How to grow a food and produce market business in a small town, the Idea Friendly Way

Many small towns are working on growing their local food business ecosystems, and fresh food and produce markets are a common goal.

Markets can be the center of building community, acting as a public common space where people across different parts of the community can interact.

Project for Public Spaces studied the impacts of public markets on their communities. Markets are public spaces that help shape local communities and their economies for the better. Great public markets are:

  • Expanding economic opportunity to more people
  • Bringing together people from across different parts of the community
  • Creating active public space to help build connections

The study said, “Successful markets help grow and connect urban and rural economies. Public markets also offer low-risk business opportunities for vendors and feed money back into the rural economy where many vendors grow, raise and produce their products.” 

Pybus Public Market (also in the featured photo, above) is a natural community gathering space, with a Little Free Library book wagon, an indoor four square game space and movable tables and chairs, along with the food and produce businesses. Micropolitan: Wenatchee, Washington. Photo by Becky McCray.

In a virtual workshop I led for North Carolina Small Businesses, Inge and Maggie shared that they were working on this kind of a produce market.

Their big goal is a bricks and mortar, year round market for produce and local foods, with a coffee and juice bar and a seating area. They’d love for it to have an old timey feel of community and welcoming.

The Idea Friendly Market: shared spaces

They’re thinking ahead to applying the Idea Friendly Method. Once they’re up and running, they can see the market offering smaller spaces for other food businesses to locate inside their market. The walls would be perfect for local artists and photographers to share their work. They could hold “meet the farmer” events to boost their growers and connect with customers.

That’s truly a big goal, and one that will take a lot of money if you started from scratch and tried to create it all at once.

They wanted to know, how could you Small Step the process?

The Idea Friendly Market: Take Small Steps to start

How can they get started in an Idea Friendly Way, with small steps?

The Innovative Rural Business Models help you find small steps for any business or project. The are Tiny, Temporary, Together, Traveling, and Tech enabled.

Tiny food market experiments could be starting with a tent or borrowing an empty building instead of buying a building. (Small towns have a shortage of usable buildings. Borrowing one first can save on the up front costs of remodeling and upgrading an older building, and putting an otherwise empty building into use can help publicize it and possibly help get it filled longer term.)

No usable buildings? No money to renovate first? Start Tiny and Temporary with a tent for your local food market. Nanopolitan: Marienville, Pennsylvania. Photo by Becky McCray.

Temporary experiments could be a pop-up food market in that borrowed building. It would also be setting up booths to sell local foods at existing local events.

Food booths like Shawn’s Kettle Corn expand the pool of potential vendors at future food markets. Nanopolitan: Webster City, Iowa. Photo provided by Shawn.

You just read some of the ways Inge and Maggie are thinking of doing business Together once they’re going in their own building. But before then, they could look for a compatible existing business they could connect with.

Schmucker’s Amish Farm Market features local products from lots of different vendors. Picopolitan: rural location outside Grabill, Indiana. Photo by Becky McCray.
Monument Market and Cafe is a Together business: both the restaurant and the local foods market are in one building. Micropolitan: Georgetown, Texas. Photo by Becky McCray.

Together experiments could mean setting up in a parking lot of another business, or on sidewalks along a busy section of town. Maybe they could put up “coming soon” posters inside local businesses. (Include the hashtag and website for more info!)

Start a local food market on an empty lot, Tiny, Temporary businesses Together. Nanopolitan: Alva, Oklahoma, Photo by Becky McCray.

For Traveling, they might kit out a trailer or small truck as a retail shop for another small step. Once they have their own location, they could keep the trailer or truck to keep reaching more people. Maybe they can set up a local events, travel to nearby towns, or setup in parts of town that otherwise don’t have much fresh food access.

Technology includes selling and Building Connections.

Tech-enabled selling online makes perfect sense for local foods gift baskets or subscription boxes.

Tech-enabled Building Connections includes finding more vendors, producers, and possible entrepreneurs to partner with. Local Facebook “buy/sell” groups and informal groups of food producers are natural places to be Building Connections even long before opening a bricks and mortar location.

You’re part of the local Food Business Ecosystem

Creating a local foods market is just one part of a whole ecosystem of local food businesses. Find out more about creating a local food business ecosystem with this video we created for you.

Grow your local food business ecosystem. Expand the market for local foods. Nurture local food tourism.