Young tycoons blooming at the Farmers Market

Program teaches the ABCs of running your own business

Isabella Yoho is doing a booming business selling her bracelets at the Bellingham Farmers Market as part of the market’s Kids Vending Day, the last Saturday of each month. Other young entrepreneurs sell everything from glass art to soap to flowers and curly-willow cuttings — but all learn the basics of running their own businesses.

Dan Hiestand
   For 15-year-old Jessica Tomlin, the Bellingham Farmers Market is a place to blow off some creative steam while learning about the business world and even making a buck or two.
   Tomlin, who is about to start her third season as a market vendor, is a participant in the market’s Kids Vending Day — a program that allows younger entrepreneurs an opportunity to sell their wares alongside their adult counterparts one day per month during the market season.
   Kid vendors not only sell their goods — which include anything from flowers to jewelry to hand-painted cards — they have to make them, too. Market organizers believe the program allows for a more diverse experience for the community, and provides valuable business experiences for youth.
   “I think it’s fun because it gives you the experience with the public, and I have a good time doing it,” said Tomlin, who primarily sells handmade jewelry and flower bouquets. “My mom (is a vendor), so I kind of get inspired by her. I’ve always wanted to do my own thing and have my own booth, so it was kind of fun when I heard about the kids day.”

Jessica Tomlin, 15, is about to start her third season as a vendor in the Farmers Market’s Kids Vending Day; she sells primarily handcrafted jewelry and flower bouquets.

A learning experience
   Robin Crowder, market manager, said the program has expanded in the five seasons she has been at the market.
   “We’ve had more and more children participating as the years have gone on,” she said. “When I started, we had a handful of kids. This past year, I think we’ve had as many as about 25 kids on a Saturday come and bring the things that they’ve made or grown.”
   So far, the ages of the children have ranged from 6 to 19, although most are between 6 and 12, Crowder said.
   “We have kids who sell raspberries and plants,” she said. “We have kids selling beaded jewelry, photography and cell-phone ornaments.”
   Even Crowder’s son, C. J., has gotten into the act. The 6-year-old is planning to sell soap and curly willows during the next market season.
   “He spends a lot of time plotting and planning what he’s going to sell at kids day, and I think a lot of kids do that,” Crowder said. “I often get asked by children — or they’ll come with their parents — what I think might sell at the market and what has sold well in the past because they are trying to put some business strategy into it.”
   Crowder said the way kids present their products vary.
   “Some kids have very basic displays, like a card table and a tablecloth and they put their merchandise on that,” she said. “And others have much more elaborate displays. We have two siblings that I think are ages 10 and 13, and they bring garden umbrellas and garden tables and chairs.”
   Linda Deboer, who owns Black Lane Gardens in Everson and has sold plants and soaps for the past three years as a market vendor, said the program gives younger vendors a chance to gain confidence.
   “It’s just a real feeling of success,” Deboer said. Her 9-year-old granddaughter, Sara Chaffin, has been coming to the market with Deboer for several seasons, and decided to give it a go herself last year for the first time. “She is 9 now, and we just did a show together in Lynden at the fairgrounds, and I’ve noticed now that she is able to count back change correctly, and can figure out sales tax. She is just learning a lot about running a business.”
   Chaffin is currently getting ready to sell soap shaped like “yellow duckies and bunnies” for the Easter season, Deboer said.
   “Sara just loves being there,” she said. “I haven’t seen a lot of programs like this. It’s pretty cool.”
   “I think kids are learning everything from beginning to end,” Crowder said. “Inevitably there are going to be failures or things that don’t turn out exactly the way they want — but also successes, something that they came up with that they didn’t think they were going to do.”

A valuable experience
   The program is not simply for show or even just learning, Crowder said: some of the kids can do pretty well raking in the dough.
   “When my son was 5, he sold soap on a rainy April day for one hour and then he was done because it was rainy and wet and miserable,” she said. “But he sold $25 worth of soap in that time, and the kids who stayed longer made significantly more.”
   Tomlin agreed, saying a good business day could be quite lucrative.
   “For me at the kids day, I do pretty good,” she said. “On a good day, I get at least over $100, which is fun. You can get a lot, and some of the kids get more than others.”
   Young vendors pay a $5 fee to participate, compared to the adult vendors, who pay $28 or 6 percent of sales, whichever is greater. Fees are collected after the day’s completion.
   “The community just responds really well, and the vendors really support them,” Crowder said. Many of the vendors help support the kids by buying their products, Crowder said.
   “We have one vendor who sells hot dogs in the market, and she is always going to support the kids and buying things from them,” Crowder said.
   Mike Finger, owner of Cedarville Farm and the first president of the Farmers Market — which opened in 1993 — said the program is a source of pride for him.
   “I love it,” Finger said. “It’s one of my favorite days every season. It’s great to pull in people from the community that aren’t necessarily regular vendors. And it’s great to be encouraging young people’s entrepreneurial inclinations, and giving young kids a chance to make a little bit of money and develop an idea.”
   For the most part, Finger said, vendors are supportive of the program, too.
   “I think there is maybe a little grumbling (from some vendors), but I think most people realize that for whatever competition it might create, it’s also attracting more people to the market and broadening its overall appeal. And the fact is, it’s a community market, and I think providing opportunities for young people in the community is a great thing for us to do. We want Farmers Market vendors in the future, and in some sense, we might be helping to create them.”
   Customers seem to appreciate it, too.
   “I think the customers like it,” he said. “The energy of the market is always lively, but kids days are just another step of liveliness. It just feels right. It just feels like, ‘Hey, this really is Bellingham’s meeting place.’”
   Many of the program participants also learn about the value of dedication and customer loyalty, Crowder said
   “We see them come back year after year. Some of the families are just totally committed. We’ve got one girl who is always bringing handmade cards for every special occasion — like she is always there for Mother’s Day,” Crowder said. “Customers know not to buy Mother’s Day cards elsewhere, and that she will be in the market on the Saturday closest to Mother’s Day. The kids evolve, and they grow their businesses.”

Calling all young entrepreneurs
   Kids Vending Day is the last Saturday of the month during market season, and this season the first one is scheduled for April 28. Those who are interested in vending at the Bellingham Farmers Market should reserve space ahead of time by calling the market office at 647-2060, or by signing up at the market information booth on Saturdays. Kids must call each month that they want to reserve space. The cost is $5 per day (paid after the day’s completion), and kids need to arrive between 9:15 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. to set up for the market opening at 10 a.m.
   “It’s simple: They just need to tell us that they are coming, and we will make sure that we’ve got space for them,” Crowder said. “We just need to plan whether or not we are having 10 children or whether we are having 20 children.”
   Kids should bring everything they need to set up a booth, which may include tables and chairs. Vendors are encouraged to bring protection from the elements — including sunscreen in the summer. It is important to note that kids are responsible for setting up and cleaning up their own booth space.
   Participants are allowed to only sell items that they make or grow. Please note that it can be difficult to sell prepared food items, as all prepared food that is sold in the market must be made in a certified kitchen approved by the Whatcom County Health Department. If you have any questions, contact the market volunteers or market manager Robin Crowder at the information booth at the Saturday Market.
   In addition to the youth vending day, younger people also have an opportunity to have fun. On those days, kids can get involved in various activities, such as sampling fresh fruits and vegetables, making kid-friendly and kid-capable recipes, creating terrific crafts to take home and conducting science experiments. Plus, there’s usually music, balloon performers, jugglers, and other things for kids to see and do.



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