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The Blended Farmers’ Market: How Toledo Thrives with Online Sales

Local Line Blog_Toledo Thursday Market

The Toledo Thursday Market has served their local community for nearly 5 years. Recently, they doubled in size and now have a strong following in their community. 

Looking for alternative ways to grow their market, they started with Local Line in early 2020. When COVID-19 hit Washington in March, they pivoted 100% to online sales because they couldn't open. Because they were quick to move online, they were the only open market in their county for two and a half months! 

A year later in March 2021, the Toledo Thursday Market team finds success selling both online and in-person. We sat down with Market Manager Carol Berch to understand more about their switch to selling online and learn how balancing both works for them and their vendors!

Here's a quick view of each question we asked Carol (we've starred our favourite ones!):

  1. Can you tell us a bit about the market?
  2. How did you hear about Local Line? Why did you decide to start using us?
  3. What is a week-in-the-life of a market manager online?*
  4. How are your vendors reacting to your online store?
  5. Do you have any tips for setting up an effective storefront?*
  6. How is your community reacting to your online store?
  7. How do you combine online and in-person sales at your market?*
  8. How are you promoting your online store? Which methods are most effective?
  9. What is the biggest benefit you get from Local Line?*
  10. What is your favourite Local Line feature?
  11. What advice would you offer to other market managers considering starting an online market?
  12. Do you have anything else you'd like to add?

Can you tell us a bit about the market?

We are going into our 5th season. We are based out of a very rural town in southwest Washington called Toledo. There are about 800 people in the town.

We started with half a dozen farmers; now, on-site, we have about 18! Things have been slowly but steadily growing into a very successful market.

How did you hear about Local Line? Why did you decide to start using us?

Our market manager at the time had heard about Local Line. She had started working with Jordan probably a year and a half ago. It was still a small operation, and we thought of ways to grow the market. Local Line came up, and she pursued it single-handedly. When COVID-19 hit and shut everything down, we pivoted to it immediately and started getting traction immediately. People still wanted the market, but they couldn’t shop in person. 

Washington was one of the first states to get hit with COVID. Schools shut down; restaurants shut down; everything shut down. We were considered essential as a food source, and fortunately, we had a building in town, so we didn’t have to worry about the winter weather. With Local Line, we were the only market in Louis County for 2.5 months. Everyone else had to delay while they dealt with logistics and social distancing. We pivoted to online only and not having vendors or customers on-site. It was very successful from the start.

What is a week-in-the-life of a market manager online?

I am also a baker at the market, so it takes a lot of time management! 

  • Sunday, Monday and Tuesday: We open orders on Sunday by sending out a catalog through the catalog schedule feature to our customer base. Currently, we have about 165 customers signed up. Throughout Monday and Tuesday, I log into Local Line to check out the online store. I ensure everything is running smoothly and there are no hiccups along the way.

  • Wednesday: On Wednesday, I pull all the orders for the week through the pick list feature. I print them out, email the vendors their orders, and write cheques for them for their Local Line orders for the week. I’m a big fan of spreadsheets, so working with Local Line has been very easy. 

  • Thursday: Thursday is market day! At the market, we get all the tables set up and ready, depending on how many orders we have that week. We put the customer names on stickers on the table. The vendors come in an hour before the market starts. They are asked to put the relevant orders with the customer’s name. This way, we can sort everything out onto the tables. Customers come in, look for their name, and pick up their order! This system has proven to be very efficient for our online orders.

And then it just repeats like that every week. It does get a little bit crazy on Tuesday and Wednesday because I have stuff in the oven for about 8 hours a day! I put bread in the oven that will take an hour or so, run back inside and download a pick list.

It’s pretty busy, but most of all it’s a lot of fun! 

How are your vendors reacting to your online store?

Toledo Thursday Market Local Line vendor CoreyIt works great! We have several vendors that are Local Line only and don’t set up at the market. Many small farmers don’t have time to sit at a market for the day. They need to be in their field doing stuff. At our market, we have many of those vendors and realized that it works very well for them. They love it! 

