The experience of one “green” vendor among the vendors of greens.
If you’re like me, you probably love going to the farmer’s market, but haven’t given much thought to what it’s like to be a vendor there. Or, maybe you have wondered about the possibility of taking your craft, art, or something you’re “famous” for making, to try selling at the market, but didn’t know what is involved. As a novice vendor at The Market at Pepper Place, I am seeing a side of the farmer’s market I never knew about! I have been so impressed by what I have learned about this Birmingham treasure which has been in existence for 19 years. I thought others might be interested to know that there’s more to the market than meets the eye. Yes, there is beautiful local produce and artisan displays of all kinds, but a lot of hard work goes into making that happen each Saturday morning.
My vendor experience with Pepper Place Market began with the application process. This involved submitting information about my very new company, Sunrise Baking Company, and my products, including descriptions and photos. Since my product is baked goods, more specifically, Paleo friendly, grain free and gluten safe baked goods, I was required to submit samples of each of the products I want to sell at the market. This process applies to other types of vendors as well, as a means of ensuring variety and quality. My baked goods would then be tested by a panel of judges. There were several days to choose from to bring my baked goods to the market office. My very anxious nerves were calmed as soon as I came into the office with my granola, bread and cookies, and met Lisa Beasley, the market manager. Lisa was so encouraging about the need for my product, and offered very helpful information about being a vendor as well as useful information for my business such as how to obtain nutrition information/ labeling for my products. She pointed out that the market can actually serve as a“ focus group” of sorts giving new businesses very helpful feedback about their products. A few weeks later, I was relieved and so excited to receive notification that I was approved as a vendor! I applied for 3 dates, and was scheduled for 2, with the opportunity to be on the waiting list for a cancellation, to add more dates, which I have been told is a likely possibility.
In early January, I attended the Annual Mid- Winter Market meeting. It was here that I became more aware of the heart and intention of the market. First of all, the market, which is a non- profit organization and a Certified Alabama farmers market, was founded by Cathy Sloss Jones in May of 2000, to help sustain local family farms. Without such markets, the number of small local farmers was predicted to greatly decline, affecting not only the rural economies, but taking with them the opportunity for communities to have the nutritionally superior local produce! This beautiful produce is also an integral part of Birmingham’s outstanding and abundant restaurant scene, with James Beard award winning chef Frank Stitt and Chef Franklin Biggs working alongside Cathy Sloss Jones as they began the market, and continue to this day.
The second premise that I knew in part, but saw from a different perspective as a vendor, is the interest and dedication to help grow local small businesses. This is evident in many ways, including the new mentor program. I was among many raised hands, saying “Yes! Me, me, me!” when this was announced at the meeting. I’m looking forward to learning more about this wonderful opportunity to learn from established Birmingham business owners. In an article in “b-Metro Magazine”, the market is referred to by Jones, as a” low- tech incubator” for local business. Some of the businesses that “launched” in part, as vendors at The Market at Pepper Place are very familiar Birmingham favorites, like Big Spoon Creamery, Red Cat Coffee House, After Midnight Salsa Co., McEwen and Sons Grits, Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes, and over 50 more! I bet you can think of others that you frequent now, and remember proudly that you knew them from the market when they were just starting out. I’m hopeful that Sunrise Baking Company will be among these success stories one day!
Valerie Thomas, President of The Val Group, has attended the market for 8 years and serves on the board of Friends of the Market. She shared at the meeting how in her business, which showcases our city to potential residents, recruits and visiting dignitaries for businesses and government agencies, the market is one of Birmingham’s selling points for prospective residents. (Take note, realtors!) What an asset to our city to have fresh, local produce, baked goods, specialty food products, and art available in one place where attending is much more than shopping, it’s an event! We are so fortunate to have the market which also serves a gathering place for our community, enhanced even more by the recent designation as an entertainment district.
Last Saturday was our first day to be a vendor at the Winter Market, where all the vendors are located inside the (warm and dry!) Martin Biscuit Building from 7am-noon each Saturday. My husband and I felt so welcomed and encouraged and had so much fun meeting the other very helpful vendors, and our customers. The vendors were so willing to share their helpful tips, and we were elated by the very positive response to our baked goods! It was fun to experience the bartering between vendors as well. We traded some of our granola for produce, eggs, and salsa. The day was a success, and we can’t wait to be there again. Over the year, Sunrise Baking Company will be participating in other farmer’s markets including The Market at Lee Branch, and West Homewood Market which were likely inspired by the success of the Market at Pepper Place. I look forward to getting to know the personality and unique features of these markets as well.
I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of such a renowned market and the Pepper Place Community. I hope when you visit the market this year you will come with an even greater appreciation of this Birmingham treasure.