It’s never too early to start!
Summer is a great time to visit markets in your area. The atmosphere at each market is different. Check out the products and activities they feature. (Find markets by location using our search tool.)
While you’re there, ask to speak with the manager and introduce yourself as a possible future vendor.
Winter is the time to apply.
Most markets accept applications in December and January. Visit the market’s website to find out details. Please note: not all markets have open spaces each season.
- Fill out the application carefully.
- Send it in by the deadline.
- Confirm that your application was received by the right person.
- Find out whether you will need to attend an in-person meeting.
Keep in mind that space is limited.
Markets like to offer shoppers a wide range of products. They also want to have as many of the basics available as possible. This is an essential strategy that benefits the market as a whole. If a market has one space available for a baker, and there is already a baker, it is unlikely they will add another.
What to expect at a market meeting.
You may be invited to attend a meeting for market applicants. Here is some of what to expect:
- Be ready give a brief overview of your farm or business.
You’ll be asked to talk about your farm/business, your products, and your marketing style. Current members will ask questions. Think of it as similar to a job interview.
- You may be asked about what else you can contribute to the market.
Markets rely on members to help with all kinds of market activities. Perhaps you have artistic skills and can help design posters. Maybe you’re a great fundraiser. Or maybe you’re a Girl Scout leader and can provide a team of volunteers for spring cleanup. Think about how you can help the market thrive.
- Bring samples of your marketing materials.
You’ll want to have fliers, business cards, menus, etc. to pass around. Consider bringing some kind of photo album or book showcasing your farm/business, products, and marketing style. If you can bring samples of your product, that’s even better!
- Bring copies of your licenses (kitchen license, nursery license, etc.)
You can learn what the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry requires for various products on this page. Make sure your paperwork is in order.
- Bring any questions you have. Every market has different ways of doing things. Think ahead about any rules or practices that are unclear. It’s better to get the answers now, before committing for a season.
- Be ready give a brief overview of your farm or business.
- Observe the current members and how they interact.You may be able to listen in while the market interviews other potential new vendors, or you may just have a few minutes to talk about your own work. Does it seem like a group you would like to join? It’s better to get the answers now, before committing for a season.
After all the new vendor interviews, the market members will discuss and vote.
You can expect to get a call, usually within a few days, letting you know whether or not you’re being invited to join the market.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Can I fill out one application for multiple farmers’ markets?
- A: Maybe. A few Maine markets are operated by associations, and they may only require one application. Most farmers’ markets are operated independently—which means a separate application for each.
Q: Where can I find farmers’ markets applications?
- A: Ideally, application information for individual markets is easy to find on their websites and social media pages. This isn’t always the case though. It may take some searching to find out details about the application process. If no information is online, look for contact information for the market manager, and send the manager an email. Please keep in mind that the markets are operated by volunteers, most of whom have farms and winter jobs, so be prepared to be patient and persistent.
Q: What does it take to be a successful farmers’ market vendor?
- A: Joining a farmers’ market is a long-term commitment. Consider the time it will take each week prepare your products and be at the market. Don’t forget about travel, set up, and take down. Can you maintain that level of commitment, month in and month out? More than half of Maine’s markets are on Saturdays. Are you willing to commit to the market every Saturday all summer? Take a hard look at the market’s season. Does it start early? (It can be cold outside in May!) Does it run into the fall? You’ll need to maintain a consistent presence at the market. You’ll need to have a relatively consistent quality and quantity of product throughout the season. And you’ll need to be prepared to be friendly and cheerful to customers, week in, week out. Visit several markets. Talk to vendors about what it takes to be successful. Sometimes the challenges may not be what you think. A little advanced preparation can make a big difference.
Q: Can I be a guest vendor?
- A: Some—but not all—markets accept guest vendors. Consider signing up for guest vendor spots as a way to try it out. This approach works well for value-added producers with products that store well or who can make product on demand.
Q: What products should I list on the application?
