The hard work of starting a new farmers’ market

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The new Village Farmer’s Market at the St. Anthony Shopping Center offers more than a selection of fresh vegetables. Thanks to Market Manager Wendy Huebner’s efforts, shoppers can find childcare, musical entertainment, community programs, and discounts that save them money at 15 shopping center businesses.


But it takes some money to operate a market, and this year, the new operation is coming up short in that department.


Huebner said she got the idea to start a farmers’ market after visiting other local markets, such as the one on Johnson Street in Northeast’s Audubon neighborhood, and the one in the St. Boniface Church parking lot on University Avenue. She organized a holiday craft show in a vacant store at the shopping center, which provided some initial funding, and sought support from merchants and community members. She bartered market space with a web page designer, found a local attorney to work pro bono in setting up a non-profit organization, and created a multi-pocket tote bag with the Village Farmer’s Market logo (which her brother, a retired art director, designed). It sells for $10.


Todd Hanson, owner of St. Anthony Eye Clinic; Jean Rarick, owner of Annona Gourmet; and area resident Jane Peterson serve on the Village Farmer’s Market board of directors.


The market opened in July and runs every Monday from 3 to 7 p.m. It will be open until October 11.


Huebner said they are fortunate to have a library (run by Hennepin County) in the shopping center, that offers meeting space for the community talks. In July, the speakers covered environmental topics, such as composting and rain gardens. August was local authors and artists month. In September and October, “We will be moving more into food,” Huebner said. “There will be a woman talking about kitchen design, another talking about cookbooks. We are hoping to start a recipe exchange.


“I initially thought that getting speakers would be difficult, and getting musicians to come and play at the market would be easy,” she said, “but it has turned out to be just the opposite. Even when we do have music, we don’t have a p.a. system and it kind of gets lost in the air.” The performances so far have included two women who perform mandolin duets, and have been booked for three Mondays, and “a juggler who just showed up,” she said.


The vendors include the Magic Bus Cafe, which operates out of a purple school bus and offers indoor and outdoor seating. About a dozen vendors sell vegetables; it costs them $150 for a booth for the 13-week season.


“The first two weeks we had 1,000 people a day.” More recently, the number has been around 500, she added.


The produce includes a wide range of vegetables, including Asian vegetables, and flowers, including dried flowers. Local farms such as Leeski Farms and Straight River Farm take part in the market. Other items for sale include herbs, coffee, bakery goods, fruit, mushrooms, jams, and biscotti. There is an egg vendor who sells chicken, duck, goose, emu and quail eggs. “A chocolatier is coming,” Huebner said. “I am looking for a cheese vendor and maybe some more bakery products.”


She said the market had to join the Minnesota Growers Association and the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association. “The vendors are members; you put out information about your market. Sometimes they come to you. I emailed a lot of people. There are rules about farmers’ markets. You can’t be a re-seller. You have to make or grow what you sell.”


She said she is seeking donations to keep the market going, because even though it is doing reasonably well, they have been falling about 12 to 15 percent short of what they need to operate. The money they raise would go toward an advertising budget, liability insurance, the market manager’s salary, some money for the web designer, and laminated signs and banners.


“A bare-bones budget for a farmer’s market is about $10,000,” Huebner said. “We’ve only raised a couple thousand dollars. At the end of this year, I’ll be applying for a 501-c-3 [tax-exempt status]; then we can apply for grants. I would like to be funded for three years, so that we can achieve self -sustainability.”


The market’s website is www.thevillagefarmersmarket.org. The email is admin@thevillagefarmersmarket.org, and Huebner’s phone number is 612-466-1046.