How to start a community tailgate market

Community organizer Carly Esslinger helped to start the Oakley Farmers Market in the predominately low-income, food desert neighborhood. Photo by Alicia Funderburk

Community tailgate markets are a labor of love that offer communities a place to gather while also providing access to fresh, local foods. If you’re thinking about organizing a market in your neighborhood, consider these steps:

Find your spot: Tailgate markets depend on one of the central tenets of marketing ­— location, location, location.  A thriving market needs a reliable source of foot and vehicle traffic to attract business.

Churches, schools, municipal buildings and community centers are potential sites that tend to be centrally located and have large parking lots. These locations are often underutilized at various times, allowing for partnerships with markets. Buncombe County offers a website that shows aerial photography of area neighborhoods and contact information for the property owners. You can find this at gis.buncombecounty.org.

In investigating the feasibility of starting a market, finding out the location of other markets in your area is a good first step. Oversaturating can put a strain on your vendors and split your customers. Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project offers a listing of local markets and their operating hours at mountainmarkets.com.

• Get your permits: Permitting is a crucial step for every market. Each local jurisdiction will have its own set of rules, but understanding zoning restrictions on markets can also help in narrowing down the list of potential locations. Starting the permitting process early will prevent any conflicts with the opening of the market. Local planning departments can be contacted at:

• Asheville: 259-5830
• Biltmore Forest: 274-0824
• Black Mountain: 419-4300
• Montreat: 669-8002
• Weaverville: 484-7013
• Woodfin: 253-4887
• Buncombe County: 250-4830

Get support: Markets are a community effort and require a great deal of support from those living nearby. Since most fledgling markets have little to no budget, a diverse and loyal volunteer base is helpful. Markets will need a variety of services from professionals, such as accountants, lawyers and graphic artists.

Assembling a board of community members with a lot of passion and availability is key.  The board will need to go through the steps of starting the market and make key decisions regarding how the market should be run and organized.

The Farmers Market Coalition offers a number of resources and hosts a Listserv for communicating with other markets. You can find this at farmersmarketcoalition.org.  ASAP also hosts the Mountain Tailgate Market Association, which provides an opportunity to network and collaborate with other markets.

• Be patient: Tailgate markets tend to grow slowly over a number of years. Ideally a new market will recruit a handful of vendors who can do well with a first-season market.  Over time additional vendors can be added allowing the market to grow along with the customer base.

Keep it local: Remember to keep the connection to the local neighborhood. Look for ways to gather feedback and hold events that encourage the market to be part of a celebration of the community.

Josh O’Conner is a co-founder and board member of the Oakley Farmers Market.

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About Josh O'Conner
Josh O’Conner is an urban/land use planner with a passion for urban agriculture. He can be reached at @kalepiracy or @joshoconner on Twitter or e-mailed at josh.oconner@gmail.com.

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