There’s no such thing as a “perfect site” for a farmers’ market, but some are much better than others. Obvious features to look for include a high-visibility location, easy access for vendors to drive in vehicles and set up, safe footing, ample parking, and an agreeable landlord.
- Make it easier for consumers to remember to visit the market by finding a high visibility location. The site should be visible from a well-used road, as close to “downtown” as possible.
- Visibility is negated by high speed traffic. The location needs to feel safe to shoppers turning in and exiting. Traffic noise detracts from the “farmers’ market experience,” and may make a market less appealing to families.
- People shop where they live, not where they work. Situate the market near where a lot of people live. (MFFM data shows most Maine shoppers prefer to travel 2 miles or less.)
- Are there places to put signs? These might include nearby intersections, an on-site structure, or perhaps a location for a permanent sign. (Keep in mind that Maine has strict laws about signage. It is typically permitted to erect temporary signs on market day. Banners and permanent signs usually require permission from the municipality.)
Easy access for vendors:
- Farmers and other vendors need to drive their trucks into the site, then set up their tents at the back of the trucks, in order to bring sufficient product for a market. This usually means that grassy areas, fenced in areas, or mixed-use parking lots don’t work well.
- No matter how beautiful the town park is, if the vendors can’t drive their trucks in and park them there for hours, it probably won’t work for a farmers’ market.
- There need to be restrooms nearby for vendors’s use. For a small market, sometimes a local business (such as a restaurant) will allow such access for a fee/contribution of some kind. Usually the restrooms need to be publicly accessible. (Access to good hand washing facilities is essential!)
- Is there electricity? If the market hopes to have food trucks, fall hours, a credit/debit card reader, etc…., access to electricity will be necessary.
- The site should be easily barricaded against traffic to protect pedestrians, children, and vendors. This may involve temporary barricades (such as a combination of traffic cones and vendor vehicles) or more permanent infrastructure, such as gates.
- The footing should be safe, without obstacles that are likely to trip people (such as significant potholes) or impede people with reduced mobility.
- The site should be accessible in variable weather, including heavy rain (avoid areas that flood).
- If the parking isn’t visible, shoppers will assume there isn’t enough parking, or that it isn’t easily accessible. A good site will have at least some parking located very near the market. (Remind market members, their staff, and their family to leave those nearby spots for shoppers.)
- Consider other businesses in the area: Will the proprietors be alarmed by an influx of vehicles for half a day once a week? Realistically, the influx of shoppers a farmers’ market brings downtown results in more sales for area businesses. (Most Maine farmers’ market shoppers also shop at nearby businesses, spending an average of $33 each.) However, without adequate advance conversations, misunderstandings (and resulting protests) can arise.
- Often farmers’ markets set up on municipal property. Be sure to agree to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) or lease well before the start of the market season. Be sure the agreement covers the entire season. Agree to exactly what the landlord will provide, and what the market will do. (Here’s the Bangor FM 2015 Lease as an example.) Verify expectations meticulously, and share the market’s rules and by-laws with the town’s representatives. (It’s not infrequent that a town selectboard imagines that, by providing space to a market, they are guaranteeing that and local resident or business will be able to join that market.)
- Private landowners often let farmers’ markets set up on their property. See above.