My name is Erin and I am a farmers market junkie. When I lived in Minneapolis, Saturdays were geared around going to the farmers market. I would arrive early and make my way to the small cart with a painted mural of coffee mugs. I needed the get-up-and-go juice to navigate the rows and rows of vendors. The guy who was making us our cup of joe told me that he had roasted the beans yesterday. You could feel his excitement when he talked about the nuances in flavors, the family he works with in Costa Rica, and his roasting process. We bought a pound of beans to take home.
From the produce vendors and cheese makers to the pig farmers and beekeepers, the stories continued with each stop. They would explain in detail where and how it was grown, raised, or made. They were knowledgeable in the health benefits, the history, and even how to prepare at home. From my morning coffee to my dinner table, I am grateful for what they have shared.
When our family moved to Walker in northern Minnesota, there wasn't a farmers market within 50 miles. It was one of the few things I missed from city living. Walker is not known for agriculture; it's a tourist town set between the sparkling waters of Leech Lake and the Chippewa National Forest. Here we were living closer to nature but further from the connection to our food.
I made it my mission to find those backyard gardeners and farmers who are always giving away their goods. You know, those folks who love to play in the dirt. The ones who seem to need a gardening intervention because they can no longer find homes for their zucchini and tomatoes.
I was desperate to smile again when I cooked dinner, thinking about who grew my carrots and raised my chicken. That's when I knew I wanted a farmers market in Walker. With our first attempt, it was hard to tell from a quick, drive-by glance if it was a poorly put together garage sale or a cookout in a driveway. It certainly didn't look like the farmers markets I was used to in the city.
Doug and George were transplants who had moved "up north" to try their hand as chicken farmers. They arrived with a grill, a cooler full of freshly butchered chickens, and a homemade meat rub that raised our eyebrows and pursed our lips in excitement.
Sandy set up her table with a variety of potatoes, onions, and cabbage. Anna and her 11 year old daughter grew their own herbs, dried them with care, and packaged them into herbal teas. We had three vendors in the driveway of our home.
It was months before we held the next farmers market. Theresa, my close friend, had the same yearning as I did for a regular market in Walker. We logged many miles traveling to neighboring towns scouting farmers and begging friends to become vendors in Walker. This time we moved to a larger property with a barn. We added a smoothie stand thinking that may persuade a few extra folks to swing by. The market had four vendors and lasted three weeks.They say the third time's the charm. It had been two years since our run at the barn. We now had a central location at the Green Scene Market, complete with parking and bathrooms. Soon we added live music, served breakfast and lunch, and had tables for customers to sit and enjoy the atmosphere.
Now, five years later, we regularly have 30 vendors. You can now create a full meal buying direct from the source. Customers can get cheese, chicken, beef, lamb, venison, a dizzying variety of produce, wood-fi red oven breads, cupcakes, plants, jams, pickles, salsa, herbs, honey, wild rice, mushrooms, maple syrup, soaps, jewelry, cards, flowers, rugs, and even handmade furniture. Even now, every Thursday morning I head to Green Scene to enjoy the farmers market, starting with the coffee stand.
Looking to start a farmers market in your town?
1.Put together a plan. Create your mission. Decide on the type of market it will be. Will it include crafters and farmers? Will you only allow vendors from a certain distance?
2.Secure a location from the city or from a private owner. The location should be large enough to allow for vendors to set up tents and patrons to have easy foot traffic and parking.
3.Assemble partners. The Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Grown, and the Minnesota Farmers Market Association are great resources in helping you get started.
4.Obtain proper permits and insurance.
5.Develop policies. Set up market rules, fees, dates, and times of operation.
6.Recruit vendors and volunteers.
7.Spread the word. Utilize social media, chamber of commerce, and flyers.
8.Enjoy the real flavors of eating seasonally fresh, locally grown food while supporting family farms and connecting with your community.
Erin Haefele is a chef and owner of The Green Scene Organic Market and Catering in Walker, MN. She also hosts the Walker Farmers Market every Thursday during the summer on the grounds of her market.