Why we show up to farmers markets year after year after year
Written by Charlotte Tzabari, co-creator of OMP
Who doesn't love a Saturday morning stroll through the local farmer's market? There's something so vital and connective about having a dependable place to go that belongs to you and your community.
We each have our own farmers market ritual, don't we? Whether it's coffee or kombucha, cut flowers, food trucks, a muffin, or fresh produce, we all have our favorite vendors and our stops we make.
In 2010 we started Olive My Pickle as a farmers market business. We ran it that way for several years before developing our products for sale at retail stores in 2016.
It wasn't really until about 2018 that we decided to get serious about selling our fermented foods online. Today, about 95% of our business takes place online and 5% farmers markets, but for years, it was the opposite.
As Olive My Pickle heads into our 12th season of being on the vendor side of the booth, we want to talk about WHY we attend the farmers market.
As a small food company that started at markets but now has an ecommerce business model, there are some really compelling reasons to stay present at our local community farmers market.
Reason #1 The Rich Social Connection
"Guess who I saw at the market today?"
Shai will often come home from the market and ask me this. It's a fun question because I know the answer could be ANYONE and that there's probably a good story coming my way.
Our local farmers market, Riverside Arts Market (RAM) here in Jacksonville, FL is no small affair. Each week there are between 15,000-20,000 people coming through with that number constantly growing.
Jacksonville as a city is the #1 largest city, land mass wise, in the US. Very spread out. Riverside Arts Market is a central common denominator meeting point for people across the entire region, a modern day town square. It's basically the place to be on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida.
On any given Saturday, along with seeing hundreds of regulars and first time customers, we may get a visit from our insurance agent, our functional doctor, fellow parents from our kids' school, neighbors from down the street or even people we haven't seen in 10 years.
It's nice being in a place on a predictable basis where all the people in your life can find you and just stop by to say hi.
The vendors at RAM are connected as a community. Many of us vendors have known each other for over a decade.
We've watched each others' backs, helped each other in a crunch-- anything from a broken generator to jumping a car battery. We all know who to ask for a bungee cord, some tape, a pen, where to borrow a phone charger or who has the most small change when we run out of $1 bills.
We all pretty much keep it real when we talk about how business is actually going. These vendors have watched our kids grow up and watched out for them, it's truly a village.
Every vendor goes their separate way during the week and we don't see each other outside of this 5-6 hours on Saturday. But we're living our lives together on Saturday, which is just another real, connective experience to be having with other people.
New vendors with fresh new ideas are fun to meet. Farmers markets are a great little incubator for a small business idea. A low stakes stress test to see if your business idea actually has any legs.
Over the years we've watched many vendors come and go. One thing that amazes me is how much support the customer community always gives to a new vendor. It's affirmation that farmers market communities are made up of some of the most generous people that have a heart for small businesses.
As a family, we also buy a whole lot of our food from our vendor friends. Grass fed beef, raw milk, goat milk kefir, sourdough bread and granola are a few weekly staples.
Our kids know all the food trucks and get their lunch from them every week. Not always, but often we trade our fermented foods for other vendors' foods. Our kids have learned about bartering this way.
Reason #2 Staying in Touch
For business owners, its extremely easy to lose touch with your customers. In fact, I'd say unless you're actively taking steps to create connection with them, you're most probably already out of touch.
For this reason, Shai and I as the business owners feel that it's very important to continue working Saturdays at the markets. So many businesses do not have the advantage of being able to have conversations, look their customers in the eyes, ask them things, listen to their questions, comments and feedback.
That said, we do need to keep a balance. It's hard work and 12 years is a long time to show up, Saturday after Saturday. The monotony of it can get to us. Shai and I take turns working, take needed breaks and keep our market staffed with a team support.
Back to staying in touch. Focus groups, listening tours and online surveys are all ways company's use to elicit feedback from their customers. All we have to do it show up and work a market on Saturday!
Each week we get a TON of data that informs us about product quality, frequently asked questions, recipe ideas and the words customers use to describe what they are tasting when they sample our products. (Most of those words show up in the product descriptions on our website.)
The collective consumer awareness level about gut health and the microbiome is always evolving, and so as a brand we need to be aware of that and also evolve.
We also have the ability to stay in touch with our product quality at the market. If a batch is extra new or off, or any other possible imperfection, we're going to see it at the market.
Each of us working the market is eating our way through the shift, so we're all tasting the fermented foods in real time, right along with the customers.
This visibility gives us the chance to correct things quickly, and control quality very closely.
Reason #3 Experimenting with the future
Another reason why we maintain a presence at the weekly market is so we can test our new ideas. That's how LiveBrine, our probiotic pickle juice got its start.
We began by giving out free shots. These became popular so we started packaging our two flavors of LiveBrine, which are now in the top 7 sellers of our entire product line.
We're about to make another big change.
For years, we've had a large 'double size' booth, a 10x20. In this 200 square feet of space we display our 35+ products, in colorful barrels. Within the next few weeks, we're going to increase to another booth size, making it 300 square feet total. What will the new space have?
We are super excited to be launching 6 additional flavors of LiveBrine in the coming weeks! Our new space will feature a Brine Tasting Bar, with all 8 flavors on display, in decanters, for everyone to taste. We're excited about the flavors and we know we still have a lot to learn about these new products. Once this is up and running, we'll be sharing it all over social media, so be sure to follow up on Instagram and TikTok.
If you are in the Jacksonville, FL area (or if you're driving through) make it a point to stop at Riverside Arts Market. Come experience a really fun farmers market and defiantly stop by OMP to say hi.
About Riverside Arts Market Jacksonville, Fl
The Riverside Arts Market (or RAM as its know) is a weekly production of the neighborhood historical foundation, the Riverside Avondale Preservation. Every Saturday from 10-3 RAM takes place and there are hundreds of vendors from artists, food trucks, and of course farmers and food artisans.
Thousands of people attend each week and Riverside arts market has won awards of excellence fore best farmers and arts market and has been featured on multiple 'top 10' lists of national best farmers markets.
Getting to Riverside Arts Market
RAM is located in central Jacksonville, Florida, just north of downtown. It takes place under the Fuller Warren Bridge on Riverside Ave.
The benefit to its location under the Fuller Warren Bridge bridge is that the weather is less of a concern compared to other outdoor farmers markets. There's an amphitheater seating area surrounding a stage and live music. In 2018, Olive My Pickle hosted a pickle eating contest at the market on the stage!
The stage overlooks the St. Johns River and people at the market can sit, watch the water, take in the site of downtown Jacksonville's skyline and just enjoy the Saturday.
Free parking around the farmers market is plentiful and easy to find. There is always a police presence to assist pedestrian crossing as well. Riverside Arts Market takes place right next door to the Cummer Museum, with its art displays and botanical gardens its another beautiful spot to visit, especially if you're making a day of it.
Riverside is a historic neighborhood in Jacksonville and nearby the farmers market is Historic Five Points, an independently owned shopping district of independently owned small businesses such as boutiques, antique stores and a great, independently owned natural food store, Grassroots Market.
If you are going to make a day trip of it, between RAM, the Cummer Museum and Historic Five Points there is plenty to do and see. Best of all you can park once and walk between all three. It's advised to arrive at Riverside Arts Market early (again, the market opens at 10) as popular vendors' items will sell out on busy days.
If you can't join us in person, that's okay.
Olive My Pickle truly loves being a part of RAM. Riverside Arts Market is a community staple, and it’s not hard to see why. Not only do visitors get to connect with local farmers and artisans, they also have the opportunity to support local small businesses like ours, in a relaxed setting.
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