Farmers markets: Everything you need to know to sell your prepared food this farmer market season

Learn more about how to prepare your business to sell a prepared food at a farmers market this summer.

Are you hoping to sell your prepared food products at a farmers market this summer? If so, take these steps to help you identify the appropriate markets and prepare your business for sales at the market. It is important to realize that each market has a market manager to contact and most likely a website that you will need to review to understand the rules of the market.

Do you need an MDARD License?

First, check to see whether your food qualifies to be produced and sold under the Cottage Food Law and whether the market allows food prepared under this law to be sold at their market. Some markets require a business to have a Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development license (MDARD) to sell at their market. If your food qualifies under the Cottage Food Law and the market doesn’t require an MDARD license, you can prepare the food in your home kitchen. However, any food sold under an MDARD license requires you to make your product in a licensed kitchen and obtain an MDARD license for the preparation process. If an MDARD license is required, the market will want a copy of this license or certification before you are approved to sell at the market.

What are the labeling requirements?

Second, if you selling your food under the Cottage Food Law, you will need to ensure you have your product is labeled according to the Cottage Food Law requirements. The print on the label must be in at least the equivalent of 11-point font (about 1/8 inches tall) and in a color that provides a clear contrast to the background. The basic information on the label is as follows:

  • Name and address
  • Name of the product
  • The ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight and sub ingredients of prepared food used as ingredients
  • Net weight or net volume plus the metric equivalent
  • Allergen labeling
  • The following statement: "Made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development."

Hand-printed labels are acceptable if they are clearly legible, written with durable, permanent ink, and printed large enough to equal the font size requirements mentioned, according to MDARD. If you will be selling under an MDARD license, you must follow MDARD labeling requirements.

Are you planning on offering samples?

Third, product sampling farmers markets must follow all MDARD guidelines even if it is a cottage food and may need to be preapproved by the market manager and have a signed sampling contract on file in the market office.  The best practice is to produce samples in a licensed kitchen prior to the market. In general, prepackage your samples in plastic sampling cups that come with a lid and be sure to refrigerate samples if needed based on what food you are preparing.

Do you need liability insurance?

Fourth, check to see if the market requires vendors to carry liability insurance. The market will most likely require a set amount of product liability insurance and ask that the market be named as an additional insured on the policy. If so, you will be required to provide a copy of the proof of insurance to the market management prior to your attendance at the market.

What are booth space options?

Fifth, each market has different options on whether you can buy seasonal or daily booth space and have different booth space dimensions and rules related to that space. Vendors are usually expected to provide their own tents, tables, chairs, signs and display. The better you prepare for this and plan for an attractive signage and display, the better your sales will be.

 How will people pay you?

Finally, consider what kind of payment you will take at the market. In addition to cash, more and more vendors are now using their mobile phone to enable credit card payments using such system as the Square, Intuit GoPayment and others.

The MSU Product Center, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension, provides assistance and Cottage Food Seminars to help Michigan entrepreneurs develop and commercialize high-value, consumer–responsive food products. For more information, visit the MSU Product Center website or call 517-432-8750.

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