Agri Leader

Flea markets are viable markets for growers

A flea market is a funny name for a great place to find a good deal on everything from household items, to tools, to clothing, jewelry, antiques and even fresh produce. However, the term "flea market" actually dates back to a time in Paris when makeshift market stalls were set up on the streets and vendors would sell their wares.

Some of the goods sold were supposedly "trash can finds." The finds were likely clothes, bedding and other home goods all chalk full of fleas and so the name "flea market" was coined.

These days a flea market means something more just than garbage pickers reselling their finds on city streets. In fact, many flea markets are well known and frequented by a range of buyers.

According to The National Flea Market Association, "Our country has over 1,100 flea markets that provide opportunities for approximately 2.25 million vendors conducting over $30 billion in sales annually. Flea Markets are visited by over 150 million customers each year." Some flea markets are smaller with 50-100 vendors and are located outside, while others are indoors and have hundreds, even thousands, of booths. Some may be seasonal, while others are open year-round.

Flea markets are enjoyable for guests as they can scour the booths, enjoy delicious foods and refreshments, and spend a morning or even a day browsing around in search of that awesome discovery at a great price.

Flea markets are also an opportunity for growers to sell their produce by renting a booth at a flea market. Depending on the flea market, they may be expected to bring their own materials, such as a canopy, shelving, tables and chairs or the space they rent may have some of the necessary materials provided, which is more often the case with an indoor flea market as some indoor booths may be prebuilt. Each flea market has their own specific hours and costs involved with setting up a booth, as well as their own specific rules and regulations. Nowadays, many flea markets have a website with contact information.

Along with roadside stands and farmers' markets, flea markets are often a viable option for some growers. "Small farmers and organic farmers often do not have an outlet to move their products and these types of markets can be the perfect fit," said David Austin, urban horticultural agent, UF/IFAS Extension Highlands County.

These days more consumers are looking for fresh foods that are locally grown. Locally grown foods often taste better, help support local communities and are often a better deal than what can be found at the grocery store. Plus, the experience of meeting with growers and having them assist in selecting the produce can be an educational and enjoyable experience for shoppers.

Many growers who rent booths at flea markets offer specialty items or organic foods that cannot be easily found anywhere else. "Supermarkets don't really have a good "fresh" selection of organics, especially a wide variety of them," said Austin, who explained that organic selections are becoming more and more popular with consumers.

What is also helpful to growers is that they don't have to spend extra money to advertise as the flea markets does the advertising for them. Many flea markets already have a long established customer base, so a grower doesn't have to worry about getting people to stop in. "Marketing is always a challenge for the small farmer, so these types of markets are helpful as they are already established," explained Austin.

The popularity and interest in small farms is growing. Austin reported that more people are inquiring at the UF Extension offices about starting up small farms. Florida boasts many small farms, which are defined by the USDA as one having gross sales less than $250,000 (Hoppe & Macdonald, 2001). The 2007 Census of Agriculture, reports that 93 percent of farms in Florida fall into this category. Furthermore, 90.5 percent of farms throughout the United States are considered small farms.

So if you've got an itch to sell your harvest in a new outlet, try a flea market. Flea markets, along with roadside stands and farmer's markets, are all contenders for selling fresh produce and other items quickly, easily and relatively inexpensively.