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Farmers Markets Everywhere

Since I’ve been in Virginia I’ve worked at 4 farmers markets in the area; Harrisonburg, Rockbridge, Staunton and Lexington. I went to Harrisonburg and Stuanton with Mountain View Farm Products and Lexington and Rockbridge with Cherry Ridge Farm. Harrisonburg Farmers Market is one of the largest in the Shenendoah Valley area. It’s set up in similar in Ithaca’s since it is also located in a large wooden pavilion. It is open Tuesdays and Saturdays and is a highly competitive market for vendors. The market managers and staff look for unique products and crafts like handmade dog collars, glass blowing and wood carvings. Along with these specialty items, they also have vendors that carry traditional vegetables and produce. Harrisonburg only accepts vendors that sell products that were made or grown directly from their farm. This helps ensure that customers are getting and supporting local products.

Mountain View Farm Products stand at the Harrisonburg Market

Harrisonburg also allows credit transactions because their volunteer booth uses a system where they can swipe credit and debit cards and exchange it for wooden tokens that can then be used as money with the vendors. This system also takes food stamps and then the market matches the amount. For an example, if someone had a ten dollar food stamp, the market would give them another ten and they would have twenty to spend. The market also has a cooking demonstration that offers benefits for low-income individuals if they come and watch it. This demonstration also uses ingredients from the market. I believe that this system is extremely beneficial to people in the community and helps promote healthy eating.

Marketing is very important to farmers markets. Many markets in the area had Facebook pages and used other social media sites to help promote the market, vendors and help increase awareness of the local food movement.

The Rockbridge, Stuanton and Lexington markets are much smaller and are not located in a pavilion or other infrastructure. For these markets the vendors bring tents and set them up in a designated parking lot. They also require all vendors products to be brought and produced directly on their farms.

Some of the markets are very competitive. There is a huge waiting list for the Harrisonburg market and a lot of politics involved. The Lexington market is also pretty picky about the vendors they let in. These systems showed me how important it is to have unique products, plants, produce and crafts. Value added products seemed to sell well because there was an abundance of beautiful produce. Its hard for vendors to compete and most of the markets had set prices for more mainstream produce.

Marketing for the volunteers and organizers of the farmers markets is vital. Marketing for vendors is also extremely important. Set up, product displays and speaking with customers all play pivotal roles in this process. Being friendly, inviting and informative is also important when dealing with customers and I gained experience and confidence in all of these areas. I was also able to meet a lot of wonderfully interesting customers and other vendors.

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