’s about 25 trays of microgreens.
If you have microgreens leftover there are a few great ways you can use them to help your business.
- Do a lap of the market and offer free samples to the other vendors, and if it makes sense have a quick chat about them using your microgreens in their food products
- Donate microgreens to the food bank, and don’t overlook the volunteers, giving them each a free pack might turn a few into customers
- Experiment with new recipes, pestos are a great way to use excess microgreens. Perfect your recipes then when you have access to a commercial kitchen you can go into production.
I’m Alex Lafreniere. I learned a lot about plants when I built and operated a landscaping company. I learned even more when I started growing and selling Microgreens. But, learning is a journey, not a goal. Ever since travelling across the world, I’ve wanted to find ways to bring more delicious and exotic plants into my life. This is the site where I share everything I’ve learned with you. And maybe we’ll learn a thing or two together.
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