A Local Farmers’ Market as a Business Incubator

Business Incubator (Wikipedia): “Programs designed to support the successful development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business-support resources and services.”

“Business Incubation” programs are popping-up all over the country as local Chambers of Commerce, Business Associations, municipal governments and residents are all coming to realize that there’s more to making a place “business friendly” than simply designating an area as “Commercial” and plopping down another strip-mall. New businesses sometimes need a “leg up” to get started; these programs offer a variety of options and resources to those just getting started. 

[Photo: Flicker]

[Photo: Flicker]

A typical hurdle new small-business owners face is the belief that they have to acquire a store-front, a “brick-and-mortar” location at which to set up shop (not everything can be done over the Internet). Unfortunately, these same start-ups must focus their scarce resources towards initial purchase of equipment, supplies, training, etc., and are often not financially-prepared to plunk down the cash for purchase (or rent) of a space, which even then must be furnished, be made ADA-compliant, pass local inspection(s), pay for utility deposits, obtain business licenses, insurance, etc.

Sometimes (especially in towns with a surplus of vacant retail space) the local merchants and government will negotiate with property owners to make business space available at VERY reasonable rates for short terms (up to 6 months). [We’ll look at this as an option for RLB in a future post, but the RLA Chamber of Commerce can start looking now!]

Another model which can minimize overhead costs is the traditional Farmers’ Market.


USDA: “Farmers markets are a unique business structure: lower overhead costs and direct and valued contact with their customer base make for innovative and responsive farmers that can experiment with offering new items more easily.  If a producer is able to find the right product mix for consumer demand, they can develop a sound business, create new jobs, and grow successfully.”

The “nay-sayer” will point out that the market segment (Food!) represented by Farmers Markets is too narrow to support other types of products and services. True up to a point, but that’s largely up to the organizers of each Farmers’ Market and what they stipulate the overall and/or specific make-up of vendors and their products should be. If they require that at least 90% of every vendor’s offerings be edible, then yes, we’re looking a a very-traditional format…

On the other hand, OURS could have the flexibility of having a set percentage of spaces for new business start-ups specifically for helping to give them a start and exposure. This  format would be more of a historical “Open Market” where food vendors are mixed in-and-amongst purveyors of clothing, crafts, services, and whatever else.
This could quite literally be a “Pop-Up Downtown”!


“People interested in opening a small business usually consider opening a store front as their only option. A storefront can be very expensive to a new business owner and might be more square-footage than necessary. By contrast, renting a booth space at farmers’ market can be much more affordable – anywhere from $15 for a half day market up to $75 (or more) for an eight-hour market. One space is usually 10-foot x 10-foot and the vendor should invest in a tent, some tables, display fixtures, and the proper licenses and insurance.

A farmers’ market (on a small scale) can be a real-world training ground for a fledgling business owner to develop and hone sales and promotion skills. The farmers’ market operates as a business incubator, with vendors setting up each week to sell their products and learn from the customer interaction and feedback.”

The greater the settings and locations the community at-large can provide, the more diverse the resulting business climate can be. Right now we’re limited in what we can offer customers because we’re limited in what we can offer businesses!

If all we offer is strip-malls and shopping centers, we naturally attract those types of businesses, but tend to drive away other types… including the essential “entrepreneurs” whose businesses thrive in the company of others like them, several small shops with a wide variety of goods and services, in close proximity, in a pedestrian-friendly environment. (Sounds like a downtown!) Places which lure customers in with an enticing aroma or sounds of music out the front door, sights through the front-windows of diners enjoying a meal (or maybe at an al fresco sidewalk cafe), unique shops which aren’t suited to franchises, or which really do benefit from being a little “hole in the wall” shop.

Without a traditional downtown, their entire client-base is under-served. A “marketplace” comes in as a close second, and we should seriously explore that option.


A significant advantage of experimenting with a pop-up market (of whichever model) is that the economic risk to the Village and the other merchants is very low. If the market proves popular, and the public perceives it as a worthwhile “place” to go, then the value and reputation of the area increases. If the market does not prove popular for whatever reason, costs to dis-establish it are minor, and lessons can be learned for future planning.

Resources and additional reading:

Link: Farmers Markets as Small Business Incubators (USDA)
Link: The Farmers’ Market – a Small Business Incubator
Link: Farmers’ markets fertile ground for new businesses

This entry was posted in Economics, Farmers' Markets, Local Food Production. Bookmark the permalink.

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