Getting Started at Farmers Markets

Last Thursday U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue signed the Proclamation designating this week as “National Farmers Market Week.”  This is the 18th year the U.S. Department of Agriculture has supported National Farmers Market Week. And, I thought it would be fitting to take a trip back in time to when my family set our path forward, with a 99 cent package of pumpkin seeds.

The goal of National Farmers Market Week is to encourage families to purchase from farmers and other vendors at local farmers markets. Many small businesses, mine included, started at these “early incubators” selling what we grew and getting cash to augment the income from our farms. But farmers markets do more than help farmers and producers.  Farmers markets have a broad impact on communities. Farmers markets build community connections through urban and rural linkages. They also stimulate local business development and job creation, and in our family they taught my kids valuable life lessons. Our whole family worked on our farm, including John my son, and Lisa my daughter. Here we are in our local newspaper talking about our alternative crop garden in the late 90’s, just before I incorporated EarthKind in the state of North Dakota.

The additional income kept us afloat and my kids learned that working with the land can bring rewards, not only in the food you grow to eat, but the health and vitality you can share with your community.

They were my little helpers, fetching carrying and sharing the “wealth”! ( Did you know the word wealth stems from ‘weal’ meaning well-being, prosperity and happiness?) I sold produce for cash every Saturday morning. I’d keep all the money and continue to reinvest. The only cash I'd take out was what I'd pay my kids for helping me, farm fuel, and for the lot fees at the farmers markets.

I have a deep appreciation for farmers, I have been one and I know how challenging it can be. So, I have made it part of our EarthKind® brand mission to support American farmers. Many of our ingredients are sourced from small American farms and we are proud that we can say our ingredients were grown in the earth. 

The early days, when quite frankly we were really struggling financially, my kids thought we were lucky, as they were grateful for the families who loved to buy our colorful organically grown produce. They thought it was a great adventure and had no idea that we were land rich - and cash poor!  The farmers markets were a Godsend to our family and they really got me started on my way to building the successful business I have today. I love that I was able to share this with my kids and that it was a positive experience for them. For me, it helped me think-through how to invest what little money I had wisely to grow something that would give us a better future. I also thought about how to expand to other sales outlets in a way that did not risk what we had.

Here’s the next step!

Now here’s something to think about…according to USDA figures, farmers markets and other direct agricultural sales contribute $9 billion to the U.S. economy. And a piece of that $9 billion is directly attributable to small businesses and family farms. Farmers markets provide necessary infrastructure to support their agricultural commerce. When I turned up at my first farmers market in the mid-90’s, did I think about infrastructure and agricultural commerce? No, I did not! I thought about how I was going to pay for the gas to get home if I didn’t sell the produce.

I’ve come a long way, but I always make sure I have money to get home, some things you never forget!