If you want a great shopping experience, head to your local Farmer’s Market. Until very recently I never had, not that I had any feelings toward them one way or another, I just had no idea. For many years I literally passed the entrance to our local market every Thursday night on my way home from work and it did not once occur to me to drop in. I just figured it was a place to get fresh produce or homemade jam. I use the former but not usually the latter and I simply shopped in the grocery store in their fully stocked vegetable section. In hindsight nothing, absolutely nothing is tastier than veggies fresh out the the garden! Then someone said to me, “you should sell your photos” and I’m like “where” and they said “The Farmer’s Market” and I’m like “what??? Isn’t that where they sell jams and veggies?” and they said, “no, there’s all kinds of stuff there” and I’m like “give me the deets!”.
So I get hold of buddy running the show and embark on this new adventure of selling my wares in the market. Tablecloth – ✅ Photos framed ✅ Signage ✅ Cashbox and float ✅. I’m ready (I think?). Thursday afternoon, I pack up the van and head in, not sure what to expect. Here I go!
I expected that my experience in the market would be all about selling and making a little cash. In reality, it was a whole lesson in how to have an expensive hobby. The few customers that arrived at the market walked by with nary a glance at this newbie as they went to grab their loaf of fresh baked bread (to go with the jam) or bags of fresh carrots right out of the ground (there really is a lot of jam and vegetables – I was not wrong). It was almost like if they made eye contact it would signal a commitment to purchase. A few stopped and asked questions. I did sell one print. It covered the cost of my table, but not the product. There was not a ton of customers (potential or otherwise). Even though we live in a small city (about 12,000) I think a lot of people share my own ignorance of the Farmer’s Market. But I was hooked!
So far, in my short 6 weeks of setting up my table, I have managed each week to make the cost of the table. I am averaging one small print sale each week. It’s a lot of work and a lot of investment in my product. Am I discouraged? Heck no! Why, you might ask? Is she independently wealthy? (again, heck no). Let me tell you about the charm…but first of all, a little background…
Recently I retired – but not retired in the traditional sense of heading off into the sunset to happily have retirement adventures like all the ads we see on TV and social media. Not quite. My work hours were drastically cut, I was disgruntled, and I felt devalued. I quit. I live in a hamlet of about 200 people, 25 kms from the small city of which I speak. It’s boring. It’s a lovely place with dark skies for viewing the heavens…but not much else. Winter is coming…no, I mean the actual season of -20 to -40 degree temperatures, snow, and the desire to hibernate. I did not want my days to be non stop daytime TV viewing whilst posting memes on Facebook nor did I want to start joining the cats in their afternoon-long snooze fest. At the same time, my hubby’s entire work crew were laid off and jobs in the Alberta oilfield are few and far between – especially for persons nearing the age of retirement. This usually negative experience has actually turned out really great . Hubby is my best friend (cliche much?) and he keeps me grounded in this time of transition. We are only six weeks into the new normal and so far so good. When it was suggested I sell my photos, I thought this was something that could keep me busy whilst I look for a part time job to fill my hours and keep the bank account somewhat topped up. Hubby has become my biggest supporter, building displays, loading and unloading the van, and sitting with me behind the table at the market.
What I quickly realized…almost from the moment I stepped through the doors…is that the Farmer’s Market is a community. A fellowship of like-minded individuals plying their crafts, their skills, their hard work (those jams aren’t going to jar themselves!) to make an honest buck. They are a diverse group of individuals who are welcoming and supportive. There are people who rely on the few bucks they make to keep the roof over their head. There are others who need the social experience, who are otherwise alone. There are those on disability who craft their products as a means of therapy. Some do several markets a week and travel the roads for many kilometres (as we are so rural) in order to do so. If they make back the cost of materials, it’s been a good day – they will never recoup the hours spent in the kitchen or with a crochet hook or hot glue gun in their hand. Did I mention these are very supportive folk? Most of the few sales I’ve made were to fellow vendors. While this experience may be good for the soul, it is doing nothing for my waistline as I, in turn, pick up fresh cinnamon buns, caramel popcorn, and fresh cherry pie (oh Lord, they are good!).
People may not buy what we’re selling but the conversations are beyond value. Vendors chat amongst themselves and I find myself genuinely wondering how their week is going and can’t wait to check in with them. If there is an empty table one week, questions abound and answers sought and there is relief to find out the vendor simply had another engagement or concern when we find out their loved one is ill. There are the customers who stop by the market for their own social interaction, often the elderly eager for conversation. They stop and look at the various creations and chat with the vendors. I love spending time with people talking about what I do and how I do it. Having been a school librarian for many years, I relish presenting information to willing ears. It makes me miss my job just a little bit less. It makes my heart happy. So what if they walk on without making a purchase. We made a connection and that, my friends is ever so much more valuable.