- A: You should list everything that you realistically intend to bring. Be thorough. The application is your one opportunity for the year to get approval to bring a particular product. Be honest. Let people know if there is a product you are working on adding, but that may not possibly be ready in time. For example, if you’re working on getting a recipe tested by the University of Maine, let the market know it’s in development and when you expect it to be ready.Be realistic. Don’t overstate your capacity. You may want to be careful about putting down, say, mixed vegetables, even as secondary, if all you only planning some extra cucumbers and there are already a lot of veggie vendors at that market.
Q: Every year, I apply to a bunch of markets, and get declined. What is happening?
- A: Farmers’ markets are closely networked groups of hard-working farmers and entrepreneurs. When a market invites a new member to join, each member is essentially inviting that person to join a key component of their business for 3 to 6 months. The decision is made very cautiously. Here is some of what markets are looking for:
- outgoing people with excellent social skills,
- professional people with a solid business plan, and
- farms and businesses with sufficient capacity to participate.
Red flags that could be holding you back might include:
- appearing over-extended for the demands of that market,
- appearing too inexperienced for the demands of that market,
- a reputation for being difficult,
- a history of quitting other markets, or
- an inability to follow the application process properly.
Q: I’ve been invited to join the market as a “provisional member.” What does that mean?
- A: This is standard. It means you won’t be a full member of the market for the first year. That probably means you can’t vote on market issues. It may also mean you can’t expect to automatically be invited back. If you do a great job during your first year, and are invited to become a full member, then you will have a secure spot at the market, as long as you continue to fulfill the requirements.
Q: I was rejected from a local market, and it seems unfair. What can I do to fight the decision?
- A: Keep in mind that busy markets receive more applicants, and they may have fewer spaces open for new members. Market members use a complex decision-making process. The choice to accept or decline new members is virtually never a matter of “keeping out competition.” Most vendors prefer to have at least one other vendor at a market with the same category of product. Here are things you can do if you aren’t invited to join the market:
- Ask the market manager for feedback about why you were rejected, but don’t expect there to be a simple answer.
- Look for other markets that are still accepting applications. Some will have unexpected vacancies mid-season, too.
- Consider finding guest vendor spots at various markets. Building a good track record as a guest member will help the next time a space opens up at one of the markets you wish to join.
Q: There’s already a vendor selling the same product at the market. Does that mean I won’t be considered?
- A: Not at all. Most markets prefer to have multiple vendors for products. A market that has a long-term vendor of organic blueberries may welcome a vendor of conventional or high bush blueberries. Or a market with several mixed vegetable farms may welcome another. Keep in mind that markets have space limitations. Market members prioritize new vendors with products that shoppers are asking for.
Q: Do I have to have insurance?
- A: Yes. Liability insurance is a necessary cost of doing business. Fully inform your agent of what you are doing, and get the right coverage. (And while you’re at it, talk to your agent about increasing your “medical payments” coverage in your liability policy. It will probably only cost you a few bucks a year, but will increase your coverage dramatically, and smartly.)
Q: There’s a flea market in a nearby community and to sell there all I have to do is sign up for a table. Why is it harder to join the farmers’ market?
- A: Farmers’ markets are operated collectively by the farmers and vendors. A market builds its reputation over time, by providing consistently high-quality products and customer service. Anyone accepted into the market benefits from the years of work the market members have done to build a customer base, so the market members must be careful to ensure newcomers meet their standards. Additionally, most farmers’ markets carry liability insurance that requires them to verify that all vendors are compliant with food safety regulations, which requires a more formal application process than is required to sell non-food items in a flea-market type setting. (See this page for the state law defining what a farmers’ market is.)
Q: I sell a non-agricultural product that seems like a good match for a farmers’ market. Will I be accepted?
- A: It depends. Some markets are big enough to have spaces for crafters, potters, artists, etc. Many markets do not have space to devote to non-agricultural products, or they may have rules disallowing non-ag products. You’ll need to ask around. Also consider signing up for guest vendor spaces at various markets. This can be an even better option for non-food vendors, because markets tend to see the same shoppers every week.