Farmers market season is fast approaching. Across Nebraska, farmers markets have become integral to the economies and social fabric of dozens of rural communities. To help create more successful markets, Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska has published the Nebraska Rural Farmers Market Handbook.
The handbook grew out of conversations about common farmers market issues, said Ben Jewell, a Rural Prosperity Nebraska extension educator and co-leader for the Nebraska Regional Food Systems Initiative.
“We conducted close to 50 interviews with market managers across the state and used those insights to enhance the content in the handbook and provide a comprehensive resource that answers questions and offers creative ideas for addressing common challenges,” he said.
Compiled in collaboration with the Center for Rural Affairs, Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, the handbook breaks down both broad strokes and fine details for market managers — most of whom, in Nebraska, are volunteers — outlining vendor recruitment, marketing ideas, layout examples, insurance and liability concerns, fundraising guides and sample handouts.
“I hope that whoever picks up this handbook will take home some useful tips that they can implement and be inspired by all the community-led efforts that are highlighted,” said Margaret Milligan, program coordinator for Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska.
To illustrate these best practices, the handbook uses concrete examples from Nebraska markets. For example, the Hastings market works with the Hasting Arts Council to recruit local musicians to play during market nights. Lincoln’s Fallbrook market determines vendor fees based on what they’re selling, while the Wahoo market determines fees based on type of contract. And the Sutton market holds a breakfast and lunch fundraiser.
“In Nebraska there has been a 154% increase in the number of markets between 2000 and 2020,” bringing the total to 93, Jewell said.
“Markets have also become more sophisticated,” he said. “Many markets now have credit/debit card readers onsite, as well as a growing number that can accept SNAP/EBT benefits.”
With such a rapid rise in numbers and technology, one of the handbook’s goals is to create consistency in how Nebraska markets operate, making it easier for farmers and vendors to sell at multiple markets.
“Every vendor at a market is a small business,” Milligan said. “This impacts communities by providing income to the owners, increasing employment and keeping dollars within the local region.”
This dynamic helps recirculate money within communities. For every $1 million in revenue made by farms selling locally, they create almost 32 local jobs, compared to 10.5 jobs created by wholesale suppliers, Jewell said.
In addition to the economic gains, the handbook begins with “A Rise, a Fall, a Renaissance,” a section covering the evolution of farmers markets from vegetable stand to social hub. Today they include arts and craft vendors, food trucks, live music and toys.
“Farmers markets are an important part of the social and cultural fabric of a community,” Jewell said.
Milligan said: “Farmers markets are community spaces that offer an intergenerational way to socialize and create cohesive, strong relationships. At a farmers market, you strike up conversations, listen to music, teach your kids about vegetables, be outside and say hello to more people.”
A free digital copy of the Nebraska Rural Farmers Market Handbook is available here.