Editor’s Note: We have more great ideas for summer activities on our Plan for Summer landing page.
Over the last ten years, the U. S. Department of Agriculture has seen the number of farmers markets more than double across the country, and it is continuing to rise.
When churches get involved in farmers markets, they minister to farmers as well as shoppers by opening their parking lots and sports fields to this wonderful ministry.
Farmers markets not only provide locally sourced food to families that are increasingly sensitive to where and how their food is being produced, but they also provide a benefit to farmers who get retail, instead of wholesale, prices for their crops.
Cullan Duke, a member of Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, was part of a team that decided to serve their community in this way. He said, "Our vision was to help people in the community meet and interact with folks working the soil and give those who were not already members a place to meet us and discover the things we had going on."
How do you do it? Where do you start?
1. Investigate the rules
Each state has a Department of Agriculture that will have some rules for farmers markets and may have a process for certifying them. Download the rules or contact your local office to see where you need to start as far as the government is concerned.
2. Find the best time and day
Remember that you are trying to attract the community so that the farmers can sell their products. That means you need to notice which days and times have the heaviest traffic in front of your church. Then, you can use the USDA's farmers market search tool to see when and where other markets are already happening. Comparing those two lists should help you make the final call on when your market will occur and when to launch it.
3. Set your fees
A couple of phone calls to organizers of other markets will help you gauge the standard rate in your area. After discovering the average vendor fee, discuss whether the primary purpose of the market will be to raise funds for the church or serve the farmers. With that value set, setting your fees will be simple.
4. Dream about the additional ministry opportunities
Will you have a coloring table for kids to have fun while their parents shop? Will you offer free lemonade? Will you have a table for a perpetual group bake sale? Take a moment to come up with the pieces that will make your market a ministry.
5. Decide your marketing strategy
How will you promote the market? Does your street have enough traffic for road signs to be effective? How many church members can you reasonably expect to attend? Thinking through marketing will be key in getting vendors to sign up. Don't worry; you don't have to spend big to get big. In fact, depending on the type of advertising, we have tips and tools to help you with all media types.
6. Recruit vendors
Armed with all this information (and a flier), visit your local markets and chat with the vendors about the unique things you plan to offer as well as your plan for getting people to stop by and purchase their produce. Once you have five to eight vendors, you are well on your way to launching this fun, out-of-the-box outreach!
After all the work, Duke's team was pleased with the results. "All in all," he said, "I'd say it was a success. It proved to be very popular, and every week, there was always a crowd. In the years following, many other churches across town have worked on starting markets as well."
With vision and work, you can introduce your community to your church's open hearts, minds and doors.
The Rev. Jeremy Steele is Next Generation Minister at Christ United Methodist Church, Mobile, Alabama. He is an author, blogger at jeremywords.com and a frequent contributor to MyCom, an e-newsletter published by United Methodist Communications.