Resource Guide to Starting a Farmers Market
Farmers Markets in the City of Chicago
Farmers Markets are important tools for food access and community engagement. By providing healthy, nutritious food, farmers markets may also begin to address issues of food scarcity or insecurity, especially as an increasing number of markets are accepting EBT/SNAP benefits. Farmers markets also create opportunities for small businesses, stimulating local economies.
The majority of farmers markets in the City of Chicago are operated by independent enterprises such as chambers of commerce, Special Service Areas (SSAs), and non-profit organizations. A very small number are operated by the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE). The Chicago City Markets program began in 1978 with the opening of the Daley Plaza market. Now, in addition to running a handful of markets, the City Markets team also serves as a resource to other markets and oversees the permitting of independent farmers markets throughout Chicago.
This information is designed to help groups and individuals plan their own farmers markets. Each section distills our experiences planning and running markets and follows the necessary steps for planning any market – from gathering community input to budgeting to vendor selection.
Planning Your Farmers Markets
Beginning a Farmers Market involves a lot of planning in advance of the season. Below are the steps DCASE recommends before launching a new market. We also highly recommend joining the Chicago Farmers Market Collective to connect with other market managers throughout the City.
Planning a strong Farmers Market requires community input to understand what people want and need while gaining community buy-in. Suggestions for gathering community input include:
- Survey neighbors
- Visit other markets in the area
- Investigate existing food access
- Meet with your Alderperson and involve them in the process
- Get your chamber of commerce, business association, neighborhood association, or other community groups involved in the market planning effort
A good site is extremely important when planning a market! Look for a site that is visible and easily accessed by the community. Good sites typically have:
- Public transportation nearby
- Convenient access for set up and break down
- Parking nearby, especially for vendors
- Central location in the neighborhood
- Water and power are a plus, though not necessary
- Minimal impact in bad weather (e.g. flooding or mud during rain)
MARKET TIP: Use the 5-minute rule – most people won’t travel more than 5 min from transportation for a market. Select a location within 5 minutes from residential areas, public transportation or a parking lot.
Please note that if you plan to use private property for your market, you must have permission to set up a market from the property owner, and most will also require a Certificate of Insurance naming them as an Additional Insured. There is more information below under Permits.
Farmers markets typically run from May – October with most occurrences taking place during the height of the growing season, June – September. Earlier in the season there are less crops available due to weather in the Midwest which makes our growing season shorter. Farmers markets can be any day of the week, morning, afternoon or evening. It is good to know what markets are near you so that you don’t compete with other markets nearby.
MARKET TIP: Successful market managers have reported that it can take up to 3 years to develop a financially self-sustaining market through consistent market occurrences and offering products sold by quality vendors who attract loyal customers. We suggest starting a market after July 4th and making it a short season for the first year.
A typical planning timeline might be:
|March/April||Fill out the DCASE Farmers Market registration or permit. More info.|
|May/June/July||Opening Day: Celebrate the beginning of your Market!|
|October||Close Market late October|
Below is a list of some expenses farmers markets may incur, depending on the location and other factors. Not every market will need to pay for each of these, and there may be other costs not listed here. This is just a basic list to help you start planning for your market:
- Staff costs
- Training (Ex: Summer Food Sanitation Certificate, ILFMA Farmers Market Manager Certification)
- Equipment and supplies (Ex: Tent, weights, tables)
- Porta-potties, hand sanitizer, hand washing sinks
- Link/SNAP point of sale services
- Permit street closure fees
- Type III Barricades (if closing the street)
- Site rental fee (if applicable)
Potential revenue sources include vendor/stall fees, sponsorships, and grants.
Types of Vendors
Markets often include several types of vendors to meet a variety of tastes and interests. In Chicago, 75% of the vendors must be dedicated to selling food, such as growers/producers, in order to qualify as a farmers market. Common categories are:
Producers: Farmers growing fruits, vegetables or flowers, or raising livestock for meat, eggs or honey.
Value-added Producers: Includes bakers, candy-makers, cheese mongers and other similar producers who add value to raw agricultural ingredients. Their goods are produced off site, often locally, and are usually pre-packaged in jars, bottles, paper or plastic.
