“It’s a farmers market, and it sells things.” This is the extent of the information that most farmers market vendors have when they begin selling at market, according to Larry Lower, a market manager with over ten years’ experience at the Berkeley Springs Farmers Market. He is describing the lack of knowledge that most beginning vendors have when it comes to knowing what it takes to make a successful farmers market-based business work. According to Lower, despite the huge market that exists in West Virginia for locally grown food, “about 50 percent of all potential new vendors would not make it through their first year without close mentor-ship or training. Only about 10 percent of them have researched all the things that are necessary to become a successful vendor. Many of them have unrealistic expectations about what selling at a farmers market is really like. They come with a product to sell, but have no knowledge of rules and regulations that are associated with selling that product.”
This is the issue that the West Virginia Farmers Market Association (WVFMA) is trying to address with their New Vendor Launch Initiative. They announced this week that they are taking applications now for this new training program, designed to train and educate beginning farmers market vendors on the topics that are vital for their success. These topics include post-harvest handling, licensing and food safety requirements, marketing, visual merchandising, customer service, and booth design to name a few. According to Kelly Crane, executive director WVFMA, “We have heard over and over again from our member markets about how important it is to have new vendors succeed during their first seasons selling at market. Getting up to speed on all the information can be overwhelming and confusing without guidance and support. We are going to make sure those vendors thrive.”
According to Lower, “These are the first steps to understanding what is needed to become a successful vendor, and the New Vendor Launch will cover these things, and more, in an extensive and comprehensible manner.” He also believes that this training will not only benefit the vendors themselves, but also the markets where those vendors will be selling their products. “By offering a training program like the New Vendor Launch, the WVFMA is taking the burden of mentoring and training new vendors off the back of the individual markets, and allowing the markets to focus on other projects that will support its growth.”
Participants must apply and be selected to attend a two-day training which will be held in Charleston this April. This event will be hosted by the WVFMA in coordination with experts from WVU Extension Service, WV Department of Agriculture, WV Department of Health & Human Resources, the WV Food and Farm Coalition, and others. This training will involve hosting a two-day New Vendor Launch “Boot Camp” to provide in-depth training for beginning vendors, as well as producing a written toolkit that will be made available to all West Virginia farmers markets and their vendors. Selected participants will also be paired with experienced mentors to help ensure their success, and both participants and mentors will receive funding to help offset travel costs and grow their businesses.
The WVFMA is seeking applicants with 0-2 years of farmers market vendor experience. The full application is available at http://wvfarmers.org/new-vendor-launch/. All applications must be submitted by Feb. 15. For more information, contact Adam Taylor, Project Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The training has been made possible by a federal grant awarded to the WVFMA through the USDA’s Farmer Market Promotion Program (FMPP), as well as the support of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and MVB Bank.