Local farmers markets thrivingMENTOR, Minn. - On a weekday afternoon., Rhonda Schnacky is making salsa. Or dehydrating food. Or baking – lots of baking.
MENTOR, Minn. - On a weekday afternoon., Rhonda Schnacky is making salsa. Or dehydrating food. Or baking – lots of baking.
“I’m looking forward to doing this once a month in the winter time,” she said, rather than her current weekly grind. “I put out so many baked goods, it takes up half my week right now.”
It’s all in the name of the farmers market here, which Schnacky helped launch four years ago. It’s thriving now, with about 15 vendors each Saturday morning selling everything from free-range eggs to maple syrup to live bait.
“What we try to teach people is to buy locally,” she said. “It seems like it’s really worked.”
Markets like the one in Mentor have been particularly popular attractions over the past few years, especially as sustainability movements and food-source issues gain traction. Regionally, a handful of relatively new additions have joined long-established farmers markets to cater to consumers who want fresh, locally grown food.
In Mentor, the vendors are varied – master gardeners, local beekeepers, a crafter who makes recycled art – but they all have to bring handmade, local products to the mix.“We don’t allow any imported things and resale items,” said Schnacky, the market’s president. “Everything’s got to be made by the person.”
Along with the buy-local message, her market is also focused on teaching consumers to buy seasonally rather than relying on imported, out-of-state produce.
“The stuff that’s got to be shipped for thousands of miles is not helping the planet at all,” she said, “and it’s expensive and really doesn’t taste that good.” To that end, the Mentor market also operates once a month in the winter in the local community center.
When the market first started, she said, there were just a handful around. “Now, it’s like there’s a market in every town,” she said.
But some have been around for decades. In West Fargo, for instance, Trina Kalm’s market at 349 E. Main Ave. was started by her parents 30 years ago with produce from the family farm in Hawley. Kalm took over 10 years ago.
It moved a few times before settling in its current location. Kalm does the harvesting and the selling herself, and the produce is all grown using natural fertilizers.
“I think a lot of people just want to have fresh food and local food,” she said. “It gets busy.”
Over the years, she’s cultivated a number of regular customers. The market is seasonal, but it’s also a full-time job. Kalm is open every day in the summer, and typically into November, weather permitting.
“This is what I do,” she said.
And at Dike East Park in Fargo, Bill Erbes has been selling produce at the Great Plains Producer Association’s Community Farmers Market for 25 years – and knows a few growers who’ve been around a few years longer than that.
The market focuses exclusively on food rather than crafts. “It’s just good, locally raised produce,” Erbes said. “It’s stuff that’s picked within 24 hours of when it’s sold.”
Erbes, like Schnacky in Mentor, said much of the produce in grocery stores traveled a long way to get there. “Consumers are interested in buying local and knowing where their food came from,” he said.
The Farmers’ Market & Beyond in West Fargo, meanwhile, is among the newer markets in the region. The West Fargo Park District started it five year years ago in response to interest by growers.
“I think we’ve always thought it was a good idea,” said Kim Wangler, a recreation specialist for the Park District. “It’s something that farmers really believe in.”
That market runs on Thursdays and Saturdays into October. It draws about 350 to 500 people a week, Wangler said.
Some growers come from around the region and participate in many markets. Others, like Frances Jenner of the Bayer Vegetable Farm, are exclusive to the market.
Jenner, who sells produce ranging from cucumbers to squash to eggplant, has been coming to the market for two years, though she’s been growing produce for much longer than that.
Like Kalm and other growers, she raises her vegetables without chemicals and typically picks them the day she brings them to sell – both qualities she said appeal to her buyers.
“They know what they’re getting,” she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502