Kristen Newton came up empty for greens on her first trip of the season to the Cottage Grove United Church of Christ Farmers Market.
A late spring stifled crop growth for Washington County growers, but the CGUCC farmers market saw business boom in only its second week of the season.
Organizers estimated more than 300 people passed through the church parking lot on June 20, buying up an assortment of homemade goods like honey, soap and bread from a diverse group of vendors that were organized in preparation for so few fruits and vegetables. The market had opened with fewer than half of its 22 vendors.
“It was insane,”said Kim Heilmann, a vendor turned market manager. “Especially since the farmer’s aren’t ready yet.
“We’ll have another new vendor [on July 11],” Heilmann said. “A smoked salmon guy.”
Last week, the produce began trickling in as five out of the market’s seven farmers sold a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs — even strawberries, which have had an especially rough year, could be found at two separate vendors.
“Every year this gets a little better,” said Newton of Cottage Grove. “But with the weather, this is what I expected. We’ll see it get better.”
This year’s market runs every Thursday (except July 4) through October 10.
“Nothing beats local,” Newton said. “You have to buy local.”
Heilmann volunteers her time and said the $6 per parking lot space she is paid from vendors is donated to Heifer International, a nonprofit that gives out livestock, seeds and plants around the world to communities in need.
A handful of congregation members double as volunteers to run the farmers market, which began seven years ago with less than half of its current vendors.
“We only have 10 volunteers and it’s not enough,” Heilmann said. “We can never all be here at once, but somehow we always come together and get it done.”
Farmers markets typically give communities an open forum to buy, sell and trade goods, but Heilmann said produce won’t be at full strength until they open up again after July 4.
“You typically don’t have to go to a supermarket to pay astronomical prices for organic,” Heilmann said. “But the season is a little behind for everybody.”
On opening day, 12-year-old Legend Rutledge sang and played guitar for visitors and about 10 vendors — ranging from homemade jams to handmade necklaces — that lined the lot along Lamar Avenue South in Old Cottage Grove.
Roseville Bakery employee Dan Gerber sold one of his last toasting breads and said he might have been the only one thriving from an early lack of produce.
“I’m amazed at how much I’ve sold,” Gerber said. “For a supposed slow day, it’s been really good.”
Heilmann said the CGUCC Farmers Market didn’t have a bakery last year and late additions are welcome and part of the plan to fill in space as local farmers catch up.
Andrew Krammer is a Twin Cities freelance writer.