What is a farmers market? The USDA defines farmers market as “a multi-stall market at which farmer/producers sell agricultural products directly to the general public at a central or fixed location, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables but also meat products, dairy products, and/or grains.”  Today’s farmer’s markets offer many more products – prepared foods, baked goods, arts and crafts, flowers, plants and other locally produced or handcrafted items. 

Should we start a market?

Before you start a farmer’s market there are some basic questions you will need to ask and answer – the who, what, where, when and why of starting a farmer’s market.  The Farmers Market Coalition’s Market Fundamentals will help you get started by covering all the basics.

Starting a Farmers Market Feasibility Assessment Guide from the Michigan Farmers Market Association will help you determine if the time is right to start a farmer’s market. Included are tools on how to assess your community; assess whether there are vendors for your farmer’s market; and how to collect community input. 

The Michigan Farmers Market Feasibility Assessment Guide includes a Farmers Market Assessment Tool.. This tool may be tailored for your farmer’s market and is for your market clients to fill out as the attend the market. It will help you assess your market once it is up-and-going and it can be used to assess season-to-season as the market becomes an integral part of the community.

The Iowa Farmers Market Manager’s Toolkit is a comprehensive guide for market managers written by Iowa farmer’s market managers. The toolkit includes: the farmers market manager handbook, twelve vendor handouts, and online training video series.  A resource to definitely check out!

  • The Farmers Market Federation of New York website has many helpful resources, including a farmers market manager training manual, farmers market pre-planning checklist (Downloadable PDF), and farmers market evaluation form, among other resources. 

Kentucky’s Community Farm Alliance has a comprehensive Farmers Market Support Program which includes their online 2021 Farmers Market Support Program Toolkit. The toolkit includes:  

  • Stage 1:  Starting a Market – A) The Bare Minimum and B) Creating a Firm Foundation
  • Stage 2: Operating a Market
  • Stage 3: Growing a Market
  • Stage 4: Evaluating a Market

Another comprehensive resource on “How to Run a Farmers Market” is from Massachusetts, which includes:  how to get started, how to conduct market research; basic decisions; how to run a farmer’s market; brass tacks; and how to sell at a farmer’s market.

How you structure and govern or run your farmers market is just as important as the location, day(s), and hours of operation. Consider whether your farmers market be for-profit or non-profit? With a solid business plan and business structure your farmers market will start off on the right foot and be positioned for long-term viability. You will also want to have mission and vision statements to define your farmers market and serve as your compass to stay on course and stay true to the purpose of the market. 

Consider the following when starting a farmer’s market:

  1. Defining Your Farmers Market:  Mission, Vision
  2. Write a business plan
  3. Choose a business structure and register your business
  4. Set-up your financials
  5. Form a governing board
    • Board of directors
    • Articles of incorporation (non-profit)
    • By-laws

Kentucky’s Community Farm Alliance’s “Starting a Market: Creating a Firm Foundation” and Virginia Tech’s “Foundations of a Successful Farmers Market” are two excellent resources to get you started on the process of “laying a good foundation” for your farmers market. 

From the Farmers Market Coalition and from the Washington State Farmers Market Association, you will also find resources to help you determine whether your farmers market should be a formed as a for profit or non-profit.

If having the more formal structure of a governing board (Board of Directors) is not possible for your farmers market, then an advisory board or steering committee may be the way to add oversight and accountability to your farmers market. Recruit individuals who will champion your farmers market, provide you with sound advice, and be a good sounding board when difficult decisions must be made.

Know the laws governing farmers markets! All farmers markets must follow state, local and federal laws when they apply. If you are unsure about the regulations, the best resource to turn to is the Farmer’s Market Legal Toolkit.

When it comes to selling (farmer, producer, Home-Based Vendor, or other vendors) at farmers markets in Indiana your go-to site is the Indiana Department of Health’s Farmers Market and Value-Added Foods webpage.

