Mini-markets bring maxi-fresh food to inner-city Minneapolis

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While Minneapolis and St. Paul boast major farmers’ markets, many low-income people without cars find them difficult to access. In Minneapolis, a concerted effort including changes in ordinances and non-profit support has brought mini-farmers-markets closer to people who lack access to fresh produce. 

Step one was a change of city ordinances, to allow lower cost for permits and easier application procedures. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) worked with the city to structure the needed changes. According to IATP:

Previously, even the smallest farmers markets had to go through a costly and complex licensing process to start their market. In response, IATP worked with the City of Minneapolis to develop a simplified process for small markets.

This work led to approval of the City of Minneapolis’ “Local Produce Market” permit for markets with five or fewer vendors that sell only locally grown fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs. This permit process greatly reduces the time and expense of establishing small farmers markets, enabling community centers, senior housing facilities and other neighborhood organizations to host a mini-market on their own property.

The markets, said JoAnne Berkenkamp of IATP, are neighborhood-appropriate, scaled markets with five or fewer farmers each. They began two years ago with six markets, doubling to twelve markets last year, and growing to as many as 21 this summer. Markets are hosted by trusted organizations in the communities. “All the groups are coming to us,” Berkencamp said. ” It’s all coming out of the community. … I think there’s a certain empowerment that comes with these organizations bringing food to the community. We support it, but the markets are theirs. We want it to be owned by the neighborhood.”

Most of the farmers are Hmong, and they typically go to a larger market in the morning and then sell at a mini-market later in the day. “We have not lost one farmer since the beginning of the project,” said Berkenkamp. “They’re coming back, they’re bringing their family members, they want to sell at multiple markets.”

While the farmers and markets are too small to get state certification for the WIC food program on their own, IATP has been certified as a farmers market with multiple sites. That means that people can use WIC coupons at most of the mini-markets. IATP trains the host organizations and helps to deal with the paperwork.

Food stamps – now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) – are a bigger hurdle.

“Fifteen years ago, before food stamps went electronic,” recalled Berkenkamp, “a lot of food stamps were used at farmers’ markets. Then it dried up.”

Now the SNAP program operates exclusively through EBT transfers, and the wireless internet connections and equipment needed for EBT is beyond the capacity of the mini-markets. Iowa has developed a farmers’ market SNAP program through the state health department, so it’s possible, if the state is willing to work on it and to pay part of the cost.

Northpoint Health and Wellness Center is working on a year-long comprehensive food assessment for North Minneapolis. During the research process, they talked to residents and retailers. Among the preliminary findings:

Transportation remains a barrier to accessing fresh produce with only about 40% of Near North residents having access to a vehicle;

There is interest among residents for building urban agriculture infrastructure in North Minneapolis, including increasing the number of food-production community gardens;

There is interest among residents to improving the availability of mechanisms for purchasing foods from local farms, including increasing the numbers of farmers’ markets, mini-markets, small vendors/corner carts, and community-supported agriculture distribution sites …

 

IATP has published the “How-to” Guide for Hosting Mini Farmers’ Markets in Minneapolis, and works with sponsoring organizations and markets. The markets could spread to other cities, but that would require ordinance changes in other cities, similar to those made in Minneapolis.

The mini-markets are located in a variety of sites in Minneapolis, ranging from Brian Coyle Center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood to St. Anne’s Farmers Market in North Minneapolis to Sabathani in South Minneapolis to Audubon in Northeast. In addition to neighborhood organizations, Augsburg College and two hospitals also sponsor mini markets.