In honor of the opening of the Farmer’s Market here in Montana this weekend I thought I’d replay this awesome interview I did last May with Julia Howard from the Saratoga Farmer’s Market in NY.
The Saratoga Farmer’s Market
Julia Howard is here to talk a bit about the Farmer’s Market process. She’s the Market Manager of the Saratoga Farmer’s Market.
Now do you have your own farm?
I have a very humble plot, we live just outside of Saratoga but we are in a rental home…
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up 100% my mom gardened and grew everything that we ate. I think I’m a little bit spoiled working at the farmer’s market, because I pretty much get showered with produce. Every time a vender has something they haven’t sold or says here’s have a cabbage.
If I weren’t at the market, I’d certainly be an avid gardener. We have grapes and pears and run an herb garden and a big crop of tomatoes!
That’s pretty big in a rental property!
It is I’m pretty proud, it’s very sandy here… soil mending… pretty much how I eat.
But growing up it was all about the garden. My mom was always cooking. We lived in the Adirondacks.. she was canning, pickling
kept me in touch with that… went off to college. I was always really appreciative of all the hard work she did and to know where our food came from. Later in life I was working a very monotonous typical 9-5 and I just felt broke so I left that job to work on a berry farm.
outside of the Albany NY area
Farmer’s market history
farmer was involved in the farmer’s market
I loved it that experience. I don’t know if it was from coming from a desk job to kneeling in the dirt. Strawberries are no easy job, it’s not an easy crop to grow or harvest. It’s a lot of time on your knees and bending over. I still love that farm and connected to that farm. My baby girl eats those berries in the summer and she eats them all year and we freeze them.
That’s wonderful because strawberries can have a lot of chemicals!
My official introduction of Julia comes here!
I’ve been thinking about having some kind of market challenge like maybe pick one product to take to the market. I’ve had a lot of guests approach the market manager and find out what the market needs, David Wolvertine said we need tomatoes and you have to do something about the price of tomatoes.
That’s a big thing in Farmer’s Markets and you want to make sure there’s
- no oversaturation
not everyone is a natural sales person
it’s hard to stand behind a table that maybe 6 or 7 other people have. What makes it different? How to make it appealing to the customer base.
Another thing David told me that surprised me is a Farmer’s Market is not a market with only one vendor and he talked about the challenge of sitting on the board of his market, having enough vendors so people want to come. NAomi has done a good job here, getting some music, it was a struggle in the beginning. Another guest Joyce Pinson talked about sampling and how she could sell zuccinis for a good price all summer long while the person next to her couldn’t give them away.
a lot to that
Tell me about your first gardening experience? How did you learn how to garden organically?
It was growing up literally in dirt, weeding, understanding the growth cycles in plants
that entire experience
being in it as a child
there have been long periods where I didn’t grow a thing. I had some house plants in a window. Didn’t have access. Didn’t have the motivation, it’s an education that never left me. It’s always been with me. Mom did right..
Let’s go right to the Farmer’s Market!
Let me give a little bit of a background, every farmers market is different. Every town is different, so every need is different for local agriculture.
Our farmer’s market was founded in 1978. We’ve been running a really long time. It started out just a couple of farmers in a parking lot. Very humble beginnings. Currently we host a year round markets. In the winter time we host 40 vendors Nov-April housed indoors. Then we move to an outdoor location every park from may to oct we have about 60 vendors.
Our market has a history of growth. The pun is intended. Every year it changes. We really rely on our customers and community and we are a cooperative. We all work together to make the best it can be! It’s not an easy beat. Every year we deal with the challenges that come up an every year we grow.
In recent years, there are recent statistics on a decline in farmer’s markets, most markets are down 20-70%! So this is a national study. Some farmers, specifically at the Saratoga market, said we see there’s a transition who’s coming. We have a lot of women in the age group from 50-65.
If there’s a season we have a horse racing season in August where a lot of locals leave, most people leave. When most markets are picking up ours dips in sales. So there’s a difference in who’s buying what and when.
Saratoga is a healthy city. We are really able to pick up. We are a part of people’s lifestyle. Our market is local. By that I mean Saratoga county and 3 counties around Saratoga county. If someone is bringing a product that is outside the area, they might not be considered before someone who lives in Saratoga.