Indiana Farmers’ Market and Home – Based Vendor Basics

Farmers Markets are locations or events where two or more local farmers sell a variety of fruits, vegetables and other farm products to the public. In addition to produce, you may find honey, ciders, cheese, eggs, dairy, meat (beef, pork, bison, lamb, etc.), poultry, and fish at a farmers’ market each from a local producer. Your County Health Department Food Service Division works with the Market Manager and conducts inspections during the market season to ensure food safety and permitting requirements are met. Vendors offering only whole, uncut fruits and vegetables, honey and syrup and other very low risk foods are exempt from permitting as a Retail Food Establishment.

Home-Based Vendors Indiana Legislation

In May 2009, the Indiana State Legislature passed House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1309 (PDF). HEA 1309 excludes Home-Based Vendors (HBVs) offering food at Farmers Markets and Roadside Stands from the definition of a “food establishment”. A Home-Based Vendor may prepare and sell certain food products that do not present a significant public health risk without permit or inspection. The Home-Based Vendor must practice proper food safety procedures, including proper hand washing, sanitation of food contact surfaces, and safe storage of food product, including protection during display and service. Your local County Health Department may inspect on-site at a farmer’s market food products and/or labeling to ensure that the Home-Based Vendor is maintaining their exemption status.

Indiana Home-Based Vendors Quick Facts
  • A Home-Based Vendor may only sell their food products at a Farmers Market or Roadside Stand.
  • Home-Based Vendor foods may not be sold at any other venue, such as grocery stores, restaurants, fairs/festivals, and may not be sold with the intent to be resold. Preordering is allowed, however, the consumer must take possession of the food at a Farmers Market or Roadside Stand.
  • The production area of a Home-Based Vendor is required to be in the vendor’s primary residence and will not be routinely inspected.
  • The Home-Based Vendor cannot commingle the activities of a Home-Based Vendor and those of a regulated food establishment. If the Home-Based Vendor sells food products other than those produced in the home, such as commercially prepared foods, then it becomes a “food establishment”. A vendor must be designated as either a Home-Based Vendor or a food establishment – not both.
  • All home-based vendor food products must have proper labeling which clearly states:
    • The Home-Based Vendor’s contact information:  name and address, telephone number, etc.
    • Common name of food product
    • Ingredient’s list of food product
    • Net weight and volume
    • Date food product was made or processed
    • The following in at least 10-point type: This product is home produced and processed and the production area has not been inspected by the State Department of Health.
    • Note: This label must be present with and/or on the food at the point-of-sale regardless of whether or not the food is packaged. Unpackaged food, such as some baked goods, will be considered labeled when there is easily readable signage accompanying the food product stating all of the above listed items. 
    • Labeling is not required for whole, uncut produce.
    • Foods that may create a public health risk are considered potentially hazardous food (Time and Temperature Control for Safety) and may not be produced and sold under the Home-Based Vendor exemption. Potentially hazardous food products include food that requires time and temperature control for safety. The most basic definition of a potentially hazardous food is a food that contains conditions (food ingredients, packaging, and/or storage) that allows disease-causing bacteria to grow, potentially leading to foodborne illness.
    • Note:  That “food establishment” as defined by HEA 1309 in 2009 is the same as retail food establishment per the 2017 FDA Food Code.

The table below provides some examples of foods that may or may not be produced and sold under the home-based vendor exemption.

Examples of Foods that May Be and May Not Be Sold by Indiana HBVs
Food TypeFoods That May be SoldFoods That May not be Sold
Baked GoodsCookies, cakes, fruit pies, cupcakes, bars, yeast breads, fruit breads, baguettes, etc.Foods that contain meat, poultry, aquatic animals, uncooked dairy (cheese, butter, yogurt), uncooked egg containing products and whole eggs
Candies and ConfectionsCaramels, chocolate fudge, peanut brittle, chocolate covered fruits, bon bons, buckeyes, chocolate covered nuts 
Fruits and VegetablesUnprocessed, whole and uncut items such as cherries, blackberries, cranberries, grapefruit, strawberries, oranges, blueberries, plums, tomatoes, corn, lettuce, green beans, peppers, etc.
Fruit-based jams and jellies (made from strawberries, blueberries, grapes, raspberries, blackberries, etc.) Fermented pickles that do not require acidification and do not require refrigeration.
Processed (canned) products that are shelf-stable and in hermetically sealed containers such as salsas, chutney, chow-chow, and canned vegetables.
Pickled vegetables (beets, pickles) that are shelf-stable.
Cut tomatoes and cut melons.
Garlic in oil mixtures, herb and oil mixtures.
Raw seed sprouts.
Fruit butters (apple, pear, pumpkin, etc.); “Low sugar” or “no sugar added” jellies and jams.
Meat, Poultry and SeafoodFrozen solid meats, poultry, rabbit, seafood, etc.; All products must be maintained frozen solid. No thawing of product allowed.Canned products that are shelf-stable and in hermetically sealed containers such as canned vegetables, canned meats, and canned seafood.
Tree nuts and LegumesPeanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, etc. 
SyrupsHoney, molasses, sorghum, maple syrup 

