From Farmville to Farmers Market: 3 Ways to Earn Money at Farmers Markets

Image: Farmers Market
Gemma Billings under Creative Commons

Farmers markets have a way of cropping up (pun intended) when the weather’s nice. Seasonal crops can be found on tables both indoors and outdoors, depending on your region. They look, and taste, delicious.

But have you ever wondered just how much these farmers are earning from their booths? Or if you could do what they do? Could earn money at a farmers market selling something other than produce?

Those were questions we wanted answered as well. So without further ado, here are three unique ways small business owners can earn money from farmers markets:

1. Traditional Farming and Produce Sales

The fact that farming would come into play at a farmers market is no surprise. Fresh produce is the star of the stands.

How to Get Started:

Jordan Taylor, a successful farmer in his own right and representative for Fresno County, CA’s Regier Family Farms, had this to say: “Most [farmers markets] will want to make sure you’re certified. That certification is a piece of paper that you keep in your stand that proves that what [you’re] selling, [you] grew. It’s so you can’t just go to Albertson’s, buy a bag of tomatoes, slap an organic sticker on ‘em, and jack up the price.”

Image: Regier Family Farms

After contacting the Department of Agriculture and gaining the proper certification, Taylor recommends turning to the Internet for good local markets. “Look for ‘farmers market’ and the name of your city. Then contact the manager to see what you need to do to get a table,” he said.

Also be prepared to meet health standards to appease not only the general public, but the health inspectors that come by for random inspections. “The standards themselves change from state to state, and sometimes city to city, so do your research and make sure you do what’s needed,” said Taylor.

Earning Money:

“How much you can earn depends on if your product is desired,” said Taylor. “It’s all about supply and demand. Last week was our first week for peaches and we made just shy of two grand [at our farmers market booth]!”

“Think about how much product you can acquire and then how much you can sell it for,” suggests Taylor. “Ideally you want to acquire product for less than you sell it for — that’s the business end. Say you get a few tomato plants for five dollars each. And then each of those plants yields around 20 pounds of tomatoes that you then sell for four dollars a pound. The first pound nearly pays for the plant!”

Setting Yourself Apart:

“Talk one-on-one with people… share [your] expertise. Try to always look for a safe, organic way to deal with the pests,” said Taylor, adding, “And have fun! Farmers markets are the way to go — they’re more fun for the customers and the growers!”

2. Beekeeping and Honey Sales

Honey is money when it comes to farmers markets. That is, if you’re willing to put in the work — and aren’t afraid of (or allergic to) bees!

How to Get Started:

Southern California-based Jeremy Jensen of JJJ Bees and Bill’s Bees got into beekeeping “by accident” after a swarm took over his backyard. However, after that initial encounter, he soon learned that there was more to the business of bees than meets the eye. “Beekeeping is a learning process,” said Jensen. “There’s a lot to it — much more than people think. You have to learn about the etymology of bees and how the bees work, from the inside out. There’s a lot of research involved.”

Image: Honey at a Farmer's Market

“Get affiliated with your local beekeeping community. Join a Beekeepers’ Association. Really work at building a good support system for yourself. Don’t go it alone — get people who can tell you why things are going wrong or what you’re doing right,” added Jensen.

Earning Money:

“I’d rather not say how much money can be made,” said Jensen. “There’s good money in beekeeping, and I could give you specific numbers… but when I say exact numbers, people start doing a lot of bad math with ‘em and think that beekeeping is the next ‘get rich quick’ scheme. It’s not. It’s a lot of hard work.”

According to The US Bureau of Labor Statistics, beekeepers can earn $40,000 to $60,000 annually depending on their regional location and personal tenacity.

Setting Yourself Apart:

In our interview, Jensen put emphasis on making connections and learning to interact with people.

In addition to upping your people skills, consider branching out: “Soaps, candles… When you have the beeswax, it’s not difficult to make soap,” said Jensen, who also offers a bee extraction service to those who find their yards invaded by the honey-making Hymenoptera.

3. Selling Jams and Jellies

The art of making fruit preserves — jams, jellies, chutneys, marmalades or spreads — can be done from the comfort of your own kitchen. With some creative packaging and good booth-side manner, you’ll be a hit at your local farmers market.

How to Get Started:

Regan Boone, founder of Crescenta Valley’s Highway Highlands Farm, started out making jams and jellies as holiday gifts.

Highway Highlands Farm

Getting started with jams and jellies as a business venture can be expensive, depending on the route you take. “If you love doing it, it’s worth it at any expense. That said, buying or renting a commercial kitchen is very expensive,” said Boone, adding, “Fortunately, you can get a license to work out of your home.”

With an upgraded license, you can sell your preserves via mail order (online or off) or on consignment. You’ll need to be ready for a health inspector to occasionally inspect your home kitchen to ensure it’s running to the highest standards. Each state manages their licensing differently, so be sure to check with your state’s department of health.

Earning Money:

“I could be earning more if I didn’t use top-of-the-line ingredients, or if I used cheaper jars,” said Boone, referencing her uncompromising quest for quality several times in our interview. However, she has her own means to turn a profit: “In order to continue giving my clients the best quality, I keep the same prices across the board. Some of the jams and jellies cost less to make — apples cost less than raspberries, for example — but I charge the same per jar. In the end, it evens out; and it keeps the prices fair for the customers and me without being overly confusing.”

Boone also offers price breaks to customers who buy more than one jar, encouraging them to buy in bulk. She also has a recycling program set up in which she gives back $0.25 to the customer whenever they return one of her pricey glass jars. “I then sterilize those jars and reuse them, which saves me a lot of money,” she said.

“When you account for time in the kitchen, the time it takes to market everything, and the cost of ingredients and supplies… I end up making about $25 an hour,” said Boone. “But, if it’s your passion, it’s not work!”

Setting Yourself Apart:

Boone suggests offering free samples of your product to potential customers. She also takes on-demand orders for seasonal preserves and offers a free newsletter with recipes.

For jams and jellies, clever marketing will take you far. You’ll want to open your customer’s eyes to possibilities they may not think of on their own.

“Get creative,” said Boone. “Tell them jam isn’t just for toast. Suggest a glaze. Or sell it as a guilty pleasure. Or remind them that they don’t have to eat a whole jar in one sitting — it’s an investment, and they’ll have it around as a treat for the next three months!”

Final Thoughts

Depending on where you live (some regions have farmers markets available year-round while others are seasonal) and how much work you put into it, farmers markets can either be a full-time job or an excellent side-hustle.

Plan ahead and choose the path that you’re most passionate about.

Your Turn: If you could sell one item at a farmers market, what would it be?

Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.