Behind the Scenes of Summer Market Season Start

— by Roberta

I get often asked what a market manager does. One time someone queried: “The vendors just show up, right?” Well, no. If you ever organized and/or co-ordinated an event (even a birthday party), you can sort of figure out what’s involved: a lot of communicating via e-mail or phone, a lot of time spent in front of the computer figuring out schedules/arrangements, figuring out the entertainment, etc. But for us it’s also new accounting spreadsheets, new vendor lists, new set-ups, new permits, new budgets, new challenges, and so on. Then there’s promo, volunteer recruiting and organizing and the list goes on. It’s like throwing a party every market day, and I feel like the hostess stuck in the much too small kitchen, missing out on all the fun.

To find out what some of my market cohorts are doing in preparation for the new summer market season and to give you, dear reader and farmers’ market fan, a general idea of the behind the scenes happenings, I turned to three market mavens who have been key in getting their community markets started.

Cookie Roscoe HandfordGreen Barn Farmers’ Market

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1. You run an all year market, but is spring different for you as a farmers’ market manager? What’s usually on your spring to do list and do you have anything left to do?

Spring is when every one with a new idea is vying for a spot in the outdoor market, all the old vendors are planning to return to the exact same spot they had last year even though there has to be room in there somewhere for the tender fruit people, and parks and rec wants us to send them a map showing who every vendor is and exactly where they will be. I’ve applied for my outdoor permits and gotten my insurance coverage, but I still am trying to figure out who will go where and when, much of which can only be figured out a week or even a couple of days in advance.

2. How does market prep feel now compared to when you took on the job? Do you feel like a pro? There must be a huge difference from the time the market was on a church lawn to being in the fancy Wychwood Barns?

I do feel now that at least I know better how chaotic it’s going to be, so in that way I am better prepared. I also know that I’ll be able to handle the chaos, because I did before. On the church lawn there were 14 of us maximum, and now we can be closer to 60 spread around the Green Barn some days. Back when we were only 14 I would come very early and try to do everything for everyone. Now, there’s so many of us I’ve had to accept my limitations. I arrive 2 hours before market opens to let the 1st vendors onto the property and spend my time walking around with chalk marking who goes where until the market’s open. I don’t haul tables or tents for anyone, and I lock the park gates 2 hours after the market is supposed to close at noon. If you don’t have your stuff loaded out by then, you’ll have to carry it out by hand. I don’t know about feeling like a pro, but I do feel more certain of myself.

3. Is managing the market a full-time job or do you have other work? If so, what else do you do for a living?

Like the foods for sale, the market has lots of seasonal changes. Some times of year it’s a full time job, other times it can be almost turnkey. I’ve had a long career as a voice over artist, though that is an industry that has changed a lot, too. I’ve been able to go to auditions and get the occasional bit of work here and there and still devote any time necessary to working with the market. Farmers mostly need to be communicated with early in the day, like before 7am in summer, and auditions are usually after 10am, so I manage.

4. What are you generally looking forward to for market start? What are you particularly looking forward to this season?

I like the party atmosphere of the outdoor market and the summer weather. I hate getting cold, so though I love how cozy the indoor market feels and how great it smells, I am glad when it’s time to move outside because it means the cold weather is behind us. I really love the tumble of time as we get into cherry season, asparagus season, strawberries, greens of every kind, I really never get tired of walking around the market eating a bag of arugula or green beans raw. But, in the winter I will sit and eat meaty cheesey things, and heavy baked goods that are just sooooo perfect for the season…. I’m conflicted by this question because I don’t have a favorite, I feel that the two markets are distinct and separate, and I love them both for different reasons.

5. Would you recommend market managing as a career?

I’ve never been more broke in my life than since I started to manage the market. There isn’t much money in it, and what you do make you will likely spend on food. But what food! I have never enjoyed food so much in my life. And with the food I’m enjoying deeper and more real friendships and spending more time with my family doing great things like cooking and eating and enjoying them more. I eat like a king, and each bite makes me feel grateful to the people who I get to work for. I’ve never been more satisfied with the work I do.

Anne FreemanDufferin Grove Organic Farmers’ Market

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1. You run an all year market, but is spring different for you as a farmers’ market manager? What’s usually on your spring to do list and do you have anything left to do?
 
Spring builds gradually at a year-round market, but is always an exciting time of year. We review all our requests to join the market late in the winter, so there’s lots of communication with vendors both new and old to figure out what new products we’ll have, how we’ll need to adjust our outdoor setup, and the best timing for adding new and returning vendors.

2. How does market prep feel now compared to when you took on the job (when did you take over?)? Do you feel like a pro?
 
Dufferin Grove was a market built from scratch. (We celebrated our tenth anniversary last November, by the way!) At the beginning none of us really knew much at all about running a farmers’ market, but luckily we had farmers willing to teach us. I still rely on their wisdom all the time. I was involved as a community member from the beginning, and became the market co-ordinator just over a year after the market opened. Of course, most things about the week-to-week operations of the market have settled into a very familiar routine, but there are always surprises and new things to think about.

