Farmers Market

April 29, 2011

A Week In The Life Of A Farmers’ Market Manager

One of the joys of strolling through a farmers’ market as a customer is how bucolic and simple the market seems.  It can be a calming start to your weekend or the perfect way to end a weekday far from the stress of your job and shrill of your Blackberry (the phone – not the fruit).  All of that simplicity and calm doesn’t come easy though which is why farmers’ market managers work hard day-in and day-out to create a market customers and vendors will enjoy.   I had the pleasure of speaking with Erin Kauffman of the Durham Farmers’ Market in North Carolina who shared a peek into her life during farmers’ market season. 

First and foremost, it’s important to note that Erin Kauffman is one of only two paid staff for the Durham Farmers’ Market.  Kauffman’s position as Market Manager means that she’s paid for 25-30 hours/weekly which includes time at the two markets Durham Farmers’ Market puts on each week.  Kauffman also has an assistant who is paid for approximately 5 hours/week.  The market is overseen by a Board of Directors who, with Kauffman’s help, decides which new applicants should be part of the market, and there are a handful of volunteers without whom Kauffman says her job would be near impossible.

Kauffman’s responsibilities differ depending on whether it’s a market day or not.   “It definitely is a little bit crazy and unpredictable,” Kauffman says.   “When I’m at the market I have a whole slew of jobs to take care of.  From making sure all the vendors are following the rules to setting up and coordinating events, cleaning up before and after the event.  I clean the bathrooms because that’s not a task you want to give to volunteers otherwise they’ll never come back and volunteer again!  I also use a lot of market time to communicate with the vendors.   They are not sitting around waiting for emails and it can be hard to keep them up to date with various things they need to know so I use that time to answer questions and talk with them to keep them informed.”

During the week Kauffman’s time is filled up with promoting the market.  In addition to trying to keep the market’s website up-to-date, she sends out weekly emails every Friday about what’s going on at the market to keep people coming back every week and keeps the market’s facebook and twitter (@DurhamFarmerMkt) pages going as best as possible.   Kauffman also visits health fairs and garden clubs and other group events to talk about the market and get people excited about visiting.   Another huge piece of her marketing is trying to make sure that all the market’s listings in various internet and print publications are correct.

When not marketing the market, Kauffman works on scheduling and coordinating events for the market.  Like many farmers’ markets around the country, the Durham Farmers’ Market has special events on market days such as chef demonstrations or book signings.  These unique events keep people coming back to the market every week so that they can see and learn something new.  “I spend a lot of time communicating with chefs who come and do demonstrations, working on our chef challenge for the year, and coordinating with the Master Gardeners who help out with a lot of our events,” Kauffman says.  “All of these events add to the market experience for visitors but take time to get set up.”

On top of that there are numerous administrative tasks Kauffman has to perform each week from making sure that money is deposited each week, ensuring that attendance records are in order and other documents are updated as necessary, to ordering market tshirts and bags.  Kauffman is also responsible for coordinating inspections of vendors and products.  “I am pretty familiar with what people bring to the market,” she says, “all of the vendors they get inspected when they apply.”   Oftentimes this means Kauffman must go to people’s kitchen or studio and ask questions.   “It’s a good process to communicate with them outside of a phone call or series of emails and get an idea of what they’re planning on making and how they’re planning to grow their business over the years and how they will fit into the market over the years.  Prepared foods and crafters do get inspected so that we’re all on the same page of what’s going on.”

As a customer this will surely make you appreciate all the hard work that goes into putting a marketing together every week and as a vendor (or hopeful vendor) this may remind you to jump in and help out at your local market as much as you can!