Meet the Market: Getting ready for farmers market season

Farmers market vendor scheduling: like a tricky chessboard of YUM!

A few years ago, when we started seeing major growth at our Kingfield Farmers Market, the board made a decision: rather than move to a bigger site, we’d fill out our 43rd & Nicollet lot and look for a second site elsewhere in Southwest. Next month, the Fulton Farmers Market will be born at 49th & Chowen.

Little did I know it then, but I’d be losing weekends and sleep as a result. Because slotting vendors is like playing a tricky chessboard of YUM! Two chessboards, in this year’s case.

The first step to arranging the market is the pieces. Do you have enough veggie vendors? Are they organic or conventional? What about berries? Prepared-food vendors? Cheese? Meat? Eggs? What funky foods do you want to include? And how many craft vendors to fill out the mix?

This year, our Kingfield chessboard has about 30 spaces, and Fulton 20–25. (The Fulton site is actually bigger and can accommodate growth, but we want our vendors to prosper so we’re being conservative about year one bookings.)

Sifting through the applications is a wonderful and humbling process — wonderful because we’ve discovered more than enough fabulous, high-quality farmers; I can practically taste their products in each spreadsheet cell. Humbling because our markets can be a major business opportunity for hardworking small businesspeople … and saying no to any of them is heartbreaking.

Still, if you’re on the vendor committee, it’s like picking the smorgasbord a summer of neighbors will dine from, or a party menu that lasts 24 weekends. Last year, we were thrilled to add lamb to Kingfield; this year, it will be goat cheese (chevre and farm-fresh feta), Thai food and gluten-free baked goods.

Fulton gets the benefit of Kingfield’s experience. While there’s some vendor overlap, many of the players will be different even if the mix will be familiar. There are at least four organic-veggie growers unique to the new market, two fruit vendors (berries should not be in short supply, we hope!), Patisserie 46’s rich pastries, and we’re hoping to rope in a wood-fired pizza vendor with a breakfast-pie option.

But the job doesn’t end with the line-up. Positioning can be especially tricky. Every vendor has their favorite spot, and many a market manager has been crushed in the race for what the various players consider “pole position.”

Fortunately, Kingfield’s players have settled in nicely; the upside of a cozy site is everyone gets foot traffic. Market-goers are used to Peter’s Corn up front and Chef Shack’s food cart by the tables in back. Fulton is a blank slate, which might increase the early-season vendor politicking, but the careful chess player learns to suppress the stomach rumble and figure out the best moves for all.

Fulton Farmers Market
49th & Chowen
Saturdays, 8:30 a.m.–1 p.m.
May 21–Oct. 29
Follow on Twitter @fultonmarketmn

Kingfield Farmers Market
4310 Nicollet Ave.
Sundays, 8:30 a.m.–1 p.m.
May 22–Oct. 30
Follow on Twitter @kingfieldmarket