Baker shutting the door on markets

 

I had written about this baker giving up the weekday market almost exactly 2 years ago and now via his wonderfully written email newsletter excerpted and linked at the bottom of this post, I see that he is about to give up the remaining farmers market that he attends.

I have certainly heard a wide range of reasons given by producers about why markets no longer work for them, and thanks to my long ago human resources training, I learned to ask myself and my market peers what I used to ask of my staff about departing or failing employees:

Did we do all that we could do to help this person succeed? Did we offer the same resources and attention that we could offer or do offer to others? What else should we offer (if anything) to help situations like this not happen as often in the future? Or are there just circumstances out of anyone’s control that made this inevitable?

When I post this news on my personal FB page, I guarantee you I’ll hear  responses from market shopping friends as well as non-market shopping friends telling me their opinion of his products and his stall, both good and bad, a few who will blame the market and still others who will shrug and say it goes with the territory.

I also guarantee you that when I go and talk to him directly about this email, he will be fair (he always is) to the market management but also specifically critical about markets. He will suggest marketing ideas to me, some of which might very well work for this market and some that have been tried and not worked in the past, all of which may or may not have helped his business. I expect that we will find ourselves in somewhat of a standoff, although I will agree with him that markets should be reactive to the needs of their anchor and to their specialty vendors. I’m not saying that this market was not – I cannot know what the recent relationship is-  but wearing my hat of a market strategist for a minute, any and all markets should constantly fine tune their management and marketing based on their measurement of positive and negative impacts, and that does include measuring a spectrum of individual stall activity across the market.

The trick is to measure within the context of each business’ set of goals and true interest in being at markets long-term.

As a specialty item vendor (he’d  disagree with that description I am guessing, but his breads are unique enough for purchase that they have to be seen as specialty rather than staple goods still), finding his customers can be slightly more tricky than it is for the market to find the anchor vendors customers. And to further confuse matters, in some markets, once in a while the specialty vendors ARE the anchor vendors.

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Coming Full Circle: Reflections on Being a New Farmers Market Vendor from FMC’s Former Executive Director | Farmers Market Coalition

Stacy always chooses her words carefully, works deliberately and thinks about how her actions affect others, sometimes to a maddening degree for someone like me who does not employ those restraints most of the time. What is so clear from her post (that we all demanded that she write for the newsletter!) is that that is a good personality type to be a market vendor and even more so, to describe what it’s like to become one.
Lovely thoughts about work here that Wendell Berry himself would read and nod in appreciation:

No one complains because they know they are blessed with this utmost human privilege– to work way too many hours and earn way too little in the pursuit of what fulfills you, most of us lucky enough to be well fed, if nothing else. These are the colleagues and coworkers whose shared goods and inspiration will make or break any vendor’s market experience.

and I think this might be useful for her market to use as a lead in to the vendor application?

Nervous and bleary-eyed from two consecutive late nights baking, labeling, and scrambling to generate last minute signage, I found a parking space, chased down someone on market staff, and began unloading my boxes. I forgot to write down the space number I had been assigned: E42? F24? Something like that. I have no tent, and share one with another small start-up vendor. Holy expletive. I am actually doing this.

I wish very good luck to my pal in this endeavor and encourage every market manager to encourage one of these posts from a new vendor for their newsletter.

Source: Coming Full Circle: Reflections on Being a New Farmers Market Vendor from FMC’s Former Executive Director | Farmers Market Coalition

Waterloo, Louisiana: An Open Letter to New Orleans – Antigravity Magazine

The published letter linked below was written by one of our region’s most innovative direct marketing bakers, and (obviously) one with a great deal of sensitivity and wisdom. Graison has struggled with getting the ends to meet in his tiny business (even while he is unquestionably the region’s preeminent bread baker), much less in it pulling him to the place he dreams his business should be.
He and I have talked a few times about the lack of support for small producers in our region and I can assure you that he is ready to talk with or work with anyone willing to further the needs of he and his peers, but to little avail.
I recommend that people read his essay and also read between the lines of what would drive a full-time baker to spend his time writing and publishing this. If you want my response now, it is because he knows what is at stake is his entire future and the future of the healthy food revolution that may never reach maturity unless we deal with the issues that small businesses face everyday: the lack of infrastructure support, duplicative regulations, half-hearted allegiance to local ingredient sourcing among shoppers, refusal by many (most?) to address vital environmental concerns in food work, commodity-type products taking most of the shelf space-if and when local is even invited, the lack of skilled workers available, necessary policy changes not handled by organizers of food initiatives and so on.
So ask yourself-are you doing everything you can as often as you can for your anchor vendors?
Waterloo, Louisiana: An Open Letter to New Orleans – Antigravity Magazine.