We also have a standard that every product made producer only has to be produced by the seller.
avon has asked if they can see products
make us stand aside from other markets
We have a very strict percentage of agriculture, predominantly and ag market we have to ave a ratio 70% ag and 30% everything else
Everything else is
- prepared foods
if they have goats on their properties making the cheese agriculture
So we have a pretty set standard
My first question is where are you getting fresh food in Saratoga NY in the middle of winter?
oh my goodness this is awesome
we have so many farms growing under high tunnels so we have fresh produce comeing out of the ground all year
high canvas tunnel similar to a greenhouse
hydroponic farm fresh tomatoes
3 main farms that are vending at our winter market have high tunnels and the hydroponic grower.
growing outside of a climate zone where do
Do you want to talk about where you are. your climate.
We are in the North East. We are considered upstate. Albany is the capital towards the east but central. We are about an hour further north.
You have 4 full seasons. I woke up and my car was covered in snow. Do you have snow right now?
Yeah, today is kind of a fluke! we’re gonna have a 60º in February!. There’s a couple of feet on the ground. It’s been about30ºs during the day. We’re gonna have a couple of really warm days.
not a bad thing
fresh greens at the market
because it’s still been overcast everything has been really slow
got it really…
This is great people are gonna be really excited about. If people are growing in Saratoga. We applied for a high tunnel grant a couple of years ago, but didn’t get it.
Do you want to talk about how you get to be a vendor?
Let’s talk about that! At our market specifically. We accept applications 2xs a year by season. You either apply for summer easiness or winter season. We try to make it as simple as possible. The application is online. They pay a processing fee of $25. It’s approved by a board.
Our Market is run by 12 farmers and business owners. We’re proud to still be our own entity, not the government or community but the business owners are running the market.
a little bit goes into that
It depends on what someone is applying to sell. Let’s say we need honey. So a dairy or honey vendor apply. They pay one flat rate for their stall. It’s for the whole season
market get’s crazy paying for week to week
space and layout is
trying to do best of our customers
messing where someone’s farm is placed
How big is it and where are you if you are not in a parking lot.
Right now our winter location
Saratoga Springs is really known for water and natural springs
We are in a state park in Saratoga in an historic bath house. We are now the park head quarters. We are in a long grecian building. It’s the 3rd year at this location for the winter. IT’s a great venue and it’s perfect for the winter. We pay a good chunk to the state of NY to be there. But there’s plenty of parking
We do have a permanent home for our summer market. We are in a park in downtown Saratoga, close to main drag eateries not
right int he middle of things
connected to the city
someone walking around
farmer’s market open today
beautiful park in the summer time
head ache for me
access to electricity
ability to expand
when a vendor comes on board, they get an acceptance letter
approve their products to
Once you’re in your’e in….
signage extremely important
putting down that cell phone
smile on your face
engage with the customer
teach them something new
teach them what makes your farm different!
actually great educational experience
even if you don’t buy anything
what is a kholorabi? how does that grow?
not just a consumer as much as a consumer experience.
The Farmer’s Market in Missoula, I’d go every year if I could , I don’t buy a lot of produce because it is a 4 hour drive… I love your point about it’s education. When I interviewed Jean Martin Fortier he said it was one of his favorite parts. Also my friend Dacia talked about signage. Do you want to expand on those things.
Part of my job – the entire farmers market operations is my job.
When it comes to a farmer who sets up a little table, I actually did that with a meat vendor and meat is hard to display but some vendors are not always gorgeous produce. Sometimes someone’s hauling around a bunch of bags of ground beef.
He’s a great farmer! And he has a beautiful farm! But he would show up with just c cooler
I walked by him a few times, and we have some policies in place, you don’t have a gorgeous sign
- list of some sort of this is what I’ve got.
I love that, I hate when there’s no prices for stuff.
It’s true. It’s not just for customers! It’s also for vendors because we price check each other if five people are offering tomatoes and someone will walk down and look at the prices and then go back and mark them a little bit lower so we’re a competitive environments. We encourage that, I mean we want people to sell things in the best manner possible and to make money.
Local Food System
We’re all about the local food system!
That’s what makes it unique
keeps it in operation
- keeps diversity
- environment healthy
- trickle down of cause and effect
one particular farmer, I said, I’m just gonna be straight “Arepeople looking at you like they don’t have no idea what’s happening here?”
I said, let’s get a board with some of your cows
Let’s get something that says, this is who I am, this is what I’ve got, a price list for sure. Things are getting better, he still has some ways to go but things are picking up.
Vendors business owners have to be conscientious of that.
If you’re in a store working on your display
we get one shot every week
During the day or at night?
3-6 on Wed.
This market has been struggling, working for the market for 5 years
I had humble beginnings as an assistant and now I’m running the show.
What events? What’s the children’s program?
