Why Not Chef Markets Next?

My post is after the italicized market announcement.

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The Minneapolis’ Linden Hills Farmers Market season begins on June 1st and continues every Sunday through October. We are piloting a brand new chef-driven farmers’ market model, offering both retail and wholesale sales on the same day and in the same location. We are the only market that offers these opportunities.
Our thinking. Our regional model of farmers markets primarily serve as entertainment venues. While wonderful in their own right, these types of markets create audiences and not customers. We believe we can change that!
To explain. As a point of helping local farmers and local food entrepreneurs find real profitability – we will skip the standard offering of non-food related arts, crafts and live music. AND return to why farmers’ markets started in the first place – as a location for both local food growers and food entrepreneurs to sell direct to retail customers and wholesale buyers.
Who we are looking for. Our market is seeking local farmers growing unique varieties AND local food entrepreneurs cooking up artisanal foods. We are especially interested in those vendors able to price their products for both the wholesale and retail markets, and produce enough to sell at both markets.
When: From June to October. Every Sunday, Rain or Shine. From 7AM to 1PM.
Where: At the Settegren Ace Hardware Parking Lot, in the heart of lovely Linden Hills in Minneapolis, MN.
What we offer.
  • A combined wholesale (7AM to 9AM) and retail (9AM – 1PM) market in one.
  • Currently, there is no other farmers’ market opportunity for vendors selling directly to both retail and wholesale buyers on the same day and in the same location.
  • A mission and focus on the transfer of local produce and local food products for purposes of sales, with virtually no arts, crafts and musical diversions throughout the day.
  • Fair pricing for farmers and food producers. There is no requirement to commit to an entire season. Rent a stall for a day, meet a few chefs and our neighbors and diversify your customer base — simple as that.
Who we communicate our vendors’ line up of products and produce with:  Our remarkable community of neighborhood buyers. Along with, chefs; such as those affiliated with restaurants, catering companies and food trucks. Restaurant and institutional food procurement specialists; such as those responsible for buying for three or more restaurants or institutions. Grocery departmen > t buyers; from Whole Foods to mom+pop neighborhood stores. Distribution center buyers; including CPW, J & J and Bix. And more!
What we need. 
  • Help us get the word out. Refer this post to folks you think might be interested.
  • Vend with us, for a day, a month or for the entire season.
  • Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter and follow our progress!
  • Come as a visitor, come as a buyer — or both.
Contact us to receive an application and to learn more about this new type of  market. I am available at libertywyrum at gmail.com. <

How wonderful to see an idea that I have been advocating for come to life. As regular readers of this blog know, as well as those who have sat through my presentations, I do believe that we can do a great deal more with the types of open air farmers markets than we have accomplished so far. Markets for chefs and other intermediate buyers could be one of the next iterations for some market organizations, using the same transparent values and strong criteria to serve the public good, just as this group is clearly doing.

Here is what I advocated for a few years ago: a market on a Tuesday morning, selling to family table shoppers first, then closing and reopening an hour later to intermediate buyers. (I do not believe the former will be thrilled to be left with the leftovers after procurers leave or to look at food for their table that has already been out for a few hours.) The later chef market would be by case/box only and only for those farmers that wanted to stay and sell that way..I might also allow one or two distributors of regional foods to set up (clearly defined and not allowed to sell some premium goods that are offered by the local growers) to ensure a true more complete procurement experience. Direct sales between buyers and sellers would still be the purpose. I might also set up a a centralized billing system to help small growers and charge a percentage if they wanted to utilize that service for a short time. (The market organizer didn’t seem to like this idea and viewed this as micro-management, which I had not meant it to be. I saw it as a chance for smaller growers that have not built their interior invoicing systems to benefit from assistance where needed. I have worked with a great many small family farms at farmers markets that have not yet begun to look at back office systems yet, but clearly this organizer has had a different experience-acknowledged.)

I will say that their dismissal of “entertainment” at markets seems a little off, as at times the social bonding at markets is as important as economic transactions. In some types of markets, collecting the largest number of economic transactions is key for the majority of members, and for others it is not the chief reason for attendance.* I might believe the issue of entertainment as a contributing factor of less produce sales if I saw examples of surveys of current markets lower sales corresponding with entertainment activity levels, with variables accounted for. I wonder if what this group has actually noticed is that the percentage of goods that are brought by growers is lower at these markets and suspect that means less sales of healthy food; it might, or it might not!
If that is the case, a correction could be made by creating a new market with less frenetic social activity and restricting non-food or festival goods, yet serving the same community. After all, some of their targeted shoppers no doubt enjoy some level of conviviality in markets. In other words, I might not throw the baby out with the bath water. ( The market organizer sent comments of their intention on doing well-defined events that drive interest and awareness of food, which is absolutely right. Glad to get more information!)
I am also a little surprised at this: “Rent a stall for a day, meet a few chefs and our neighbors and diversify your customer base — simple as that.” I do think regular activity is key to an open air market; regular buyers will spend more money once relationships are established, and I suspect that they will have a hard time keeping out resellers if they allow the coming and going of vendors without any restrictions. (The market organizer seemed to feel strongly that I have this wrong, and I may; My experience tells me it will be tricky but I am all for seeing a pilot that can prove me wrong!)

In any case, the idea of understanding and expanding market types is a good one. I certainly wish this group good luck.