Blue Apron

Many market organizers and vendors have seen the market box concept in action in their region, where a non-profit or an entrepreneur picks up goods from participating producers and sells them as a package or allows for individual selections, packed and delivered. In my area, Good Eggs has the corner on the regional ingredient delivery system right now. Their delivery van is seen at most markets first thing picking up orders from individual market vendors.

Another version of the delivery service of “fresh” but not necessarily local is Blue Apron which delivers the precise ingredients for meals to your door, and adds seasonal recipes and detailed instructions. Hello Fresh is another well-known company using the same model, but Blue Apron is seen as the industry leader and just raised 135 million dollars so is now “valued” at 2 billion dollars.

So do these services help local food?
The truth is that many eaters will never become regular market shoppers but many can be introduced to the joys of seasonal whole foods through these services and so market organizers should at least be aware of them and do their best to work along if it does not impair the direct sales of the market’s vendors. However, we need to be vigilant about communicating the benefits of markets even more in these crowded times.

Blue Apron charges approximately $10 per meal, and makes over 3 million meals every month. Blue Apron now operates two distribution centers with over 1,800 employees, and thousands of customers.
Other facts from their site:
Recipes never repeated in the same year
Meals are 500-700 calories per serving and take 35 minutes to prepare
Ingredients are perfectly pre-measured so there’s no waste
Cook with seasonal ingredients that are fresher than the supermarket
Discover specialty products that are hard to find on your own
Convenient Delivery
Free delivery nationwide
Choose a delivery day that best fits your schedule
Ingredients arrive in a refrigerated box so food stays fresh even if you’re not home

What it’s like to use Blue Apron – Business Insider.

Louisiana updates its cottage law on labels for raw honey, state sales tax

June 2015: The update means no label is required to sell raw honey and deletes the earlier need for registering at the state for sales tax collection. However, if there is local (parish or municipality) sales tax registration and collection  required, it does not lift that requirement.

The following foods were specifically listed:

  • Baked goods, including breads, cakes, cookies and pies
  • Candies
  • Dried mixes
  • Honey and honeycomb products
  • Jams, jellies, and preserves
  • Pickles and acidified foods
  • Sauces and syrups
  • Spices

My original post on the subject in 2013

2014 revisions to cottage food law

New for 2015: no label required for sales of raw honey

 

Good site for the cottage food community which includes some interpretation of laws.

More detail from the sales tax issue. The original article from TP overstates the sales tax issue a bit. I asked for a clarification from the sponsor and this is what I was sent:

The pertinent information is in the bill itself on page 1, line 19 through page 2, line 5 of HB 79 Enrolled – which provides as follows:

“No individual who prepares low-risk foods in the home shall sell such foods unless he is registered to collect any local sales and use taxes that are applicable to the sale of such foods, as evidenced by a current sales tax certificate issued to the seller by the sales and use tax collector for the parish in which the sales occur.”

This means that if any local sales taxes are applicable to the sale of the food, then the seller must be registered to collect that tax in order to sell his home-produced food legally. If no local sales taxes are applicable to the sale of the food, then the seller doesn’t need to be registered to collect taxes on the sale of the food.

The main purpose of this particular amendment that HB 79 makes to the cottage law is to strike the reference requiring sellers to register to collect state sales tax. This correction was necessary as state sales tax does not apply to food for home consumption

Hope this helps,

Brandy Pearce
Legislative Assistant to
Representative Richard Burford

Vending for a day

My regular Saturday market stop two weeks ago ended with my pal and one of my favorite vendors, Norma Jean of Norma Jean’s Cuisine asking me to assist her the next week by managing her table while she handled a demo nearby.
So, this week I packed my bag for a 3-5 hour market trip which meant adding a gallon of water, bandanna, Florida water and my watch.
Since leaving Market Umbrella in 2011, I haven’t spent more than 2 hours behind a table as a manager or a vendor; I do help my pals Rob and Susie sell their baked goods when the line backs up since I often sit behind their table with them anyway, chatting about a million subjects, so stepping up to take the money or to bag items is the least I can do.

When I do consulting work with a market, I am there for a full day sometimes, but it is definitely a different vibe than managing or vending.This day, I was responsible for all of the sales at Norma’s table; no wandering off when I saw something to eat or see. Knowing the products well enough to answer questions easily and not in a rushed manner, keeping money straight, all had to be managed on my own.
I think every market manager and board member should step in and run a vendor table for an hour or two. It is important to watch the traffic, gauge the body language, note the questions of visitors and to get the vibe from that point of view.

Some thoughts from today:

1. It’s fascinating to me how many people were thrown by not seeing Norma.  The products by themselves are not always enough to signal the same vendor. I think that is a great thing- the relationships between the shoppers and the vendors are meaningful and so the person-to-person connections are as important as we assert they are.

