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In this undated photo, Dean Risa of the Risa Family Garden in Montevideo, sets out produce at his Becker Market stand. The market has developed an e-coop where customers can purchase items online from participating vendors and then pick their items up at the market each Thursday during the summer. Tribune photo

Becker Market in Willmar, Minn., takes to web with online ordering system

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News Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Becker Market continues to grow with a new online feature.

Since first opening in 2006, Becker Market has added new features and events every year, and this year is no different.

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Partnering with the Willmar Community-Owned Grocery, Becker Market now has developed an e-coop -- an online cooperative -- where customers can purchase items online from participating vendors and then pick their items up at the market each Thursday.

For Community-Owned Grocery members, the system will be free of charge. Nonmembers will be charged a 6 percent transaction fee to help cover the costs of operation.

"There's been a real buzz about the system," said Nancy Johnson, coordinator of Becker Market.

The e-coop will operate on a weekly cycle.

Several vendors will be registered and ready for the first pickup June 7 when Becker Market officially opens for the season. More vendors are expected to be added for pickup at the June 14 market.

Vendors will update their listings each week by Tuesday night, giving customers just 24 hours to place orders before 5 p.m. each Wednesday. The orders will then be fulfilled by vendors and brought to the Community-Owned Grocery's booth at Becker Market.

"It's a convenience for customers," Johnson said. "People will be able to order and be assured they get the product."

For Sarah Brouwer of Brouwer's Strawberries in Raymond, who sold out of her strawberries within 20 minutes of opening at the Becker Market every week last year, this is crucial.

Customers who have come after the strawberries are sold out will have an incentive to use the system, Brouwer said. "It will be a great way for customers to reserve strawberries."

While the e-coop has many benefits, including convenience and assurance for customers, some vendors are nervous about using the new system.

During a vendor training meeting on Wednesday, many questions were raised about packaging, additional fees, labeling for pickup and placing orders.

"We're going crazy during harvest season already," Brouwer said with a laugh. "We don't need more crazy."

Zach Johnson, an intern from the University of Minnesota-Morris hired to help with the new e-coop, is confident the system will run smoothly and be beneficial in the long run.

"I think once the first order goes through, we'll be good," he said.

Several vendors have decided to use the e-coop including Moonstone Farms and Rolling Hills Traeger Ranch. Others are taking more time to consider the results before making a final decision to utilize the e-coop.

"I'm still kind of old school, where we deal person to person," said Larry Larson of Larson's Farm in Willmar. "It's always been important to our business to know our customers."

Larson and his wife often invite customers to visit their farm and see how the food is produced. He's developed a sense of camaraderie with other vendors and many personal relationships with customers at Becker Market, which he said he doesn't want to lose by using the e-coop.

Nancy Johnson said she isn't concerned with losing personal connections because Becker Market has become more than a farmers market. "It's a gathering place for people to sit and chat, along with a place to shop."

Cooking demonstrations, Becker Market Café and a sampling booth with recipes will continue to draw customers downtown to enjoy Becker Market.

What has been known as "If It's Tuesday, It Must be Bethel" will be joining Becker Market with live music at 5 p.m. Thursdays this year, instead of noon Tuesdays as in previous years.

"It's a farmers market and a street festival," Johnson said. "Every year we try to add a health component. And the fact that it's changing every year keeps people excited."

For more information or to register for the e-coop, visit shop.willmarcog.com.

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