Farmers Markets Launch Cottage Industries and Careers in California

Vendor's son at a Farmer's Market in Southern California plays the accordion for tips while dads sells oranges.

The California Certified Farmers Market network started out as a great idea. Consumers could buy their fruits, vegetables, cut flowers and plants directly from the farmers, themselves, rather than go to the supermarket. The concept continues to thrive and grow, and with it is an entire new way of doing business. Here's a list of over 400 places where you'll find California markets.

California's "swap meet," a decades-long tradition that takes advantage of the year-round Mediterranean climate, has been re-branded as an "outdoor market" to comprise the farmers market, plus a crafts fair and cooked foods & snacks vendor section. The formula is working and outdoor market locations only keep growing. In my Southern California city of 200,000, a popular farmer's market at the beach was launched over 10 years ago. Now, within a span of three years the city has four such markets. Each market is held on one specific day of the week for an approx. four to five hour span. Each offers a fresh produce element, hand-made crafts, plus cooked foods and snacks. Each also provides entertainment such as single or duo musical acts, petting zoos, jugglers, balloon artists and other activities and events.

In a recent survey of California Farmers Markets (certified as California grown produce, and non-certified) we discovered that our old list of markets from 6 years ago is sorely out of date as many new events have come on-line. We've discovered over 500 markets, to date. The growth of this new outdoor market formula seems to have taken a bite out of the apple of big grocery chains and has impacted their bottom line. With lost sales, large grocers have re-focused. Greater emphasis on liquor, beer & wine sales (big ticket items) make up for lost sales in produce and goods. Milk, cereal, fresh meats, fish, and store bakeries continue to thrive, though chains offering slight discounts such as Target and Walmart, are also impacting sales of some staples such as cereal, pre-packaged meats and dairy products.

California's more than 10% of population currently unemployed or under-employed is a crafty bunch, and the outdoor market provides an excellent way to help them try to earn a little cash. Maybe you make doggy beds and basket liners or fresh baked biscuits for pets in your spare time. Perhaps you have a new type of wrap-around skirt in swirling colors. Or maybe you purchased a cart you haul behind your car or truck, wheeling it to markets & events where you whip out shaved ice drinks or kettle corn. Outdoor markets are the place where people can launch little businesses and grow them. We know!

Having helped promote a few such markets, I personally receive about 20 queries per week from people who have "the best cupcake" or a great idea they think the world is going to clamor to buy. Enthusiasm for launching products and ideas seems endless as people seek ways to make a little money to make ends meet.

With so many potential vendors and so much talent just waiting to be discovered, there are waiting lists to get into many popular markets, and the street acts often work for tips alone, or sales of their CD and other collateral. The majority of vendors with new products don't make it through an entire year selling their wares at these markets. Many discover that sales are flat and they can't make a profit. Others determine that the demographic doesn't match their product offerings and their time could be better spent.

The long and short of it is that farmers markets and outdoor markets are here to stay. They've invaded our California landscape and their popularity continues to grow. The saturation point for such markets may be nearing within the next several years and growth may decline, but for those who have "a great idea" or talent, the outdoor market is an affordable way to find out if you've got the right stuff that people will buy.


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