Behind the Market Table

Farmers Market Vendors Deal with Regulations, Prep Work

By April Blake
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Katy Abrams chats with a customer at the Irmo Farmers Market. Photo by Thomas Hammond.

You see their smiling faces beneath clean white tents, and you hand them money over a table in exchange for their wares, but have you ever thought about the physical aspect of selling that vendors at the farmers market go through every week? Behind every table, chair, cooler and basket full of muffins or cup of coffee brewed, careful consideration has to go into each aspect of what a vendor brings, and why. With health and safety considerations at the front of their minds, they put in plenty of work ahead of the morning of the market.

If you stop by the Crepes and Croissants table at Soda City, you’ll see chef Laurent Prescelti spreading crepe batter on a portable propane-powered griddle, or sometimes even two when the line starts to grow. He works with a confident precision, but he wasn’t so sure about cooking outside at first.

“I thought it would be extremely hard to make crepes outside the restaurant because of the equipment required, and I had little faith in the ice packs, but they actually do work well,” he says. “The batter and most of the ingredients need to be refrigerated for the whole duration of the event.”

To move quickly and keep his crepes safe for consumption, Prescelti does plenty of prep the day before to keep the line moving on Saturday morning. A little-known secret that Prescelti employs to keep his Nutella flowing is that he submerges the container in very hot water right before heading out to the market. Additionally, crepe batter is poured into bottles, and strawberries are pre-cut and placed into coolers for simple assembly of the hugely popular strawberry and Nutella crepe that he serves.

Keeping things cool, or frozen rather, is something that Katy Abrams of B is for Butter is all too familiar with. Keeping her compound butter at safe temperatures for consumption involves a lot of planning, and she even forgoes selling at the market during the most famously hot months of July and August for safety’s sake.

Typically, on Mondays, Abrams goes to the commercial kitchen space that she rents and works on her three weekly butter flavors, putting the finished and packaged products straight into the freezer until market day. Her gluten-free baked goods usually are made on Friday afternoons for optimal freshness, then packaged shortly thereafter. Then on market day, she’s up early to procure a block of dry ice to keep the butter frozen for the duration of the market.

When she first started her business, selling at Soda City and later the Irmo Farmers Market, Abrams admits that she didn’t know much about how to get started, so she relied on the power of observation and found that other vendors were friendly and willing to take a newcomer under their wings.

Abrams didn’t anticipate some of the rules and regulations. There are licenses and tax forms to fill out, fees to pay and DHEC inspections to pass.

“When I first thought about doing this, I thought I’d set up at the market, pay a fee and just go home,” she says. “You don’t think that it’s licensed and inspected like it is, but it’s a legitimate business and not at all like just having a yard sale.”

For others that might be thinking of starting their own food business at the market, Abrams has a few pieces of advice relating to the financial side of it.

“I didn’t do great record keeping and could have written more things off,” she says. “Making sure you get credit for those things at the end of the year is important!” A creatively experimental phase in her product lineup is another mistake she says she regrets as well.

Through all of the hauling, form filling and sales tracking, there’s just something about the farmers market atmosphere that makes being a vendor special.

“It feels like a gathering of friends every Saturday morning, on the vendor and customer side,” says Prescelti.

Echoing the sentiment, Abrams lauds the market community for creating an atmosphere she says is often hard to find as a business person.

“I feel strongly about sharing with people — it’s my creative thing, and when you have that kind of energy you just have to do it.” 

Soda City runs every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. The Irmo Farmers Market runs on the first and third Saturdays of the month from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

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