The above should be the majority of your vendors in order to qualify as a farmers market. Additional types of vendors include:
- Market Site Prepared Foods: Must have annual Summer Sanitation Certificate
- Artisans, Social Services, and Non-Food: Cannot be more than 25% of vendors at a farmers market
- Entertainers & demos: Musicians draw in people and educational programs, such as cooking demos, help motivate shoppers to use new ingredients they might otherwise be unsure how to cook.
Please note: Farmers markets operating under the municipal ordinance as “Farmers Markets” are required to feature farmers who actually grow their own produce. Per state law, your vendors need to be transparent about the source of all produce being sold at market.
Depending on the site selected for your market, a permit issued by one or several City of Chicago agencies may be required.
|Market Location:||You will need:|
|Privately-owned property||Written permission of property owner and DCASE Farmers Market Registration|
|Public Way - on street, sidewalk, or public plaza, or use of curb lane for parking vendors||DCASE Special Events Permit for Farmers Market; CDOT street closure fees must be paid before permit is active|
|Chicago Park District property||DCASE Farmers Market Registration AND Chicago Park District Permit; Park District fees must be paid before permit is active|
|Chicago Public Schools grounds or parking lot||DCASE Farmers Market Registration AND agreement from Chicago Public Schools|
Your market will be open to the public and injuries, illness, and other emergencies or accidents may occur. Liability insurance to protect against these risks is a standard product that most businesses already have. If not, it is readily available from most insurance brokers at modest cost. If your organization is applying for a Chicago Special Event Permit, you are required to provide the City with a Certificate showing that you have $1 million in Commercial General Liability insurance in force, and that you have named the City of Chicago as an Additional Insured. It is wise to require each vendor to have their own liability insurance, and likewise add your organization, and the City of Chicago, as additional named insureds to it, and then furnish you with a Certificate. You may also wish to investigate the purchase of an “umbrella” policy to cover the market and all vendors together.
Market Managers should require potential vendors to complete an application providing, at minimum, contact information, descriptions of the products the vendor intends to bring to the market, and the location(s) where products are grown, raised, or processed. Examples of applications can be found online.
Before you can begin recruiting vendors, your market will need a set of rules that set clear guidelines and expectations for them. The rules should be provided to all applicants. Without a set of clear rules, you will not have an agreement or guidelines to refer to if there is a dispute. Rules need to be enforced consistently to have an effect.
There are several food safety considerations. Please review USDA and Illinois Farmers Market Association websites for additional information.
- Market vendors may sell "Grab & Go" food if the food is brought to the market and sold completely sealed
- Market vendors may sell prepared food as long as it is prepared in a commercial kitchen and the vendor has the Summer Festival Food Vendor Sanitation Certificate. More information on this at the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Illinois Restaurant Association.
Cottage Food Law
- Chefs preparing food at home must have a Cottage Food License. More information.
Accepting SNAP/EBT, Credit and Debit
Farmers markets are encouraged to accept Link/SNAP/EBT if possible. Please connect with LINK Up Illinois for additional information.
Illinois Farmers Market Association: http://ilfarmersmarkets.org/
LINK-up Illinois: https://experimentalstation.org/linkup-overview
Chicago Farmers Market Collective: https://www.chicagofarmersmarketcollective.org/
Chicago Food Policy Action Council: https://www.chicagofoodpolicy.com/
Advocates for Urban Agriculture: https://www.auachicago.org/
Farmers Market Coalition: https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/
The Chicago Department of Public Health - Food Protection Division
2133 West Lexington, Chicago, IL 6061
Phone: 312.747.FOOD (3663)
The Department of Consumer Services (Scale Certification)
2350 West Ogden, 1st Floor, Chicago, IL 60608
WIC (Women, Infants, Children)
SFNP (Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program)
Illinois Dept. of Human Services - Office of Family Health/Bureau of Family Nutrition
535 West Jefferson, 3rd Floor, Springfield, IL 62702
Attention: Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
Illinois Department of Revenue
All vendors must be registered with the Illinois Department of Revenue for tax purposes. For more information, call 1-800-732-8866, TTY: 1-800-544-5304