Designing the Physical Space for your Farmers’ Market

The location of your farmers’ market, discussed in “Location and Site of the Farmers’ Market” under “Designing Your Farmers’ Market” in this section, is one of the important decisions that you must make early in the market development process. As opening day approaches, it is important to develop a detailed layout that clearly defines how the space within that location will be used.

There are number of important issues that must be considered when designing your farmers’ market layout.

  • Legal Guidance for Market Layouts
  • Space for Producer Loading and Unloading
  • Stall Space for Farmers to Sell
  • Customer Access and Aisle Ways
  • Fire Lanes and Emergency Access
  • Parking for Farmers, Vendors and Customers
  • Restrooms and Hand Washing

Legal Guidance for Market Layouts

The passage of AB 1871 in 2014 created legal requirements for farmers’ market layouts that you should be familiar with so you can ensure your farmers’ market remains in compliance with state law.

(b) The operator of a certified farmers’ market shall establish a clearly defined marketing area where only agricultural products may be sold. Only the producer or the lawful authorized representative of the producer may sell agricultural products within the area defined as a certified farmers’ market. Sales of agricultural products purchased from another individual or entity shall not occur within a certified farmers’ market, and an agricultural product producer or product dealer shall not sell his or her agricultural products to another individual or entity with the understanding or knowledge that the products are intended to be resold in a certified farmers’ market in violation of this chapter or the regulations adopted pursuant to this chapter. Every producer selling within a certified farmers’ market shall comply with Section 47020.

California Food and Agriculture Code 47004(b) [2015].

California law now requires a clear distinction between the area in which farmers sell the produce they have grown and harvested and the area in which other food producers or vendors of nonfood items sell their products.

Prior to the passage of AB 1871, many county agriculture departments had similar requirements in their application processes. Most required separate areas for the sale of agricultural and nonagricultural products and that those areas be clearly marked on a diagram of the farmers’ market submitted as part of the farmers’ market application. The California Department of Food and Agriculture may issue regulations further defining requirements for “a clearly defined marketing area” or individual counties may develop their own requirements for how they will interpret and enforce this portion of the law.

Until there is established precedent for this, you should plan your farmers’ market so all farmers are in an easily definable area and all others selling in the market are in a separate, contiguous, area. If space allows, you may also want to leave a gap between the agricultural and nonagricultural areas so it is obvious to a county inspector that you have a “clearly defined” space.

Space for Producer Loading and Unloading

One goal when designing your farmers’ market should be to minimize the time and effort that farmers and vendors must spend unloading their equipment at the beginning of the day and reloading at day’s end. Farmers and vendors may feel that a difficult or time-consuming set up process is not worth the investment of their time and effort if sales in a farmers’ market are not strong. Remember that they are looking at the totality of their day: time spent picking fruit or baking bread, packing the truck, driving to the market, setting up, selling, packing up, and heading home. Of those, you can only impact the time spent setting and packing up, and the time spent selling. The more that you can help to make those times productive for your farmers and vendors, the more committed to your market they will be.

The more that you can help to make time productive for your farmers and vendors, the more committed to your market they will be.

The equipment that farmers’ need to set up their displays in a farmers’ market can be quite bulky — tents, tables, table coverings, boxes — plus they must bring all of the fresh fruits and vegetables that they wish to sell. If your farmers’ market is set up in such a way that farmers can park and then set up their stalls directly adjacent to their vehicles, then the producer loading and unloading process is simple. If farmers must drop off their equipment and park elsewhere, then the process is more complicated.

Plan the flow of traffic within the farmers’ market area or to a designated loading zone. If farmers are able to drive within the market area and space within the market area is tight you may want to enforce one-way traffic to reduce bottlenecks.

If farmers cannot drive within the market area and space in the loading zone is limited it is important to enforce rules in which farmers unload their vehicles and move their vehicles from the loading zone before beginning to set up their stalls. If you have the capacity to provide large carts or dollies for the farmers and vendors to use — or volunteers to help them move their equipment — it can speed up the process and help make the market a better investment of time for the farmer.

