Customers are flocking to Manitoba’s growing number of farmers’ markets. The problem is finding enough vendors.
With 65 markets about to open this summer, including 13 in Winnipeg, new market coordinators may be beating the bushes for those with something to sell at them.
“This is where our largest struggle is, keeping up with demand for vendors,” said Dianna Mae Hocaluk, executive director of the Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba (FMAM).
FMAM has a “vendors wanted” notice posted on their website and refers those who respond to it on to markets looking for vendors. But that’s about all it has capacity to do right now, Hocaluk said. FMAM has no specific initiative for recruiting vendors.
“We lack the manpower,” she said.
Kim Shukla, owner of Steinbach-based Stonelane Orchard and a longtime vendor at St. Norbert Farmers’ Market, said she sees several contributing factors to the vendor shortage. There are certainly those interested in becoming a vendor, but there is a large turnover among them.
“I think some people enter farmers’ marketing with rosecoloured glasses,” she said. “The assumption is it’s going to be some easy money. It’s a rather rude awakening for some folks when they realize the amount of work it takes to actually get set up for a market.”
Setup costs can be prohibitive too. Purchases of tents and tables can cost you upwards of $1,000 “and this is assuming you have the right kind of vehicle,” she said.
Vendor shortages are particularly acute among new markets and that’s because vendors want to be where customers already exist. There are waiting lists at St. Norbert Farmers’ Market, even as other places are desperate for more vendors.
Shukla said she thinks the underlying problem is lack of information on how to become a farmers’ market vendor.
“Right now it’s a bit of a free-for- all,” she said, as vendors come and go, not knowing how to set prices or present product in an attractive way.
“They’re the ones who come in and do (price) undercutting,” she said. “They last one or two weeks and then they’re gone,” she said.
More education offering a realistic assessment of a vendor’s job, and training on basic issues such as pricing and product presentation is needed, she said, adding that Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives could be playing a role in this.
“I think MAFRI and the markets themselves should be educating the vendors,” she said.
“It’s a great movement that’s happening,” she continued referring to the expanding farmers’ market scene in the province. “But this vendor piece is a real struggle.”