Farmers' markets boom across Minnesotaby Roseanne Pereira, Minnesota Public Radio
A new weekday farmers' market debuts tonight in downtown Minneapolis. It's part of a growing trend. Farmers' markets have been sprouting up nationwide. In 1994, there were close to 1,800. Now, there are over well over double that. In Minnesota, farmers' markets are appearing across the state.
Minneapolis, Minn. — It's only 10 a.m. in downtown Minneapolis, but Michael Noreen of Burning River Farms has already sold out of fresh pea sprouts. But, he's got a lot more available at his stall in the farmers' market.
"We've got french breakfast radishes, which are an heirloom radish. We've got some arugula, pretty baby arugla, sunflower sprouts which are kind of a real, crisp, nutty good for salads, things like that. Some baby cut spinach..."
Scenes like this are going on all over Minnesota as farmers meet customers face to face at local markets.
Paul Hugunin, who coordinates the Minnesota Grown program at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, says if you want your food opinions to make an impact, head to the farmers' market. Here, farmers really do take into consideration what consumers want and grow accordingly.
Hugunin puts out the Minnesota Grown directory, which lists all 88 markets throughout Minnesota. That's up from 74 listed markets last year.
"One of the neat things about farmers' markets in Minnesota is that each one has its own personality," says Hugunin.
Each market gets to set its own rules as far as how big it wants to be, and what sorts of products it allows. For example, the downtown St. Paul farmers' market only allows locally grown produce, generally, that's produce grown within 70 miles of St. Paul. Minneapolis, on the other hand, allows reselling, where farmers offer food from outside Minnesota.
"At the Minneapolis market, in addition to locally grown products, you'll also see things that are not in season in Minnesota. You'll see berries all times of year and you'll see bananas or pineapples," says Hugunin.
And some markets offer more than just food.
Nestled between the Mill City Museum and the Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis, the Mill City Market is bustling.
There are weekly cooking demonstrations and activities for kids, like visiting magicians and clowns. It's like an old-time village fair.
Anne Lagerstead examines strawberries at a produce stand. With one hand, she holds her baby nestled against her. With her other hand, she holds a fistful of bills.
"It's growing season and as much as we can, we'd like to support our local community," she says.
According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, supporting community is just one of the reasons for the increase in farmers' markets. It says there's growing consumer awareness and new market savvy developing amongst small farmers.
Mill City Market's executive director Alex Hoag says her market supports growers with very small farms. "They couldn't go into a grocery store, because they could never grow enough volume to handle a grocery store," says Hoag. "But they can come here and sell everything they have and make a decent living."
Hoag is also a customer. She brims with the enthusiasm of the market visitor who happily stumbles upon a new find. She talks about the latest organic donuts at the market, the fresh ricotta cheese, and the duck eggs she just bought.
"They are huge and the yellow is huge. When I scrambled them they get this velvety sort of golden fluffiness and I didn't put a thing in them," Hoag says.
The Mill City Market expands its hours June 7, with a Thursday evening market from 4-8 p.m. It will continue with its Saturday market through the rest of the growing season, which last until October.
- Morning Edition, 06/07/2007, 7:50 a.m.