Also, our vendor fees are very low. As a market, we wanted to focus on the small vendors. If some of them need to take a month off from the market but still want to sell online, they can do that. We can give them much flexibility because we want them to bring their best product to market. The easier we can make it for the producer, the better the market ultimately is.

Do you have any tips for setting up an effective storefront?

Take pictures of everything! When people look at a page, they don’t want to see many blank boxes. I think pictures are the most critical thing to make something look nice. Also, put up an interesting description of what the product is.

As vendors are responsible for uploading their products, we have a rule that all product names cannot start with numbers, i.e. 5lb package of flour. When you have 700 products listed, it becomes hard for customers to find what they’re looking for. You want all similar products clumped together. 

How is your community reacting to your online store? 

The community loves it! They think it’s fabulous. Having an online store allows us to reach a variety of customers. We have a lot of seniors in the area. When covid first hit, we wanted to continue to serve them, so we offered delivery. 

We also have many folks in the area working or going to school, and they like the convenience of ordering all of their stuff. Some other customers realize that popular products sell out quickly. If you want them, you better reserve them. Other customers routinely order an excess of $100 a week. They get all of their produce, eggs, and big stuff from us. 

How do you combine online and in-person sales at your market? 

Right now, I’d say 60% of our sales are online. We are still in the early phase of opening up the market for the season. Our growing season starts producing around April. We don’t have a lot of foot traffic in the market yet. 

As the season progresses and our COVID restrictions start to ease, I expect to see more in-person sales and about 30% online sales. However, in May, when the gardening season starts, we have 4-5 vendors that provide plant and bare-root starts. That number will probably increase to 70% in that time frame. People ordered tons and tons of starts last year - there are some dedicated gardeners out here!

How are you promoting your online store? Which methods are most effective? 

BuckleberryOn any given week, this is usually how it goes: 

  • Our catalog schedule goes out on Sunday with this week’s offering. Our order window opens from Sunday until Tuesday at midnight.
  • Our social media wizard volunteer will put out promotions linking to our online store on several different local Facebook groups and our Facebook page. Our area has many active Facebook pages and groups - so this is probably our most effective method to remind our community. This way, we hit a good number of people quickly.
  • On our main webpage, we have an order now button that links to our online store.
  • We have a small local newspaper. The journalist for the Toledo column always adds a promo for our market. She’s a big supporter! It reaches a lot of people and costs us nothing!

We also hand out flyers about our online store at the market. We noticed there are still lots of shoppers that didn’t know about it! 20% of those people look at the catalog and put in orders.

What is the biggest benefit you get from Local Line?

Local Line has allowed us to bring in a much broader range of vendors because we don’t require them to all be at the market, and that variety brings in more customers. We have an excellent group of growers. But when you go to order from a market, you also want to see if there are craftspeople or other types of vendors. We have a custom coffee roaster (online and at the market) and a grower that does the most amazing mushrooms you’ve ever seen (online) - they are bringing in customers. The diversity of vendors and products is what I think drives the market. We have something for everybody.

Out of our 18 vendors we have right now, 50-60% are online only!

What is your favourite Local Line feature?

As a vendor, I like that I can quickly go in, edit my products, upload a picture, and look at my inventory—it’s easy to use. It only takes me 5-10 minutes a week. You set it up and don’t have to worry about anything!

As a market manager, I like how Local Line allows me to look ahead and make some projections about how many orders are coming in and how much space I need to allocate when setting up the market for the day. It makes it very easy to plan the market ahead of time, so I know what I’m doing when I go in. 

What advice would you offer to other market managers considering starting an online farmers’ market store?

Be prepared to help your vendors get themselves set up so there is consistency in the way they list products (i.e. pictures, descriptions, product names). Put the time in ahead of time so that they know exactly how to use things. 

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

Local Line kept us alive for most of 2020 when everything shut down. It helped the vendors tremendously. 

Having Local Line helps vendors to plan things better. It allows them to go back and see what’s being ordered, what sold, what didn’t sell - what they can do to better their business. If you’re only doing in-person sales and don’t have meticulous records, you can’t necessarily go back and see where to improve. Local Line is a tool that lets them manage things better.


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