NKwhy: What does it take to be a farmers market vendor?

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A labor of love seems to be the best way to describe what it’s like to be a part of Northern Kentucky farmers markets. 

From the organizers to the farmers to makers, everyone involved is looking to do one thing: help support local businesses. 

“We all operate very much as a family, and so there’s a lot of support,” said Fort Thomas Farmers Market marketing manager Tiffany Tomeo. 

Tomeo said vendors are always supporting each other; whether it be watching their booth for a bit or helping another seller set up, they’re always there for each other. 

With markets all over NKY in full swing, we decided to ask some local vendors and organizers what it’s like to be a part of the farmers market family. 

KY Girl Hemp

“I just love the camaraderie of all of the vendors that we have at every market,” said Rose Seeger, owner of KY Girl Hemp.

Seeger started her hemp product business after experiencing effects from the work she does at her other company Green City Resources. There she designs and installs rooftop gardens all over the Cincinnati area. 

She started to have trouble getting up on the roofs she was working on.

“I started using CBD for my arthritis and aches and pains, and it was just a game changer for me,” Seeger said.  

Her cousins grow the hemp in Cynthiana, Kentucky, and it is then shipped off to Kentucky-based processors who turn the hemp into everything from CBD oils to gummies to infused lotions. 

Seeger sells at several local markets, including Covington and Fort Thomas, plus she sets up at local events like Weed Fest in Covington last weekend. 

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She said she gets amazing support from other vendors and her customers.

“I have a lot of regulars that come to market that I get to talk to each week, and just it’s just like, you know, a neighborhood I just enjoy it,” Seeger said.

Laughing Bees

Annie Brown’s best-selling product came about by somewhat of an accident. 

Brown was part of a food entrepreneurship program with Covington-based small business accelerator The Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington that ended right before Christmas. 

After completing the program she decided to apply to be in the Fort Thomas Holiday Market. At the time, she was just doing honey products, but the organizers wanted her to do something different, so she offered to make caramels. 

Up until then, she had never offered caramels, but she went home and spent two days perfecting a recipe, and it was an instant success, “that’s kind of what Laughing Bees is known for now.”

Since then, Brown said she has gone from a home baker to working out of as space at the Incubator Kitchen Collective in Newport “my family was very happy about that.”

To create her treats, Brown sources her honey from local beekeepers like School House Bees in Covington. The day before a market or event, Brown said she takes stock of all she has and, when she needs, makes more of anything she’s short, packages them, and gets ready for a long day of selling. 

She said she’s learned a lot from her fellow vendors, especially when she first started.

“I’m still kind of new compared to some of the people there, and just you know, the advice that they’ve been given me has been so helpful,” Brown said. “I feel like I’m more a part of the community since I’ve been vending at this farmers market. You know, just getting to know the people who come there every week and the other vendors who were there.”

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Springcreek Farm

Multiple times a week Eric Keef and his employees at Springcreek Farm pack up and make the drive from Maysville, Kentucky, up to NKY to sell fresh produce at farmers markets. 

Keef is a vendor at the Fort Mitchell, Covington and Fort Thomas farmers markets. He sells whatever produce is in season and plentiful on his farm. 

While his farm is 65 acres, most of it is leased out, and all of what he sells is grown on only a half acre. He and his wife, plus two seasonal and one full-time employee, work the land and prepare all the produce for sale.  

The truck is loaded the night before, then Keef said he’s up at 4 a.m. getting the last few things ready, and they are on the road by 6 a.m. on Saturdays in preparation for the 9 a.m. start at the Covington Farmers Market. After that, they head over to the Fort Mitchell market. And on Wednesday, they’re over in Fort Thomas. 

Even with the twice-weekly over hour-long drives, Keef said his carbon footprint is much lower than that of large grocers, which he said is his main reason for doing what he does.

Behind the scenes

Every week Tiffany Tomeo with the Fort Thomas Farmers Market and five or six unpaid volunteers work together to help the market go off without a hitch. 

Set up begins around noon for the 3 p.m. start, the group will arrive at the market’s space in Tower Park and make sure everything is ready for the vendors to set up. 

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They’ll make sure any food trucks they’ve booked know what they’re doing, as well as setting up for special events like the “Christmas in July” theme last week, which had a Santa meet and greet plus Christmas-themed crafts and scavenger hunts. 

Tomeo said they try to keep the same vendors year after year so that customers know what they’re going to get when they stop by. 

At the end of the season, Tomeo said they evaluate their vendors and try to fill any gaps they may be missing “we recently brought in an organic chicken farmer because we were getting requests for organic meat.”

Of the forty or so vendors at the Fort Thomas market, Tomeo said only one or two sell at markets full-time, most have other jobs, but they spend a lot of time on their booths, “so it is like it’s a full-time job plus.”

“It has been really phenomenal to just watch people continue to support the farmers market.  And it just makes a huge difference. For just our entire region, as we continue to support these small businesses and these farmers really just enhances everything that our region offers,” Tomeo said. 

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