In the few years he's sold asparagus and garlic at the Rochester Farmers Market, Paul Schmidt has seen the market operate from five locations. The most popular spot, the summer market at 4th Street SE. and 4th Avenue SE., may also be the most endangered: It's a riverfront location widely considered to be prime land for development.
Fearing that the market might get squeezed out of downtown as new money rushes in to support the Mayo Clinic's expansion, the farmers market leadership unveiled a plan last week that includes a home of their own.
It's aspirational — there's no budget — but Schmidt said it's time for the city to find a place for the increasingly popular market where agricultural operations like his SunFresh Farms of Preston, Minn., sell products ranging from vegetables to flowers and organic meat to baked goods.
"We're laying some pretty important groundwork right now," he said. "Something needs to happen."
The market's campaign launched last week with a public meeting Thursday evening at Forager Brewing Co. that drew some 80 people. Organizers shared a rendering from the Rochester office of architecture firm HGA that shows what the farmers market could be, given funding and land.
The drawing shows a circular set of covered stalls surrounding a green space, with a playground, commercial kitchen, restrooms, community space, office and areas for expansion.
The Thursday meeting was followed with sit-down meetings the next day with local food businesses, Rochester officials and people from both the Mayo Clinic and the Destination Medical Center's Economic Development Agency, the nonprofit that is helping steer Mayo's 20-year DMC expansion plans.
The 694-page public development plan for the DMC doesn't specifically mention a farmers market, but in a section that lays out what a future Rochester could look like, it talks about the need for a central market and food hall that features food "straight from the farm."
The 60 or so vendors who sell farm-fresh produce at the Rochester Farmers Market must come from within a 50-mile radius of downtown, and Mayo's response to the campaign last week was positive, said Mike Schmitt, the chairman of Friends of the Farmers Market, the nonprofit charged with finding a permanent, year-round home for the market.
"To them it's a great idea," he said. "They're at the table."
The Friends group also hired a consultant, Ted Spitzer from Market Ventures Inc. of Portland, Maine, to conduct a feasibility study. That could take a year or more as Spitzer helps the farmers market leadership determine what sort of funding might be available, who might support their growth, how much support they could expect to find through a fundraising campaign, and where in Rochester they might eventually wind up.
Schmitt said the market has been downtown in one location or another since 1985, and he wants to see it stay there if possible. The market's winter home at Graham Park, about a mile south of downtown, could also be an option, he said.
One alternative aired Thursday night was the construction of a three-season pavilion to handle the busier summer season, with the market moving in the winter months to an existing building at Graham Park that's now used for the Olmsted County Fair during the summer.
"We're not being pushed out, but the writing's on the wall," Schmitt said. "If we're not proactive in becoming a bigger and better market, then we may just fade away."