Hello Vendor Friends! The busy Tucson farmer’s markets will be open soon and if you want to start your own food business in Tucson and surrounding areas, now is the time to get started. The full process of finding a commissary/ commercial kitchen, jumping the hurdles at the Pima County Health Department and finding markets that will accept you, takes time.
If you have a food product that your friends and family tell you “is so good you should be selling it.”, then maybe you should. Not everything will sell, but if you have a unique product you have a better chance of succeeding.
4 Steps to Selling at the Tucson Farmer’s Markets
Step 1: Check out the competition.
If you plan on selling at farmer’s markets, then it would be a good idea to visit several markets to see if you will have competition and try some samples to see what you are up against.
Step 2: Understand costs and Pima County health department rules.
One thing that surprised me was the cost of all the little requirements. The best place to start is with the Health Department. The following link is where you need to start; whether you are going to be a caterer, a limited food manufacturer using a canopy at the market, or you want to have a food truck, http://webcms.pima.gov/health/food-safety/permitting_and_inspections . If you have been considering a mobile food unit and have been researching prior to August 3, 2018, you should look for updated information. There are new rules for mobile units, ranging from food prep to signage on your truck, new window size to a self-closing door.
Step 3: Find a commissary kitchen.
The next step is finding a commercial kitchen to work out of. This is a requirement by the health department before they will issue you your license. For some people, this involves finding a complete kitchen where you can make your food, and for others, it’s just for cleaning your dishes in a 3-compartment sink. No, I am not exaggerating. Some people just sign up for a commissary so they can wash a few pans and utensils after their events, and this is a requirement of the health department. Therefore, it is very important to start with the health department and know your requirements and costs.
If you want to go to a few markets to test your product, you may be able to get an event permit before getting your limited food manufacturing license. Just check with the health department to see what your options are. Once you have your commissary/ commercial kitchen and the health department has approved your business you will have an inspection at your kitchen and then you are issued a license.
Step 4: Sign-up for farmer’s markets.
Now that you have your Pima County Health Department License it is time to find places to sell your products. The Tucson farmer’s markets are a great place to start. Some of the markets have a yearly application process, so if you miss their deadline you will be waiting until next year. Heirloom Farmer’s Markets https://www.heirloomfm.org/ is like this. They have some very strong markets in Green Valley, Oro Valley, Tucson & a new one in Vail. Once you get in, they recruit among their vendors for other markets, so it is worth the wait to get in.
Another person to contact is Cindy Williams with Desert Peach Management. She has a lot of experience working and managing Farmer’s Markets. In January 2018, Cindy started the Picture Rocks Farmer’s Market. Since then she started managing Plaza Palomino and 2nd Saturday Downtown markets. This is a very good group to get into because it is growing and looking for vendors. Cindy is also working on a few other markets that will be added to the list in the beginning of 2019. You can find more information on Facebook under Desert Peach Management or email her at [email protected].
If you live just north of Tucson or don’t mind traveling a bit, contact Brandon Powell with Stronghold Companies. He manages a market in Saddlebrook, AZ once a month, and is starting up the one at the Continental Ranch Community Center again in September. Brandon also has one near Dove Mountain opening soon. Again, these markets are growing so there won’t be a waiting list to get in. You can contact Brandon on Facebook or email him at [email protected] for more information.
There are two more management groups that I have worked with in the past. The first is Ed. He has a nice market every Monday in Green Valley at La Posada and on Thursdays at Rincon Country West RV Park & Resort, starting in the Fall. You can reach him at (520) 603-8116. The other one is Food in Root. They have a variety of markets going on now and starting up again in October. You can contact them online at http://foodinroot.com/vendors/.
I love the last two markets that I am going to mention; the first, Medella Vina Ranch has an Arts & Crafts / Food Festival every 3rd Sunday. This is a beautiful location that includes customer participation crafts and horseback riding. They only allow one vendor per craft or food type. It’s located off Houghton just north of Irvington. This is a distance for me but it’s worth it because of the atmosphere. Contact Brent at (520) 298-1983 or [email protected] The second market is Voyager Daze. This market is twice a month at Voyager Hotel and RV Park which is south of Hwy 10 on Kolb. I was very surprised at the large number of vendors; they do a lot of advertising outside of the park to bring more people in to shop. I attended three of these markets and they turned out to be my biggest money-makers this past winter. You can contact Debbie at (520) 574-6100 or email her at [email protected].
I hope you find this information helpful. It is a process to get through, but it can be worth it. I love working at the Farmer’s Markets because it’s a happy environment and I am always meeting new people. Besides that, the other vendors become friends, so you have people to chat with on the slow market days.