*Economic activity IS a chief reason for all markets-don’t get me wrong- but there are examples of market vendors choosing less busy markets where the total is still below what they might make in a larger market; some small businesses do not thrive under copious amounts of competition. Or, of people who walk to their neighborhood market to see their friends and to buy lunch  or garden plants, but not to shop every time for the week’s produce- you might see this in a market that operates 3-4 times a week especially. In all cases, behavior change is the common goal.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi, Darlene,

    Thank you for talking up our market! We are thrilled to read of your interest and kind enthusiasm for our new model! I did want to give you an update on our success to date.

    First up, we are serving the public good — by serving the farmers that are failing to making a profit at most of our regional farmers’ markets. This is not at the exclusion of community, but at the request of it. Our market has been a cherished addition to the Linden Hills Community. It’s a popular market, still our farmer vendors are still failing to make ends meet. Many of our these growers have had no choice but to step away from our community markets entirely, and consider other sources of revenue. It became harder and harder for us to call it a farmers’ market – especially when the farmers couldn’t afford to be there.

    Our board of directors felt it in everyone’s best interest to meet these challenges head-on and evolve our way of doing business. Several markets on both the left and right coasts have had success incorporating a wholesale market. We decided to make the investment and take a measured, smart risk with our layout.

    By combining both a wholesale and retail market on the same day, we countered many of the challenges faced by farmers and buyers. We developed our model to best support farmers time and energy output, and to help them limit harvest waste by building a sustainable customer base. We meet the needs of food service buyers in that food distributors don’t deliver on weekends. We meet the needs of our neighborhood customers by carefully and concisely communicating the story of our vendors – thus building intimacy between our customers and our vendors.

    The announcement you referred to is written as to recruit those who are available and comfortable with selling to both customer types. It is not our goal to micromanage inventory or to set onerous rules to overcome. We know our vendors are smart business people, who can manage their product levels and maintain their strict quality standards to accommodate for both wholesale and retail customers. In order to farm or grow a strong food local enterprise it requires many talents, large skills sets, well-developing accounting system (all have and use invoicing such as net-30 and on-site credit machines) and the support of dynamic networks. Our vendors have small business acumen dripping from their callused fingertips. To question their motives, their sales tactics, and their way of business is what is limiting other farmers markets. Small business owners are in the best position to manage their businesses, not small market managers.

    As a former business development director for a mid-size, certified organic vegetable farm, the number of farmers markets made our head spin. Our profitability was compromised by splitting our time, our harvest, and our distribution system to meet the demands of our various community markets. I carefully analyzed our product line-up, our market’s outreach and the demographics of each community before committing to ourselves each season. Although we made all the right decisions about participation and felt confident that our products were reaching those most available to their price point – I knew, all to well, it was the “standard” farmers’ market model that was to blame. This model has market administrators reaching out to audiences, and not customers. These managers are working to engage audiences for a longer amount of time by introducing entertainers, pre-package food, arts and crafts vendors and staggering their market hours and days. All of which, has them focusing on something other than the market ball. By getting back to the basics, and seeking to not burden our farmer vendors further by adding more responsibilities on more days with more hours required – we meet our current challenges and evolve our market to meet the demands of our community. Clearly, our model of wholesale and retail was not taken up lightly. Our model comes entirely at the request of our community who seeks to support a strong, growing local food system.

    In addition, we are in no way limiting entertainment at this market. We will continue to host community events. However, as any good brand representative knows – the best way to tell a story is through editing. We felt it extremely valuable to curate our market to focus entirely on the culinary arts, thus a chef-driven market. ur activities and vendors will simply do just that. For instance, we’ve recruited a remarkable set of commercial kitchens with local food focused entrepreneurs to sponsor our chef demonstrations, to take on-site customer questions about cooking, and to m.c. fun events to engage farmers, customers and chefs during each market. Each week our sponsors will host a special guest, we are calling our Maitre’d le Marche. This honored guest will greet customers, hawk t-shirts and sample foods for our vendors. As you can see, we will not be excluding thoughtful, fun and focused entertainment from our market activities.

    Finally, our model – thus far – is working. Our recruitment numbers are up. Our positive feedback has been off the charts and we have more sponsors than ever before. Best of all we are seeing a resurgence of real interest by farmers — not just one or two, but dozens of new farmers are interested in being involved and see this combination as a path to their long-term sustainability.

    Again, we appreciate your interest in our market. We look forward to sharing our progress with you.

    My best,
    Libby Wyrum
    Manager | Linden Hills Farmers Market
    612 867 0854
    libertywyrum@gmail.com

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  2. thanks for your comment. As I mentioned in my short piece, I was working off the announcement that I read and did my best to make allowances for exactly what you describe in your response as your thoughtful process. As I mention to begin with, I am in FAVOR of expanding market types and think this is a very good step to make. I hope that my post in no way leads you to assume that I think you took any of this process lightly; I did not and do not. I agree with you (as those who have read my posts know) about realigning markets around farmer needs and achieving more balance in the benefits offered to all. I stand strongly with direct sales for markets and have spent much time both in running markets and in analyzing markets which is why I first raised this idea in my own city of New Orleans more than 5 years ago- alas, the markets were not ready for it. As for entertainment, I heard dismissal in your announcement which could be how I read it or how it was actually worded; glad to see that was not the case. Again, I wish you very well and will do my best to spread the word of your exciting idea.

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