The above information is from the Porter County Health Department, Food Service Division: Farmers Market, Home-Based-Vendors.

Indiana Market Manager’s Role Defined

 A Market Manager is an individual or group of individuals that are responsible for coordinating and organizing the Farmers Market. Market Managers must register a Farmers Market with their County Health Department Food Service Division at least 30-days prior to the first date of operation. The registration must include a list of all food vendors participating at the farmers market, including not-for-profit organizations, farmers and home-based vendors. This registration allows the Food Service Division to ensure that the food vendors participating at the market are made aware of local permitting requirements, state and local food codes and guidelines, and exempt food vendors follow food safety guidelines. There is no charge for the registration. Check with your county health department for their Farmers Market Registration Packet. 

It is the responsibility of the Market Manager to ensure their food vendors obtain approval by the health department prior to operating at their farmers’ market. Market Manager(s) may require home-based food vendors to prepare food sold at the farmers’ market in a licensed, commercial kitchen. This is reasonable and allowable; a farmer’s market has the right to set stricter food safety standards per municipality, market management, or board guidance. Food vendors meeting the definition of a “food establishment” are required to obtain a food permit by their local county health department, and application must be made at least 7 days prior (maybe more in urban/suburban areas) to operating at the Farmers Market. A home-based vendor is not required to obtain a food permit, but still needs to register with the Market Manager and must be included on the food vendor list. We request that you inform all food vendors participating at the event to contact their local County Health Department Food Service Division for information on food permitting and food safety requirements and guidelines and refer to their Temporary Event and Mobile Unit and Pushcart webpages.

For additional food code and permitting requirements for regulated food establishments operating at farmers markets, refer to your county Temporary Event and Mobile Unit Pushcart webpages. 

Important Contact Information

Home-Based Vendor Rules and Regulations and Guidance Documents
Purdue University Resources 

Strictly for vendors, the Farmers Market Vending – A Guide For Indiana Specialty Crop Producers was developed by the Indiana Cooperative Development Center in collaboration with Purdue Extension’s Local Foods Program (SARE, 2016). This guide covers all that a vendor should consider, understand, and be in compliance with, if they want to sell at farmers markets in Indiana.

Food safety at farmers markets is 100% the responsibility of the market manager. It’s not that difficult with appropriate training and understanding of the legal issues at stake.  The Farmers Market Legal Toolkit provides a thorough overview of the food safety related risks and liabilities. 

The Farmers Market Coalition also has an excellent article on food safety at farmers markets from 2018 which looks at food safety risks and actual foodborne illness outbreaks at farmers markets.  Food safety issues do not change much over the years, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we do business, and farmer’s markets were and are also impacted. The health and safety of vendors, clients, and volunteers is now paramount for farmers markets. The Farmers Market Coalition shares with farmers markets:  Farmers Markets Respond to COVID-19 – Best Practices, Examples, and Resources, a market manager’s go-to-site for current information, best practices and resources. 

Food Safety Inspections at Indiana Farmers Markets

Curious about health inspections at farmers markets? Posted on the Indiana Department of Health Farmers Market and Value-Add Food webpage is the 2010 Guidance on Indiana Farmers Markets Inspection Requirements, which directs Indiana health departments on how to inspect farmers markets. Although not up-to-date with the 2017 FDA Food Code, this guidance establishes the standards and best practices for health inspections at farmers markets. Always remember, when in doubt, just ask your health inspector and/or contact your local health department!

