Tracking Farmers’ Market Activity

During the planning phase for your farmers’ market, you created a plan for farmers’ market operations. Once the farmers’ market is up and running, you will want to track market activity to assess how effectively you are implementing your plan. This information also provides you with the data to make future planning decisions about how to grow or improve the farmers’ market so it can more effectively accomplish your goals.

The data that you track for each day of your farmers’ market season should include the following:

Did the farmers’ market operate that day? Farmers’ markets may have days that they do not operate for a number of reasons: the market day falls on a holiday, the farmers’ market site is unavailable due to another event, there is a competing event in the community that distracts customers or vendors from the farmers’ market, or inclement weather made it unsafe to operate the market. Keep records of days during the planned farmers’ market season on which the farmers’ market did not operate and whether or not this closure was pre-planned.

Which farmers and vendors sold in the farmers’ market that day? It is important to track which farmers and vendors attended the farmers’ market. Beginning January 1, 2015, farmers’ market operators will be required to pay a fee of $2 per vendor per day for each day to CDFA so this information will be needed when calculating that fee. Tracking farmers and vendors is also important for your own ability to manage the farmers’ market. If a farmer or vendor misses a market, record that fact as well as why the farmer or vendor did not attend and whether or not they provided you with sufficient advance notice. Customers will notice if certain farmers or vendors are regularly absent, especially if they are selling products that no other farmer or vendor offers. If you see that a farmer or vendor is not consistently attending the farmers’ market, you may wish to implement a process, one that is identified in the written rules and regulations for your farmers’ market, to remove them from the market. To meet customer demand, you may want to look for another farmer or vendor to add to the market who will sell a similar product but promise to attend more regularly.

Which certified producers’ certificates did farmers sell from that day? You will be responsible for reporting to the California Department of Food and Agriculture quarterly on which farmers attended your market, how often they attended, and which certified producers’ certificates they used as proof of production for the products they offered for sale. Beginning January 1, 2015, this reporting will no longer be directly tied to the fees that must be paid to CDFA, but the reporting is still required. According to AB 1871, CDFA must develop an online capacity for this reporting. While most farmers’ have only one certified producers’ certificate (CPC), some will sell products for another farmer through the “second certificate” program and some will have plots of land in more than one county which means they will have a separate CPC from each county. Tracking this information accurately each week is important so you can complete the quarterly reports to CDFA.

Were there any booths at the market for groups that were not selling anything? Farmers’ markets often provide space for local nonprofit organizations or businesses to promote themselves to farmers’ market customers and provide space for complementary services such as consultations with local Master Gardeners or Master Composters. It is good practice to record which booths were present in the farmers’ market each day. These booths, however, are not subject to the $2 per vendor fee that is paid to CDFA quarterly. The legislation states that the fee is due for “each vendor whose products were presented for sale.” A group that is present in the farmers’ market but which has no items for sale is exempt from the fee.

 How well did farmers and vendors do that day? If you have chosen to collect stall fees based on a percentage of your farmers’ and vendors’ sales, then you have a built-in mechanism for assessing the level of sales in your farmers’ market. If you charge stall fees on a flat rate basis, you may want to develop another method of assessing sales levels. You could still ask or require farmers and vendors to give specific sales data, ask them to give a dollar range (less than $250, $250 to $500, etc.) for their sales, or make a qualitative judgment (below average, average for this farmers’ market, well above average, etc.). This information may help you to identify patterns of spending, such as the first week of each month or weeks when you have market entertainment tend to show the strongest sales.

This information can also help you to decide when sales are strong enough that you can add an additional farmer or vendor to the farmers’ market.

This information can also help you to decide when sales are strong enough that you can add an additional farmer or vendor to the farmers’ market without negatively impacting sales for your current roster of farmers and vendors.

What stall fee payments were charged and/or collected and from whom? If you have chosen to charge fees to farmers and other vendors to participate in your farmers’ market, then you should record each week who attended the market and how much they paid. Some farmers’ markets use a weekly log to record this information. A sample log is included in Appendix E and a sample log in Microsoft Excel format is available online at foodwithinreach.org/tools.

Was the farmers’ market inspected by any of its permitting agencies? You should expect that your farmers’ market will be inspected at least once during each season by your county’s department of agriculture and department of environmental health. Note the weeks that they were present in the farmers’ market and maintain copies of all inspection reports that they provide. These reports may contain notices of violations that a particular farmer or vendor or that you as the farmers’ market operator must comply with. If you have several inspections during the season and certain issues reoccur, you may want to take action to educate a farmer or vendor about how to bring their operations into compliance with the regulations or to remove that farmer or vendor from the farmers’ market so their actions do not threaten the farmers’ market as a whole.

How much public benefit activity, such as CalFresh purchases or WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program spending, was there at the market? If your farmers’ market has been approved to accept public benefit programs such as CalFresh or WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program vouchers, maintaining a record of that program activity is very important. When you accept CalFresh, you are initiating an electronic payment from USDA to your organization. Tracking CalFresh transactions is important to ensure you are paid all that you are due.

How many customers shopped at the farmers’ market?

Tracking the number of customers who attend your farmers’ market each week is one of the most effective ways you have of monitoring the health of your market.

 Tracking the number of customers who attend your farmers’ market each week is one of the most effective ways you have of monitoring the health of your market. You do not need to have an exact count; an estimate will do as long as you use the same method of estimating each week. One method of estimating crowd counts is to count the total number of persons in the market at one time and then multiply that number by a figure which converts that count to a daily estimate. For example, if you count 50 shoppers and your experience is that the average shopper spends 15 minutes in the farmers’ market you would multiply the 50 shoppers by four to estimate the market is serving 200 persons per hour. You could them repeat that process each hour of the market or multiply by the number of hours the market is open to generate a daily estimate. If you use this method your estimates will be more accurate if you do several counts during the day instead of just one. Every farmers’ market tends to have busier times and slower times so doing the count just once will likely create an inflated or deflated estimate.

What special events were going on at the market and what impact did they have?

The ability of farmers’ markets to bring together crowds of people in a family-friendly environment makes them an ideal site for complementary activities.

The ability of farmers’ markets to bring together crowds of people in a family-friendly environment makes them an ideal site for complementary activities like health fairs, kids’ days, and musical performances. If there is a special event at your farmers’ market, either one that you have been directly involved in organizing or one that is separate from the market but held in close proximity to the market, make a note of that activity. When you look back at other market data, such as crowd counts and producer sales, you will be able to assess if these events helped the market or distracted customers from attending the market. If the event helped to make the market more successful, you may want to consider a closer partnership with the event organizer or a repeat of the event. If the event reduced farmers’ market attendance or sales, you may want to consider ways to mitigate that negative impact in the future.

Were there any outside forces that impacted the farmers’ market that day, either positively or negatively? There are many factors outside of our control that impact the success of farmers’ markets. Weather is one of the biggest: cold, rainy, or windy weather can keep shoppers at home while abundant sunshine can encourage them to come out to the market. Farmers and vendors may also have issues which impact the market as a whole, such as missing a day due to a truck breakdown or bringing a first-of-the-season item that can get customers excited. Making notes of these can help you later to recall those factors that shaped your market’s success from week to week.

You will find that at the end of the year the information that you have collected about each week of your farmers’ market activity tells a story about the market, its development, and its relationship to the community. This information can be vital as you report on your farmers’ market to leaders in your organization, farmers’ market funders, local leaders, and the general community.

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