Westport Farmers’ Market asks a lot of its vendors. In return for space at the Imperial Avenue lot every Thursday from May to November, the nearly 3 dozen sellers of fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, coffee, meat and more must post about the market every week on social media; adhere to certain sign regulations, and participate in the market’s community service programs.
So, director Lori Cochran wondered last year, what was the Farmers’ Market doing to help those vendors?
Looking around, the energetic, forward-thinking director realized that while some businesses like Nothin’ But had shot to the top — thanks to solid financing and a strong business model, the maker of granola bars and cookies now sells in airports and to Whole Foods — others just moseyed along.
“They’re beautiful at creating what they do,” Lori says. “But they don’t have the time or the expertise to really grow.”
Lori has a soft spot for mom-and-pop companies. “Our country was founded on them. And they’re still crucial.”
This year, Westport Farmers’ Market rolled out a 3-pronged educational program. Sessions are held at Sugar & Olives, the very cool restaurant/bar/ cooking school/event space just over the Norwalk line.
Sessions last 2-3 hours, and include general information followed by private, 1-on-1 meetings. Of course, they’re free.
Fairfield County Bank offered a session on finance. Topics included loans and micro-financing. It was so successful, a follow-up focusing on taxes is planned for fall.
An insurance broker will talk about changes in that industry, while next month the Cohen and Wolf law firm discusses ideas like whether a vendor should become an LLC.
September brings a session on social media, courtesy of CT Bites’ Stephanie Webster.
All presentations are pro bono. “These people are great,” Lori says. “They come in as educators, not salesmen. They understand our mission: helping the community. And the community includes our vendors, not just our shoppers.”
She has watched with joy as the Farmers’ Market businesses learn about — well, business.
“They’re talking to each other, and sharing ideas,” she says. “Our vendors are forming a real community.
“This is such a simple program. But it’s actually accomplishing a lot.”