Food Safety at Farmers Market:  A Checklist for Market Managers

A food safety checklist for market managers makes oversight of your market that much easier. There are several good food safety checklists and one from the Maryland Food Safety Network which is up-to-date (2021) including COVID best practices for farmers markets. As you review the checklists, none are exactly alike but all address food safety risks! Select one that aligns best with the vendors at your farmers market and then adapt it. e Please not that as market manager you are responsible for checking times and temperatures of all your food vendors.  Use it to keep on top of and manage your farmers market food safety risk.

The New York Farmers Market Manual has a downloadable food safety checklist that is also worth a look. It is complete and includes times and temperatures of potentially hazardous foods (Time and Temperature Control for Safety Foods), oversight of which is the direct responsibility of the market manager.

The Farmers Market Coalition presents an attorney’s take on farmers market insurance, Ignorance Is Not Bliss, which is a comprehensive explanation of why you want to have insurance for your farmers market and why your vendors should also carry insurance!

For up-to-date information on how to manage your risk at farmers markets, the Farmers Market Legal Toolkit has the answers and covers all bases!  

Looking for an agency that sells farmers market insurance and vendor insurance? Campbell Risk Management provides insurance for all your farmers market needs!

Interested in a Risk Management Checklist for farmers markets?  Check out New York’s Farmers Market Professional Certification Program’s resources which include a risk management checklist.

For the Market Manager

In 2016 the Michigan Farmers Market Association conducted a study of roles, responsibilities, compensation and education of farmers market managers in Michigan. The purpose of the study was to gather baseline information on compensation of market managers and the effectiveness of educational programs to professionalize the role of farmers market manager. They also defined farmers markets by size and characteristics; identified the roles and duties of market managers; looked at vendor fees and revenue; and defined managers job duties, responsibilities; along with compensation and benefits for market managers. The results of the study are published in Michigan Farmers Market Managers, Roles, Responsibilities, Compensation & Education.

Being a market manager is not for everyone. Market managers need specific skills to be successful at the job and some of the skills can be learned, but most are perhaps just inherent. Fortunately, there are several state farmers market associations that have developed resources to help the farmers market manager get organized, and they  provide useful guides, templates, videos and toolkits that help market managers get the job done!

Washington State Farmers Market Association has gathered resources for the market managers under the Mighty Market Manager including human resource documents, sample market manager job descriptions and job announcements, manager contracts, and compensation, which may be helpful.

The go-to for all things farmers market including all that a market manager will need to be successful is The New York Farmers Market Training Manual, which is referenced widely by other state farmers market association toolkits.

The Iowa Farmers Market Managers Toolkit (2017-2019) is written by market managers for market managers and includes a comprehensive farmers market manager handbook, vendor handouts, and online trainings each highlighting experienced market managers and vendors, who offer their expertise and insights on all things farmers markets.

Recruiting Farmers for Your Farmers Market

From the Farmers Market Coalition, Recruiting Members for a Farmers Market, is an in-depth guide from developed by the Wallace Center on how to recruit the right vendors for your farmers market. Definitely a resource that can help a new market manager recruit vendors and get the market going, but also a good resource for the seasoned market manager wanting to increase number of vendors or type of vendors.

From the Virginia Farmers Market Association, Tips for Recruiting Vendors provides ideas the process of recruiting, such as where to post such as using your website, creating flyers, and spreading the word via key contacts.

Washington State Farmers Market Association has developed Recruiting Farmers to Your Market, a guide on what how to assess your needs, including know your market; know what you are looking for in a farm vendor; and tips on where to seek out farmers by “hone your farmer radar!”   

Evaluating Your Vendors

Farmers Market Coalition shares a useful Vendor Evaluation Form from the New York Farmers Market Federation, which market managers may use to assess new vendors and help them meet the farmers market standards. Also, market managers could use the vendor evaluation form to assess all your vendors once each market season.  A summary of the vendor evaluations can help market managers determine the markets strengths and areas which need improvement.

Keeping Your Cool and Being Available

Just a few quick tips for over-worked, over-stressed market managers from the Virginia Farmers Market Association in Keeping Your Cool and Being available!  Even if you just use as a reminder that there are other market managers out there that have been through it all! 

Effective Communication in a Multicultural Marketplace 

From the Washington Farmers Market Association, Effective Communication in a Multicultural Marketplace, is an excellent introductory tool to help you understand today’s diverse farmers market culture.  