Stall Space for Farmers to Sell

The most common size of a farmers’ market stall is 10 foot by 10 foot square, the standard size of the pop up tents that farmers and vendors typically use. When planning the stall space for your farmers it is helpful to think of it as a collection of 10×10 blocks that all face a common customer walkway. Depending upon the space you have available to you, this aisle could be a straight line or circuitous path.

To create the most attractive farmers’ market possible, it is important to think about defining the stall space so the customer side is visible and the back side, where farmers will store excess product and prepare samples, is less visible to customers. Farmers also appreciate this type of set up as it minimizes customer traffic on back side of their tents, lessening opportunities for any of their equipment to be stolen. While thefts in farmers’ markets are rare, they are not unheard of. Farmers and vendors have been victims of crimes of opportunity when the items that are visible in the space where they are working — their cell phone, the cash box or the knife used to cut sampling — have disappeared. If stalls are set up so customers do not have easy access to the backs of the tents, it is much easier for farmers and vendors to monitor the space and look out for each other.

It is important to consider the weather conditions in the area around your farmers’ market and the wind patterns created by surrounding buildings and structures. If your area tends to get windy, you want to be sure that farmers and vendors will have a way to anchor their tents to ensure they don’t lift up and injure someone on the way down. If farmers are allowed to set up next to their vehicles, then anchoring their tents to their vehicles is the best option. If they are parking elsewhere, sturdy items bolted to the ground or cemented in — benches, signs, flag poles, etc. — can be convenient anchor points. If none of these items are available, then it is important to design the stall space for farmers in such a way as to align the tents so each can be lashed to the next tent in line. This mass of tents, with weights on the legs, should be sufficient except in heavy winds. To see examples of good tent securing, see Appendix C.

While lashing tents together does make them safer in high winds, it could unfortunately violate the California Fire Code:

Approval required. Tents and membrane structures having an area in excess of 400 square feet (37 m2) shall not be erected, operated or maintained for any purpose without first obtaining a permit and approval from the fire code official.


Tents used exclusively for recreational camping purposes.

Tents open on all sides which comply with all of the following:

Individual tents having a maximum size of 700 square feet (65 m2).

The aggregate area of multiple tents placed side by side without a fire break clearance of 12 feet (3658 mm), not exceeding 700 square feet (65 m2) total.

A minimum clearance of 12 feet (3658 mm) to all structures and other tents.

California Fire Code, 2403.2

As the typical tent used by farmers and other producers is 10 foot by 10 foot square, its total square footage is 100 square feet. Per California fire code, only seven tents can be placed side by side creating a combined area of 700 square feet. A gap of 12 feet is required between each block of tents, with no block of tents containing more than seven 10-foot by 10-foot tents.

Planning a market with these restrictions in place does have the potential to limit the total amount of space available for producers to setup and sell, but it is better to design your market with these limits in place from the beginning, rather than needing to remove producers from the market in the future in order to accommodate the law.

Customer Access and Aisle Ways

As you design your farmers’ market it is essential to try to imagine it from the perspective of a first-time customer. Think about where your customers will likely be coming from — biking in from the neighborhood, parking in a nearby lot or walking in from a public transportation stop — and plan for a farmers’ market entrance that is visible, open, and welcoming to them.

Once your customers are within the farmers’ market, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to see the products available to them and to move between the stalls easily. Most food customers have been trained by the layout of traditional retail stores to expect long straight lines with products for sale on either side. Designing your customer aisle ways in this manner can be beneficial as it allows customers to easily see all of the options available. But if a straight line does not fit your space you can still make it work by providing a clear, if winding, path between various farmers’ stalls.

When selecting a site it is important to also think about making it as easy as possible for those using wheelchairs or pushing strollers. While a farmers’ market in a park can be very attractive, remember that customers in wheelchairs or with strollers often find it difficult to navigate unpaved surfaces.

