Farmers Market Perfect for Micro-Entrepreneurs

— Written By and last updated by Leeann Crump

The number of farmers’ markets in the United States surged in the past five years, but growth is slowing as every municipality from large cities to very small towns have established a market.

In 2014, there were 8,261 farmers’ markets in the country and in Richmond County, a market has operated twice a week for the past two years. In a county that has several wonderful produce stands open seven days a week and many people with their own gardens, that is an accomplishment.

The Rockingham Farmers’ Market is run by the Richmond County Farmers Market Association and has been in existence for many years. The rules of the organization encourage farmers and gardeners to be the producers of most of the product sold, providing the buyers the “face” of their food production, which is an idea that has gained popularity.

Local artisans and food entrepreneurs also are required to make the things that are sold, to prevent resale of purchased goods. These rules add a lot of authenticity to a farmers’ market, and one reason they are so popular. Last year they changed their rules to allow vendors to attend the market from any county in North or South Carolina that is adjacent to Richmond County.

Farmers’ markets have gone through some changes in recent years, and the Rockingham Farmers’ Market has kept up with the same trends. Becoming more accessible has been a goal, with transportation provided from other areas of the county and the acceptance of SNAP benefits and credit/debit cards through an EBT machine. Farmers’ markets use more technology today, and are promoted in social media and websites. Rockingham Farmers’ Market is on Facebook and Instagram, so check it out!

Increasingly, farmers’ markets have been a place to build community, to meet your neighbor and to promote a social cause or idea. It is no longer the only way to purchase local produce, as many restaurants and grocery stores strive to “buy local,” but it is a great way to support local business and micro-entrepreneurs.

It is possible to grow produce, flowers and plants for a market in a small space and there is very little risk involved for the micro-entrepreneur or market gardener. The Rockingham Farmers’ Market charged only $25 per year last year to Richmond County residents. There is no requirement to come each week, as in some large markets. Someone who is creative could make enough baked goods, crafts or jewelry to sell at the market and make a good profit.

There are many advantages of selling at the market, including the ability to try out products and get immediate feedback from customers. Relationships with customers can be developed for future sales and products. The market vendors reap the full retail price of the items being sold (minus the annual fee and taxes). No weekly booth fee allows a small entrepreneur to bring smaller amounts of product to the market.

The Richmond County Cooperative Extension office will assist any micro-entrepreneurs who are interested in selling at the farmers’ market by giving them gardening information, business planning resources and other information like certifying home kitchens, preserving food and marketing their products.

Anyone interested in this market season should attend the meeting of the Richmond County Farmers’ Market Association at 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 15 at the Agricultural Services Center, 123 Caroline St. For more information about the farmers’ market, please call Susan Kelly at 910-997-8255.

Susan A. Kelly is Richmond County extension director for the N.C. Cooperative Extension.