Farmers Market Staff and Volunteers

Having reliable, dependable market staff and volunteers is critical to the success of a farmers market.  The Farmers Market Coalition has tips on how to find and keep good volunteers in Market Manger FAQ.

In Farmers Market Volunteers, the Washington Farmers Market Association shares with market managers jobs for volunteers; how to recruit volunteers; and how to retain volunteers, along with administrative tips. 

Sponsored by Market Umbrella, market day: Recruiting and managing volunteers is part of their Marketshare program, which works to cultivate the field of public markets for public good. Marketshares are free documents (“shares”) that are the best of “lessons learned” from public markets everywhere and when it comes to volunteers, they share tips and best practices on recruiting, managing and recognizing volunteers that help make farmers markets the success they are!  

The Farmers Market Federation of New York has the Friends of the Market Toolkit which contains:  Friends of the Market (PDF); Volunteer Management (PDF); and a Volunteer Interest Form (PDF). All useful tool for recruiting and managing volunteers.

Market Rules and Policies

Understanding market rules, policies and procedures and why they are important to have in place for any farmers market is critical to the success of all farmers markets. Each farmers market is unique and rules and policies should align with the farmers, vendors, volunteers, entertainment, sponsors, and clubs, and businesses that participate in the farmers market weekly or as one-day vendor. 

Under Market Rules and Procedures, Farmers Market Legal Toolkit helps market managers understand the need for rules and policies, the risks possible, and how to manage the risks.  This is definitely the go-to resource for all market managers when it comes to rules and procedures!

Under Market Policies, the Farmers Market Coalition also shares with market managers policies that a market manager should consider; how to select the right vendors – farmer, artisan, food vendor – for their market and how to write policies that are appropriate for the vendors at market; and how to enforce the policies that are in place. 

From the Public Health Law Center (St. Paul, MN) the Farmers’ Market Vendor and Market Rules (2014) comes this assessment of vendor and market rules providing a variety of policies compiled from nine farmers market handbooks across Kansas. Written with through a legal lens, it is a general guide to the different operational rules a farmers market might want to consider implementing with the understanding that a farmers market will have to adapt the policies based on their own unique local and legal needs.   

Market Umbrella and the Crescent City Farmers Market share their market Rules and Regulations, no-nonsense list of guidelines which is a good starting point for developing your farmers market rules and regs for equity, clarity, and transparency.  Also check out Market Basics, which outlines the rules vendors must follow.

Did you know that the USDA runs a farmers market outside the USDA headquarters in Washington, DC?  

For market managers who run farmers markets for municipalities, check out the Complete Guide to Farmers Market Rules and Operating Guidelines from the USDA Developed for Their Farmers Markets Along the East Coast (2019), which covers rules, procedures and operating guidelines for the USDA farmers market!  This comprehensive guide includes who is allowed to sell at the farmers market (farmer, rancher, grower, or producer) and how far they are permitted to travel from (200-mile radius).  Everything in this guide is outlined precisely from – the food safety rules to be followed which comply with the 2017 FDA Food Code, to all products sold at market must have a minimum of 75% of ingredients by item (not weight) sourced directly from farmers, rancher or grower from the Chesapeake Bay region to the market’s gleaning policy where all food donations go to the DC Kitchen.

From the Farmers Market Coalition, Marketing Tips for an Ever-Changing Marketplace: increase sales, foot traffic and repeat customersby April Jones (July, 2021) where Ms. Jones shares tips and ideas on simple marketing strategies along with multi-tiered marketing strategies.

As part of the Farmers Market Metrics training program, the Farmers Market Coalition has Unit Six Communications Guide which walks you through step-by-step how to write effective communications by using your farmers market metrics. The Communications Guide covers how to create your message; What Is a Content Calendar; Sample Messaging; and a Press Release Template.

Social Media and Branding Resources for Farmers Markets

From the Oregon Farmers Market Association is this comprehensive guide: Social Media and Branding Resources. Lots of great how-to-tools and resources, along with recorded webinars on Social Media Strategy for Farmers Markets and Developing a Strong Brand. 