A huge change is that ten years ago everybody wasn’t using computers for communication. Farmers and market organizers weren’t using the internet to find each other, and there wasn’t much of a local food network. Now the connections are very rich.

3. Is managing the market a full-time job or do you have other work? If so, what else do you do for a living?

Although I’m ‘on-call’ for Dufferin throughout the week, co-ordinating the market doesn’t take all my time. I have three jobs, and try to save some time for other pursuits as well. For many years I have been a (very) part-time instructor of Adult English as a Second Language for the TDSB, a job I still enjoy, and for several years I have also been the co-ordinator of the Toronto and Greenbelt Farmers’ Market Networks, a role which came out of all the connections built around the Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers’ Market as the local food picture expanded. Through our project, we work to assist and promote markets throughout the region, with about 90 markets on our network list.

4. What are you generally looking forward to for market start? What are you particularly looking forward to this season?

Spring is my favourite time of year, and each new green thing that arrives from the farms is a thrill! As well as the return of seasonal crops and outdoor-season vendors, I’m really excited about some new things we’ll have at the market this year, including a vegan grill, more gluten-free choices, more pastured meats, new-but-old heirloom vegetables such as shelling beans, and all the additions our longtime vendors keep developing to make their selections better and better.

5. Would you recommend market managing as a career?
 
Not a day goes by when I don’t feel lucky to be the co-ordinator of the market at Dufferin, because I love the people and the food so much! Sometimes there are headaches, but it’s a wonderful job. However, managing a community-based farmers’ market is a labour of love, not usually a career-track. The market is for the benefit of the food producers and the community, not a for-profit enterprise for the organizers. I never could have anticipated the other projects that have come out of the market and kept me busy in the last few years; again, I have been fortunate that additional employment has grown out of my involvement. Managers of markets our size generally don’t come on board expecting a career.

Carolyn WongTrinity Bellwoods Farmers’ Market

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1. What’s spring like for a farmers’ market manager? What’s usually on your to do list and what’s left to do?

Spring starts me thinking about the climate and hope that it will be super favorable to our farmers. I really do worry about this and wonder what kind of produce we may lose due to climate change.

To do list: finalizing vendor line up, collecting deposits, fielding emails, paying for city permits, calling out for volunteers and one last info email to vendors about first day. Needless to say, spring is a busy time for me. Once the season starts, generally things calm down and it’s only week to week management… sometimes 😉

2. How does market prep feel now compared to when you started (in 2007, right?)? Do you feel like a pro?

Oh gosh, big difference. Learning curve, anyone? Though I have a background in film, so if that doesn’t prep you, I don’t know what does. In the beginning I had a partner, Scott, who dealt with vendors, I with permit/City. I’ve a background in grants, so the bureaucracy was not unfamiliar to me. Then 2 years later, Scott moved on and I dealt with everything. At first, I was nervous working with the vendors and felt sooooo naive. But, I was straight up about things, always listened and now it’s comfortable managing. So, yes, I feel like a bit of a pro after 6 years – note I say years, not seasons 😉

3. As a manager of a seasonal market, how do you spend your winter? Do you have another job?

I’d love to spend at the very least, 2-3 months without anything to do with markets. Keeps me fresh, but this never happens. Winter is the slow time and when market/food related conferences, info sharing etc. happen because people involved in this industry are available. There are few events I attend. Other than that, I’ve got several diverse jobs that keep me busy all year round, with or without the market.

4. What are you generally looking forward to for market start? What are you particularly looking forward to this season?

Generally, the smiling faces of returning and new vendors, the return of the community coming to shop, say hello and being out in the urban outdoors on Tuesday – let’s hope it’s nice out! In particular for this season, we’ve got a few new vendors that I am confident will compliment the existing. I’m excited to see how it all works.

5. Would you recommend market managing as a career?

It’s not a career. It’s something you really want to do and enjoy doing for the community. I suppose it could be a career, if you are managing more than one market – you’re not going to make a bucket load of potatoes with one. The managers I am acquainted with are invested in the community and/or really care about local farmers, sustainable practices and bringing fresh and local to the people. In my situation, it wasn’t a career choice, it was because of my involvement with the Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park, as a community volunteer. The community really wanted it and I just happened to be around to spearhead it. The ‘job’ has now kind of grown on me, and I’ve had the good fortune of being able to learn on the ‘job’. I would not have imagined that this is what I’d be doing 10 years ago.

There you have it folks, out of the mouths of market babes: organizing, co-ordinating or managing a farmers’ market is a labour of love, so we try to find ways to have our cake and eat it, too. My supplementary income that allows me to keep and to eat that proverbial cake comes from working in retail and by doing occasional jobs elsewhere. So let this be an invitation to you to pitch in at your local farmers’ market: we always need a helping hand on market day and with other tasks. Give us just one market volunteer day per season, and you can participate in the making of the cake and share it, too.

(I look forward to the first local asparagus, fresh greens, first cherries and apricots, and to generally eat my way through the season and vendors’ products, and to capture the market produce and people with in photographs.)

For a full list of Toronto farmers’ markets visit the Toronto Farmers’ Market Network; for markets across the GTA visit Greenbeltfresh.ca.

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