The Lessons of Lyon

MY INTRO TO STREET VENDING

Sometimes, immersion and open-mindedness can be important components to one’s personal journey. One summer several years ago, I had the opportunity to study abroad. My first year of business school had been so very painful that I was literally flying as far away from the situation as my student loans would take me. Luckily, I landed in a great place. I went to France, and for weeks, I had the daily culinary experience of walking out the front door of my dorm to a ton of fresh food vendors on the streets of Lyon.

The food was so nice-looking and tasty that I am surprised to this day that I did not return stateside weighing about 10 pounds heavier. Even though I was walking about a mile from the dorm to my classes in July heat, there was always time to stop here, there, and everywhere on the way back home after classes. Little did I know that I was regularly dining in a locale that for the better part of a century has been dubbed the world capital of gastronomy!

Photo by Alejandro Sotillet

Being exposed to all of that great food for a good period of time was quite a cultural dive into something special. Who knew that decades later, the day would arrive when I would be a gourmet food artisan vendor, in similar fashion to the Lyonnaise street vendors?

FROM STREET VENDING TO FARMERS MARKETS

Although I have walked through quite a few farmers markets over the years, until I was a guest vendor at one (thanks to chocolate!), I could not fully understand what has been going on under the hood of this vast machine. There are more than 8,600 farmers markets in the US, with sales that in 2015, exceeded $1.5 billion (USDA).

I believe that farmers markets can be more than business – they can also be a lot of fun both for vendors and their customers!

In many ways, farmers markets can create multiple avenues for a local economy to thrive. These markets give farmers, food artisans, and crafts-persons an avenue for direct sales, which adds to each vendor’s bottom line! Moreover, many food artisans buy fresh ingredients from local producers. And whenever someone makes a purchase at a farmers market, their dollars have effectively been recycled within the local economy.

In addition to the positive economic impact, there are some intangible benefits to consumers, sellers, and the community at a local farmers market. For instance, consumers can interact with their local producers and give them verbal and nonverbal feedback that is both immediate and direct. As a couple of farmers market vendors have shared with me – because many market shoppers attend regularly, it’s all about building relationships with your regulars – and they will help spread the word about the products you are selling.

Am I the only person who sees this photo and immediately jumps to the vision of a delicious double-berry ganache coated in dark chocolate?

There is also the interaction of market vendors with each other – a friendly competition that creates a support system that many small business owners might not have access to when their “shop” is physically isolated by walls and windows.

Nowadays, when I walk through a farmers market, or if I am lucky enough to visit a large city with a thriving street vending scene, I think of how many ingredients I can source there for my next batch of chocolate confections.

In my next post, you can read about my first “adventure” as a vendor at a local farmers market.

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