The St. Cloud Area Farmers Market recently kicked off its 30th year with a new, more visible location on Division Street.
After moving locations from the Bremer Bank to the Lady Slipper Site, a city-owned parking lot on weekdays, organizers of the Saturday market are expecting their busiest year yet.
“It was just getting too crowded,” said St. Cloud Area Farmers Market treasurer Faye Haws, who also helps run the stand for Bannockburn Farmof Cold Spring, Minn.
“That’s what comes with success — you sort of outgrow your space. We now have more space, good visibility and parking is easier. It’s perfect.”
The increasing popularity of local foods also prompted a location change for the Avon Farmers Market.
There are 10 farmers markets spread out over five days in central Minnesota. The Little Falls market runs twice a week: Wednesdays and Saturdays.
“The term ‘local’ is definitely thrown around more often these days,” said Brian McCann, of the McCann Farm in Milaca, Minn. He sells at the market in Sartell.
What has sparked the increased interest?
“I think a big thing is people like knowing where their food comes from,” said Jackie Kitchar, who is the vice president of the St. Cloud market.
“People like knowing their food is raised locally. People are just much more conscious with food in general nowadays. All of our vendors are committed to bringing the best that they can.”
McCann pointed out that documentaries such as “Food, Inc.” have the public concerned about the food industry.
The government has taken notice of the growth of farmers markets, as well.
Gov. Mark Dayton recently signed legislation relaxing licensing and fees for vendors who offer samples at farmers markets. Customers can expect more free samples this year.
“It is a very positive [legislation],” said Janel Lamp-Wiese, a Smude Sunflower Oil vendor who regularly offers free samples at the Sartell farmers market.
A group crafting the Minnesota Food Charter is expected to release recommendations to lawmakers in October, with a focus on making local foods affordable and accessible for Minnesotans.
In a number of states, including Minnesota, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps ) can be used at farmers markets. The market in Little Falls is among those authorized to handle SNAP payments.
“There’s more and more organizations working together to bring local food to local people,” said Terri Emmerich, a vendor at the St. Joseph, Sartell and Avon farmers markets. “It’s an encouraging sign.”
Fresh vegetables remain the most popular attraction at farmers markets.
Generally, the busiest time is right when the markets open.
“People want that first pick of the produce,” said Keith Schellinger, who sells pure maple syrup at the St. Cloud market.
Because of the long winter, most of the vegetables are behind schedule this year.
But once they start crowding the stands, the central Minnesota farmers markets are expecting another encouraging selling season.
“We are glad to get it going again,” said Ron Neumann, who brings his produce from Neumann Farms in Osceola, Wis., to the farmers market in Sartell, Minn. “It seems to be growing all the time. The markets were very, very active throughout last year.”