2. The number of new people, always: I think vendors and managers forget how many people are at the market for the first time. When I sensed someone new to the market by what they asked or how they moved through the market, I would ask them if they were a regular shopper and so heard from many first-timers. It shows how a market and its vendors need must be prepared to introduce their items and the system over and over and over again and not to assume that everyone knows their stuff or about the market. And this is a rural/suburban market and not an urban market and still has lots of newcomers.

3. Body language: Norma had left me a chair to sit in (I don’t think I’ve ever seen her sit in it actually) but I didn’t dare, having been trained at Market Umbrella that sitting at market for staff or volunteers was a no-no. It’s not that sometimes it isn’t okay; if the market is a tailgate market and right up against the table it can work (and look) well for a moment or two. However, those deep camp chairs that allow someone to sink down, I say no.  But standing in place for so long was difficult for me; as a market manager, I had rarely stood in place for more than 5 minutes at a time and even had a rule to not engage in any conversation for more than 10 minutes. If needed,I would ask that person if I could call them to finish talking on Monday. Today, I found because I had to stand still so long, I had my hands on my hips regularly and so began to put them on the table or in my pockets or add busy work to stop doing it.

4. Even though many shoppers and all of the vendors know me and I am well acquainted with Norma’s products, I am even more of a true believer that employees are never going to equal with having the producer or their family standing there. The confidence in the products and the awareness of every step of the process is not at the same level. Add to that, how unlikely it is that any small feedback offered by shoppers or visitors will translate into action if it is given to an employee. Or, if slow sales of any one item is due to the lack of interest from shoppers or lack of sales technique of the employee. So even if markets allow employees to sell (which is quite necessary for most), I recommend that they add a rule that the producer has to sell at least once every month or two.

5. I love watching and being part of the barter of the market. As many of us know, many vendors barter their goods rather than exchange currency and to see the regular versions of that; Norma gets gluten-free bread for the vegan pesto samples in exchange for her items, and to be “paid” in those goods too helps remind me that we still are not measuring the true number of transactions at a market. Norma also has a barter system with one customer who has a credit slip at her booth-no one else is afforded that system, but I certainly have seen other vendors do that with some of their skilled neighbors as well.

6. How necessary it is for market staff or volunteers to roam the market regularly. So often, vendors get too busy to take a bathroom break or get change or need something and are stuck until someone happens by to assist. Lucky for me, Norma was within eyeshot as needed, and the sister managers Jan and Ann rolled by and connected with me once or twice. Checking in with your vendors can elevate the trust and raise the spirits of a market struggling in other ways.

7. When Norma finished her demo and sales earlier than expected, she cleaned up there and took over at her table, sending me on my way with warm thanks and gifts of food. As I got in my truck, I thought of how I get to finish my day there and then and not continue to sell, to then have to pack up/clean up, count the money to see if any profit has been made, and to make decisions for next week, next month etc. That long day and the added worry when the day is mediocre or bad has to be frightening and/or demoralizing to even the most confident producer. For many of our vendors, they have work for mid-week markets to start by mid-afternoon after market or the next morning or for some, to get a little rest for their other full-time job come Monday morning. My hat is off to those who believe enough in artisanal food or products to spend their life producing them for us.

8. What an enjoyable day.

Vendors walking their items in

Vendors walking their items in

Vendors getting tents up

Vendors getting tents up

The seating before the market opens

The seating before the market opens

Norma Jean's cold area

Norma Jean’s cold area

Norma Jean is all set up and ready for me to sell for her

Norma Jean is all set up and ready for me to sell for her

This is what she was demoing and selling at the other booth. Really nice version of Salad Nicoise, without the tuna.

This is what she was demoing and selling at the other booth. Really nice version of Salad Nicoise, without the tuna.

What the market looks like when the musicians are playing midday

What the market looks like when the musicians are playing midday

Make It, Grow It, Sell It – Whole Green Heart

FYI: this program is being offered by someone who has experience vending at farmers markets

A Home-Study Program for Building a Rewarding, Successful and Profitable Business Selling at Farmers Markets
For vendors, one of the key messages that we have found helps them grow their businesses is that it takes a combination of production expertise and business expertise to really be successful in the farmers’ market sector. I ran an organic herb farm, selling at farmers’ markets, for 18 years. I also managed a farmers’ market for 6 years, and because I come from an adult education background, I’ve been training other vendors and managers in our province since 2011 as the Director of Training for Farmers’ Markets of Nova Scotia. I speak at farmers’ market and organic agriculture conferences around North America and have learned even more from this rich interaction with so many other passionate, thoughtful people in various roles across our sector. For vendors, one of the key messages that we have found helps them grow their businesses is that it takes a combination of production expertise and business expertise to really be successful in the farmers’ market sector. I am launching a new home-study program for farmers’ market vendors.”

check it out here