Starting a Certified Farmers’ Market

Interested in starting a new farmers’ market?

A Certified Farmers’ Market (CFM) is a “point of sale” location for California agricultural products. CFMs are usually set up on a weekly basis for California farmers and ranchers (“producers”) to gather together and sell their agricultural products directly to the public. Depending on the market operator, value added goods and non-certified agriculture products (i.e. coffee, salsa, jam, bread, arts & crafts,) may be set up adjacent to the farmers’ market. For a farmers’ market to be successful, the farmers and vendors participating in the market have to make a profit each day the market operates.

A Certified Farmers’ Market may only be operated by a local government, a Certified Producer or a non-profit organization. CFMs must be authorized by the Agricultural Commissioner in their county of operation and abide by current direct marketing and public health regulations. In addition, many CFM Operators establish market rules that provide operational guidelines for participating vendors. 

Things to consider when starting a farmers’ market

Location – Is the market in a convenient location for vendors? Is there uncovered parking nearby for vendors to park their trucks? Is it accessible to customers parking their cars, walking, or public transport?. Is it easy to find? Is it a comfortable, safe space? How many households are nearby, will you get enough customers for your farmers? How will you secure the space from cars while the market is in operation?

Community Need – Are there other farmers’ markets in the area? Are there any organizations or businesses providing similar products nearby? What will your market contribute that the other doesn’t? What are the food needs of the community? Have you engaged community members and stakeholders? Who do you want to participate in your farmers’ market? How will you recruit them?

Space – Finding the right space for your market is important. Typically a farmers’ market vendor sets up under a 10×10 canopy. Larger farms may require two to four canopies. Multiply that by the number of vendors you want, and including space for fire lanes (generally 20 ft), market information booth, and throughways, you end up with a large footprint. 

Funding – It is important to consider the cost of permits, awareness campaigns, and farmer recruitment. Build a budget to figure out how much just initial start up costs, and then identify potential funding partners or opportunities. City government, health centers, and non-profits make good umbrella/sponsor organizations. Most market operators will charge a fee to participating vendors to cover operational costs. Consider what fee amounts would work for your vendors and how much of your expenses these fees would need to cover.

For more reflection on considering a farmers’ market, check out this InTents podcast episode, Who Needs More Farmers’ Markets?

Resources for starting new Certified Farmers’ Market

Certified Farmers’ Market Manager Manual A resource developed by the CA Department of Food & Agriculture and the CA Alliance of Farmers’ Markets. This manual provides detailed information on topics from state regulations to creating market rules for your market. Available for purchase online, or for free for Alliance members.

Starting a New Farmers’ Market Manual This manual, created by the UC Davis Small Farms Program provides detailed information and steps for setting up a new farmers’ market in the state of California. It also includes tools for conducting feasibility study. 

Farmers Market Manager Trainings The Alliance hosts an in-person market manager training annually at the CA Small Farms Conference, and webinars throughout the year on various topics. Become a member to participate in these learning opportunities, and join us at the next training!

The Resource page provides a great number of articles, toolkits and links that could prove useful to anyone thinking of starting a new farmers’ market. 

Join the Alliance to connect with hundreds of experienced market managers from across the state!