Farmers markets are increasing across the country, providing an enjoyable shopping experience for consumers who want to buy locally grown produce and other products and a potentially lucrative outlet for farmers, crafters, salespeople and even the backyard gardener with too many zucchini, some of whom will go to a different market just about every day of the week. In 2010, there were a total of 6,132 farmers markets across the country, a 16 percent hike from 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Services. Here’s how to become a successful vendor.

Farmers markets are increasing across the country, providing an enjoyable shopping experience for consumers who want to buy locally grown produce and other products and a potentially lucrative outlet for farmers, crafters, salespeople and even the backyard gardener with too many zucchini, some of whom will go to a different market just about every day of the week. In 2010, there were a total of 6,132 farmers markets across the country, a 16 percent hike from 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Services. Here’s how to become a successful vendor.


Market sizes range from a handful of vendors to more than 100. They also have different vendor costs, from as low as $5 a week to much more. Amanda Segar, food assistance partnership coordinator with Michigan Farmers Market Association, said price often depends on whether there is a full-time market manager and whether it takes debit and credit cards. Visit your state farmers market association -- the municipality or organization running the market — to learn the cost, customer count and vendor mix to determine which markets are best for you. For instance, if you sell honey, you would do better at a market where you are the only honey seller.


Every market has its own set of rules, according to Segar. Some allow producer-grown produce from local farms only; others include dealers who sell or distribute products they did not produce or make. Some allow only so many of each product. Some require vendors to sign a contract for the entire season; others have spaces allotted on a weekly or as-needed basis for those who have only certain items to sell, such as an apple grower or backyard gardener. “A lot of markets are restricted by space. They want vendors they can rely on every week,” she said. Segar is unaware of any rules for crafters.


Illinois, for instance, does not allow home canning products sold at markets and requires vendors to charge a 1 percent sales tax for produce and 6.25 percent tax for crafts and other non-food items, according to the Illinois Farmers Market Forum. Baked goods, eggs, apple cider and other products that could carry bacteria need to be inspected by various regulatory departments in many states. Michigan and 25 other states have cottage food laws, where you can earn up to $15,000 a year selling non-hazardous food items that you make without paying taxes, Segar said.­


Some markets require vendors to have proof of a specific amount of liability insurance. A few will have group insurance for all the vendors.


Segar recommends not putting all your produce out at one time to keep them looking fresh. Keep the remainder in a cooler or under a tent, someplace blocked by the sun.


 In addition to including their farm or “brand” name on their labels, some farmers may want to make a particular label claim, such as “USDA Organic” or “Michigan Grown.” Organic products are very popular, but to claim produce is organically grown, it must meet national standards.