We have an amazing children’s program
when I came on board as administrators. I came on with a commitment of offering the children’s program and at least a weekly activity
the only way I could offer
ask everyone for help
library comes and do a small activity. There’s just a small table and they just get slammed with children. Last Saturday market, I had 42 children do their craft
- look for non-profit org
- kids charities
- cross promotion
if I don’t have anyone helping
best/ most popular is
draw your favorite fruit or vegetable, show the honey man and get a free honeystick
It’s a little break for parents and families, where it makes it an outing and an event
Get to soak up the atmosphere, as compared to the grocery store where you get what you need and run out.
Let’s stop and learn about your food.
Not buy and go and not have any connection to it. During the summer when kids are out of school we really amp it up we have the Power of Produce club so we call it the POP club!
Farmer’s Market Coalition promotes and supports farmers markets. We followed the Pop Club Model and it was a huge success!
Power of Produce Club
The kids show up to the market, engage in a super fun educational activity and once they complete, if they are a money understanding age they get a $2 wooden token to spend on fruit or a vegetables.
enjoy an experience and then they get a $2 token
All of the farmers and veggies are on board.
That’s what I was wondering do the vendors just give away that $2 item or do they get reimbursed.
I write for funding
last year we split
Stewart’s gas stations convenience store
I matched it with the market. The program cost just over $1000 to get handed out which isn’t bad. I tell you something we struggle with. We are just now on our path to being a non-profit. We are currently for-profit as a farmer’s coop.
It limits our ability to pursue things like power of produce. I basically have to beg around for money
I’ve got this great program will you help us. And more often for not they say yes, it’s a challenge for funding for these really. Last year was our first time, I was afraid to advertise it didn’t want it to be too successful. I didn’t want to run out of funding. We had about 35-40 children attending POP club throughout the summer.
it was great
That’s something I struggle with. Because some people want to come and shop without all the pomp and circumstance, maybe they want to hear some music but ultimately just focus on the food. So
seeing what events work
now I know which ones don’t work
march is spring festival that is an event that offers several educational workshops for people to attend.
- bee vendor did a beekeeping presentation
- mushroom man did mushroom cultivating
- cooperative extension
- food sampling recipes
- offeres recipes
- did a presentation on food preservation
Really awesome to know what people want and typically they want the education Want to learn
actually have a role to play
- want to see how things are cooked
- want to learn
that’s where I learn as a market manager know it’s important to offer
Let’s do it, let’s schedule it
community leverage to buy work…
events… and kid’s clubs are very important.
Where does the presentation happen? At their booth or do you have a stage?
night before the market
10×10 pop up tent
set it up that morning. Then it just happens pretty fluently…
For Power Produce Club I knew it was always be in the same place
did a market map for the summer. I said this is gonna be the kids club area, it’s never gonna change
running the kids club
events go with the flow
I can’t move a vendor out of their historic spot. I’d have to look for whatever I have to work into. Something how to put a lot of thought into the night.
I know how that goes I put a lot of energy into my seating charts where the kids are gonna sit. My all time dream is to be a children’s book artist, I read a blog post about bookstore love so maybe reaching out to the market manager would be a good job for the local artists.
there are so many opportunities
I have a hard time putting our internship experience in a box
be what ever experience
- if you want to learn about marketing
- if you want to learn about picture taking
- social media
- take pictures of everything
funnel right into your local farmers
Do you want to focus on the social media piece?
Yes! The other thing I wanted to touch on is nutrition assistance.
We are all about food stamps
state of ny has awesome nutrition assistance program
That has also been a huge asset to our market! We’re all about it. We have a program now that works like this:
If someone shows up to market and doesn’t have cash in their market
redeem their tokens with the market then we write them check
So the SNAP EBT food stamp program winds right into the token.
They can come to the market and use food stamps to buy tokens.
on and on about food stamps at the market
come with their EBT card
Fresh Connect for every $5 they spend they get a $2 coupon for free food!
specific for the State of NY
The STate of NY is so supportive of local farms and ny state farmers
IDK if this is still a thing, but farmer’s don’t have to pay a thruway toll
perks and grants
It’s such a good place for first time farmers
If you want to be a farmer, come to NY
also start these programs in your own state
to keep this sustainable food system cycle
so many people who have lost touch with where their food coms from and how it’s grown?
We’re buying apples that get shipped to China and waxed and then shipped to US
It’s such a complex system when it should be simple
I just totally
left my nutrition assistance
something we were just gonna talk about.
Social media yes!
