"Free Samples!"

Farmers' markets are a great place for Upstart Farmers to sell their first harvests and gain recognition in the local community.

As farms grow, we tend to see that the labor associated with farmers' markets isn't worth the sales generated - but the community networking aspect plays a huge part in marketing.

Being present at a farmers' market puts a face to your live produce. They allow you to interact one-on-one with customers in a way that isn't typically available with restaurant and grocery sales.

One thing you might want to do when at a farmers' market is offer free samples, especially to acquaint customers with some of your more unusual greens or herbs. Seems simple, right?

Wrong.

Offering free samples is, perhaps, one of the most complicated things your farm can do at a farmers' market. Here's what you should consider.

(And hey, if at the end of this post, you decide you don't want to ever offer free samples, don't worry about it! We haven't noticed a huge increase in sales associated with free samples. Your live display will do plenty to separate you from the competition.)

A Temporary Food Stand Permit

Offering free samples at a farmers market almost always requires a temporary food stand permit. (If the market doesn't require a temporary food permit, then you'll still probably need to follow these same standards for food safety and cleanliness.)

Permits range in price and specific requirements according to your local area.

It is important to request a copy of the rules you must follow to get a permit and read them. We'll cover general best practices here, but you should always check your local requirements.

Your farmers' market managers will be happy to assist you with any questions or concerns.

You must comply with various cleanliness and food safety standards in order to obtain a permit and/or offer samples.

Sample Preparation

When preparing fresh produce for samples, you must prepare the samples on-site, moments before serving.

Transport clean tools for sample preparation to the site in clean plastic bins or wrap.

If you want to prepare your samples offsite, they must be prepared in a licensed commercial kitchen and transported to the market in a refrigerated container. The refrigerated container may be mechanical or a simple ice chest, but an ice chest must be drained regularly to ensure that the samples are not floating in water.

Should you wish to wash and reuse dishes at the station, you must set up bins for washing, rinsing, and sanitizing. For simplicity, we recommend that you bring enough clean utensils to last your entire market and worry about dish washing elsewhere.

Wash Your Hands

Employees must wash their hands before starting to handle food for samples and after leaving the booth, handling money, using the restroom, or otherwise coming into contact with unclean items.

Set up a hand washing station using a container with a spigot sitting atop a table with a discard bucket below. Soap, paper towels, and a trashcan must also be provided for the station.

Healthy Food Handlers Only!

Food-handling employees may not exhibit nausea, fever, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, or any other symptoms of illness. If they've been exposed to someone with food borne diseases like salmonella or e coli, they should also be excluded.

Cuts, lesions, or other exposed wounds must be under a protective cover, like a latex glove.

These practices are required in order for your farm to comply with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in addition to obtaining a temporary food stand permit. Don't mess around with employee illness!

Single Serve and Disposable

Serve samples in individual sizes using disposable, single-serve materials, like toothpicks, napkins, or small dishes. Avoid cross-contamination wherever possible.

Provide conveniently located waste disposal bins to stop customers from littering.

Do not let uneaten samples sit out for too long. If samples will be left for a length of time, use a protective covering. Dispose of any samples that have been left out, reached too-warm temperatures, or otherwise become unsafe.

Always Double-Check Your Local Rules!

We said it before, but it bears repeating: always double-check your local standards!

What we've covered here are general best practices, but that doesn't mean that this list is complete or accurate in every area.

Somebody at your farmers' market or local health department will be able to help you. Use them!

While it may sound somewhat complicated, getting a temporary food stand permit just requires you to follow the rules. You'll have to determine whether or not the trouble is worth it for your farm.

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