The days are long, the butterflies have emerged from their cocoons and now is the perfect time to ditch that retail job like a cherry tree forfeiting its blossoms and hightail it outdoors. If you’re looking to supplement to your freelance income and you think WWOOFing and Michael Pollan are the greatest cultural advances since the Honeycrisp apple, consider working for your favorite farmer’s market vendor. Now is prime greenmarket hiring season, but this is one gig a resume won’t get you.
PAY AND PERKS
Expect to make $10 to $12 / hour in cash, with certain vendors offering commissions if sales exceed a set amount. Some bigger markets stay busy throughout the day and can be open for up to 10 hours. Weekend availability is always a plus, and shifts often start as early as 7am. Benefits to expect are the absence of paperwork (though, ahem, everybody files their taxes accurately on the honor system), cool friends (the repeated world champion of air guitar?!), and as much free or discounted food as you can carry. Tan on sunny days, put proverbial hair on your chest in the cold. Maybe your boss lets you drink beer out of Starbucks cups all day, maybe you just haven’t thought of asking him. Either way, he won’t have you wear a nametag and talk like a robot to customers.
Setting up and breaking down the stand take up the first and last hours, while all the time between is much less demanding – hobnob with the regulars, win over new customers with taste demonstrations, put their money in the box and their food in a bag. If you find yourself compulsively arranging your produce into artful stacks on your kitchen counter, this is definitely the job for you. Extra points if you’re good at carrying folding tables through a crowd.
1. KNOW SOMEONE
The best way to work for a market vendor is through a personal connection. If you know someone who works at a market stall, a recommendation means you’re as good as hired. The people in charge are usually full-time farmers who are busy enough managing their harvests, and have no interest in burdening themselves with interviews and resumes. Now is exactly the time the vendors look for more workers, and the first people they think of are the acquaintances of their trusted employees.
2. START AS A VOLUNTEER
The next best option is to get out there and make some. GrowNYC, which manages the city’s greenmarkets, has more work to do than employees it can pay, and always looks for volunteers. Head to the market manager’s tent at and ask if you can help with any upcoming promotions. A simple form and short training session are the only requirements. Nothing says “hire me” like leading a tour for a kindergarten class. Or if you think your recipe for sautéed broccoli rabe is the best in town, put it to the test at your market’s cooking demonstration table. A few hours a week is enough to show the farmers that you’re capable and committed, and they may offer you a job before you even ask. Even if none of the vendors can hire you, they probably will see you off with a free bag of food, and if nothing else you’ll have done one more thing to strengthen your resume.
3. BECOME A REGULAR
Unlike the supermarket, where you may never see the same employee twice, the greenmarket has a relatively stable group of workers. Ask them about foods you don’t know well, or favorite recipes of theirs, and tell them the next time how it worked out. Once the farmers see that you are invested in their goods and respect them as people, they will be much more comfortable taking you on as a worker. The more endless your curiosity the better, because if you wind up on the other side of the table you will have to answer a score of odd questions throughout the day, ranging from comparing flavor profiles to preparation techniques to: “what the hell is this thing?”
4. OFF THE STREET
How you present yourself makes or breaks your chances of walking away with a job after a single meeting. Pick a stall specializing in food you like and try to start a conversation about the things for sale. Show that you’re knowledgeable and gregarious before asking for work. Stop by the market shortly after it opens, or in the afternoon when the lunch-rush dies down so you can talk for a longer time if necessary. Find out which of your favorite farms at year-round markets also sell for those open only in the summer, and ask if they expect to need seasonal workers. Typically fruit and vegetable vendors expand their business dramatically in the warm months, while meat, eggs, and dairy sell at relatively stable levels throughout the year.
5. MAKE IT LAST
If you do end up getting hired, get to know the other farmers you work next to and find out if they need help at other markets. Even if the job starts out on a seasonal basis, it can easily lead to year-round employment if the money in your cash box routinely adds up properly at the end of the day. The farmers are friends with one another and will be happy to recommend their workers if they are impressed by their conduct. So get on it fast, because the crops planted after the last frost are about to yield their bounty, and the skeleton crew the farmers kept around in the winter won’t be enough to handle all the business!
6. WHERE TO GO
Fort Green, McCarren Park and Grand Army Plaza all have large year-round markets, though the Greenmarket program is well represented throughout the borough. If you consider anywhere off the L train an extension of Brooklyn, head to the Union Square Greenmarket, which features 140 vendors 4 days a week, but keep in mind that competition for attention is fierce out there.