Mill City Farmers Market is always overflowing with fresh food, families, and foodies. On a recent visit there, director Marjorie Hegstrom talked to LiveGreenTwinCities about the market's mission, its growth, and its waiting list that’s a mile long.
I met Marjorie at the Market at 6:30am, ensuring there was plenty of time to watch local farmers and food producers (who had arrived as early as 5:30am) set up their stands beside the mighty Mississippi River before the market opened at 8:00. For the farmers, the place is bustling before the sun comes up.
Marjorie--smart, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and a month away from maternity leave--has been with the Mill City Farmers Market since it was founded in June of 2006 by Brenda Langton (chef/owner of Spoonriver and Cafe Brenda), John Crippen of the Mill City Museum, and Farm in the City (where Marjorie worked at the time). And while the market has not strayed from its core mission --to promote local, sustainable and organic agriculture, increasing economic opportunities for farmers, urban youth, small businesses and food artisans”-- quite a lot has changed for the market as it has grown in size and reputation.
For one thing, today the market has a waiting list a mile long, loaded with food producers and sellers who have completed the extensive application process (reviewed by at least two farmers market staff members) and are hoping to get a chance to sell their goods at Mill City. And while most of the produce sold at the market comes from within 100 miles of downtown Minneapolis, there’s no hard cut-off point. Minnesota Valley Organics, at 125 miles, is the farthest farm represented at the market, selling pork and eggs good enough to forgive the extra distance. And the spots at the Market come pretty cheap: Food producers and sellers pay the market only $30/week for their spots, plus a $50 annual fee.
Marjorie and I talked about the application process, and about what matters to the Mill City Farmers Market when considering a new vendor. Marjorie says that "'certified organic' is not always the gold standard" in local food, explaining that integrated pest management, or IPM ("an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices," according to the EPA
) is a practice that may include using some chemicals in a targeted way and can be critical to the success of a small, sustainable farm.
I especially appreciate the fact that the market is concerned with fair-trade--paying fair wage for labor and goods. Marjorie believes that "the [business] person trying to sustain a business is a big part of sustainability too." I wondered aloud whether the market had encouraged farmers to adopt greener, more sustainable practices, and Marjorie nodded her head, proud to let me know that “from the backend, we’ve been able to drive more sustainable sourcing.”
When I mentioned that the Mill City Farmers Market is a great place to take my young kids, Marjorie smiled. Mill City Market is aware and proud of its reputation as a great place to bring your family, and Marjorie considers the Market’s educational bent (classes on food seasons, preparations, etc. are offered) critical to its mission and success. "There’s a foodie element [here]," Marjorie explained, "but there also needs to be an element of ‘it’s easy to eat this way.'" People often come to the market, Marjorie said, in order to buy the freshest possible ingredients for that day’s dinner. But the Mill City Farmers Market wants to teach people that "they can do a farmers market dinner, and lunch for the next 3 days and dinners too." Much of the food will last as long as a week, if properly handled.
Even before it opened at 8:00am, the market was abuzz. Marjorie expertly fielded questions from interns helping set up a food demonstration (peas were being featured that day) and vendors setting up shop, staying level-headed and calm even as the rain poured down and the vendors adjusted their tables.
I was grateful to spend some time with Marjorie at the Market, and also happy to catch up with Ann from Local D'lish (whose market sells meat, eggs, milk, dairy, and other fun things). I was also able to discuss the finer points of harvesting ramps with Pam from Prairie Hollow Farm. And I sampled single source buckthorn honey from Ames Farm. I even had a chance to grab some terrific, spicy Easter Radishes on my way out. Highly recommended.Lee Zukor is the creator of SimpleGoodandTasty.com, a web site focused on local food, health, and community. (Market image courtesy of sustainabletable.org. Marjorie Hegstrom image by Lee Zukor.)