Fire Lanes and Emergency Access

It is important to plan for potential emergencies when designing your farmers’ market. If your market occupies a street or a parking lot, you will likely be required to maintain a fire lane at least 16 feet wide that an emergency vehicle could use to get into the market area. You will also need to ensure that the market does not impede upon access to fire hydrants on the street.

If your farmers’ market occupies a plaza area where vehicles don’t typically drive, identify the closest spot to the farmers’ market to which an emergency vehicle could pull up, and the furthest spot within the farmers’ market that emergency personnel might have to go. Ensure that you are planning for a clear, unobstructed path between these two points.

If your farmers’ market is adjacent to a building, it is also important to ensure that the farmers’ market will not impede emergency access to the building or essential building safety features such as emergency exits or standpipes. While having a farmers’ market set up at the entrance to a building is great visibility, you want to ensure that market will not impede access into the building by emergency personnel if needed.

Parking for Farmers, Vendors, and Customers

If your farmers cannot park adjacent to their sales space in the farmers’ market, it is important to designate parking for them close to the market. Remember that these farmers may be using longer and taller vehicles than you typically see at your location, so plan for larger spaces for them and be cautious of potential impediments such as low-hanging signs or branches. Some farmers may have excess product on their trucks that they are planning to sell at a farmers’ market later in the day so for them, it is important that their vehicles be parked in a secure location or close enough that they can keep an eye on them throughout the day. Think too about the potential impact of your farmers’ market on the surrounding community if you cannot provide sufficient parking for farmers, vendors, and customers. To prevent the farmers’ market from taking up parking for other services that might be taking place at that location, it could be a good idea to designate areas with clear signage stating “No Farmers’ Market Parking” or “Farmers’ Market Parking OK.”

If you expect parking in the vicinity to be tight, be sure to include discussions about how to accommodate all relevant stakeholders in your planning process. There needs to be parking available for the farmers, the customers, and the pre-existing establishments adjacent to the farmers’ market and in the immediate vicinity.

Restrooms and Hand Washing

State law requires that a restroom with hand washing facilities be within 200 feet of the certified farmers’ market, or as allowed by the certifying agency, in this case the county environmental health department. This is the restroom that your farmers, as well as your customers, will use throughout the day.

If your farmers’ market is operating at a site that has restrooms, you may want to consider allowing the farmers and farmers’ market customers to use them. To meet the requirements of the law they will need to be available to farmers during the entire time of the market, including the setup and teardown times, and will need to be available to customers during the posted operating hours of the farmers’ market. Before committing to providing the restrooms for the farmers’ market, be sure that you are comfortable with having restrooms that are open to the general public as they will require more maintenance and that you don’t have concerns with security or the distractions of strangers entering the building over a period of several hours.

If you don’t have a restroom available, you will need to rent a portable unit and place it within 200 feet of the farmers’ market. If your market is large enough, the county environmental health department may require more than one unit. These portable units are the plastic chemical toilets, “porta-johns,” that you have likely seen at worksites and street fairs. They are not attractive, but they get the job done. If you are renting only a single unit, you may want to consider renting an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compatible unit that is large enough to accommodate a customer in a wheelchair. In addition to the chemical toilet, you will need a hand washing station with running water, soap, hand towels, and garbage collection. Some ADA units may have hand washing inside of the unit. If not, then a separate sink unit may be needed.

The most cost-effective strategy is to rent a unit, have it placed on your site and remain throughout the farmers’ market season, and then have it serviced weekly. This avoids weekly delivery and pick-up charges which can be half or more of the total charges. If you are able to leave the unit throughout the season you can secure it with a combination lock and share the combination with the servicing company. This allows you to have the unit available during market hours and locked when the market is closed to help prevent vandalism.

Regardless of whether you use a restroom or a portable unit, you should be prepared to correct messes or vandalism that might occur during the market day. An emergency cleaning pack that includes rubber gloves, face mask, disposable towels, anti-bacterial cleaner, and trash bags can allow you to remediate a problem that occurs during the market day.

A Guide to Opening Small Farmers' Markets in San Jose, California