Our market has transitioned
what they are gonna do, how we’re gonna pay them and right now I have kind of picked up the job of the clerk who handels the tokesn and in the past we had a promotions officer. social media
Now the market board has sort of fused these with my position
I’ve been able to take them on, and been successful so far, hopefully continues
So social media really got left in the dust for a very long time
accounts were created and never maintained
When I came on as the administrator, I wasn’t an advocate to do them myself
2-2/ 1/2 years ago when I came on, I had no instagram never tweeted and had no interest in doing them, we worked with our local college with the business consulting program to give students hands on experience so they can be the best that they can be.
They really shined spotlight on the fact that social media so we went full throttle
instagram especially. People really want to see a face put to the farmer’s market and see luscious pictures of food.
FB is more of a challenge, I really feel like you have to pay to play
on a budget
if you want anyone to really see your posts… you have to pay or very few people will respond…
instagram is easier
twitter I’m, not using to it’s fullest potential
To be present to catch people’s eye and there are free opportunities and why would you not do something to give your business a boost
something more then that
encourage every vendor get an account so I can
- tag you
- takes just a minute
- short consultations
Do a facebook post, I need to tag you on this. This is free promotion for you, then I get more responses, if it’s something that I do as an isolated act it’s more challenging to be successful. But you get your team of 60+ business owners all on social media
- likes go through the roof
- Then it’s a powerful tool, it’s exposing one single post to a 1000 people….
ins and outs
I won’t go on and on
business like a farmer’s market and there are so many players involved
Farm on The Roof
I just keep thinking about Anastasia Cole Plakias from Episode 126 who wrote the book The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us about Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business! It’s more about entrepreneurship, and selling, they were really big about making their farm profitable, they wanted a successful business model.
This guy Chase who did their social media and they would look at him sometimes with his feet up and be like what’s he doing, but they just saw the MASSIVE IMPACT his posting and the number of people who came to events and they could directly link their sales and profit to his links on social media. My numbers are really small, 50 likes are huge for me, then more like 20 on average.
I do notice I get more likes if I upload my own photo then if I share something someone else has done. That makes the big impact. I haven’t done much on Instagram and John Lee Dumas who runs my podcasting group always does tutorials on Instagram and Instagram live I was a big fan of Snapchat for a long time but then they made it hard to save to my camera roll and they lost me there.
Facebook is my big one. One thing I can really recommend is Facebook Groups. Katie Krimitsos is the master of community and the difference between a community and say, a listener and someone who’s in your community or group on Facebook. I definitely feel like I am seeing so many more of those boost this post ads and I don’t buy them but I also feel like look what Facebook has done for free.
Since doing the Market’s my personal fb is frozen in time! It’s almost part of you has to be more of an extrovert that has nothing to do for your own ego. It’s tricky to do it for a business because there’s just we, there’s no I.
We’re doing this. It’s not about you. It’s about this bigger entity. I’ve gotta go live! But thanks for saying that.
It’s scary to go live. For me it’s trying to make a video to begin with. For me on my iPhone, I’ve been trying to make school videos and the files are so BIG! I can barely upload them, I need to shrink the file in Quick time. I was hoping to be down in the garden, these videos are less then a minute, thats what I get frustrated with. Even if I take a video it takes more to upload.
One thing I was surprised, I thought people would want to see me, like when I take a video over my shoulder of my art etc they like that better. I actually did this subtraction video once and one was me using my white board and one was my checkbook and they really liked the one of my checkbook. I always tell my husband it doesn’t have to be you, it can just be the photo of what you’re doing.
For me, I love seeing skiers, I’ve always been scared of heights, to get to virtual tour of a farmer’s market would be great where you could taste the food.
Is there anything you think we missed or forgot?
I am sure there is,
we got good coverage! This was fun! It’s my first podcast! I think we covered a lot about the farmers market…
- becoming a vendor
- local food
- importance of community…
If there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
I think it’s a detachment to, it’s that human disease. It’s not me it’s someone else’s responsibility. Its not necessarily a program or anything. That consciousness that everyone makes a difference
it’s all of us together
we are not
lone ship we are sailing.
makes me misty eyed. Especially with all the government termoil.
all of our
every small act makes a difference.
plant a garden
have one plant in your house
conscientious how often you drive
be aware about signing petitions about coal and pipeline
toxic unneccessary stuff.
be empowered! That’s my thing.
So timely, because I think my husband said they were raiding the NO-DAPL Water Protectors last night.
It’s not gonna break your budget.
Hey if you’re ever in Saratoga Springs pop on by!
I always tell people if your in the area and want to go to Glacier, you know they’re going quick.
How do we connect with you?
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