Making Markets Sales Sizzle

The Farmers Market Federation of New York has you covered with Farm Business and Marketing Guides. You will find how to resources – Fact Sheets 101 and Picture Tutorials – for social media, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Blogs, YouTube, and HootSuite.

Promoting Farmers Markets – University of Tennessee Extension

A simple guide on Promoting Farmers Markets which explains where and how to start; how to capitalize on easy, low-cost ways to promote farmers markets, along with tips on How to best advertise your farmers market.

Marketing Farmers Markets: Ideas for Market Vendors and Managers in Nevada; Extension University of Nevada, Reno

From a study conducted in 2008 of 12 farmers markets across Nevada, this comprehensive review of marketing best practices from 669 survey responses which were collected and each market was analyzed individually. The data was compiled and summarized in Marketing Farmers Markets and was used to determine the market, produce, and vendor attributes customers most preferred at each market; the average market spending per customer distance traveled to reach the market; transportation method used; how respondents heard about the market; and demographic information. The survey results are shared to provide insight for market managers in how best to market farmers market.  

The Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture’s 10 Reasons to Support Farmers Markets is great to use for your farmers market social media campaigns.  You will never run out of marketing ideas with these 10 great ways to support farmers markets! 

Plan, Partner and Promote: Best Practices from Wisconsin’s Farmers’ Market Managers

In 2016, farmers market managers based in rural, suburban, small city and large metropolitan areas of Wisconsin were interviewed on best practices in promoting and marketing their farmers markets by University of Wisconsin-Madison. This was as part of the project, Identifying Farmers Market Manager Communication Needs, whose purpose was to better understand farmers market managers’ data collection and promotion practices. The results of the interviews were organized into a guide for market managers, Plan, Partner and Promote, which is divided into the four sections:  Producing a Plan; Partnering on Promotion; Putting Plans into Action; and Evaluating the Impact.  Check out this comprehensive guide on how to market and promote your farmers market.

Engaging the Community for Farmers Market Success

An in depth look at how to engage your community to make your farmers market a success! Engaging the Community for Farmers Market Success may also provide insight on how to market your farmers market at the community level. Capitalize on all the ways your farmers market engages your community. Focus and highlight local business partners, who may be or can become important sponsors, and don’t forget to glean end-of-market produce for local food pantry and hunger relief agencies. All farmers market activities and events are excellent sources for your marketing or social media campaigns. You have many stories to tell about your farmers market! What are you waiting for?

Knowing who is visiting the market weekly; when are the peak market days and times; and how much each vendor is selling – all are critical metrics that help a market manager assess the vitality and success of the market. Metrics also provide insight to market needs and assist the market manager in scheduling volunteers, events, out-reach activities, and even entertainment.  Metrics are also key in writing effective communication pieces for marketing of the farmers marketAs vendors apply to sell at the market, or if the market manager is recruiting new vendors, metrics will help the market manager assess whether the vendor(s) would be a good fit for the market.

The Farmers Market Coalition has many resources that market managers may access and download, including Farmers Market Metrics Resources and for Data Collection Strategy resources – Data Collection Plan Worksheet and Data Entry Workbooks.

Note:  The Farmers Market Coalition is in the process of updating their Farmers Market Metrics Training Resources so check back often. (August 2021)

The quintessential tool for market assessment is Oregon’s Tools for Rapid Market Assessments, downloadable PDF from OSU Extension. The tool walks market managers through attendance counts; dot surveys; and how to recruit teams and how to use constructive comments and observations.

For a practical guide on how to implement rapid market assessments, Washington State Farmers Market Association’s Market Count! Collecting, Managing & Deploying Your Farmers Market Data. Basically, how Washington state farmers markets use rapid market assessments to collect, manage and use data to make their farmers markets successful and then even more successful!

If you have heard about the Sticky SEED: sticky economy evaluation device measuring the financial impact of a public market, then check out this resource from Market Umbrella.

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This website is curated by the INFMCP Advisory Committee, which makes all decisions on website content.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this virtual toolkit is to assist farmers market managers and for educational purposes only. This material is not intended, and should not be used, as a substitute or replacement for individual legal, financial, or actuarial advice. Each market organization should consult a relevant professional advisor when making business decisions as appropriate.