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Local vendors open Willmar Farmers Market today

With his bee costume, Brent Larson of Sunburg draws attention to his farmers market stand where he sells honey and apples in this August 2010 file photo. The market is held every Saturday morning at the Westside Liquor parking lot during the growing season. (Tribune file photo by Ron Adams)

As the sun came up today, so did the tents and vendors at the Willmar Farmers Market.

For 15 weeks, from 6:30 a.m. to "whenever the vendors leave," the Westside Liquor parking lot will once again host the Saturday farmers market full of natural and home-cooked delicacies and goods grown or created by vendors from around the area.

A 5:30 a.m. alarm clock had Market Manager Miriam Vandesteeg preparing for the first market of the summer today.

Vandesteeg said she has filled all 58 spaces and is expecting a majority of the vendors to be there today with, or without, a crop to sell due to a late planting season.

"Gardens are behind schedule so I have no idea what they are going to bring in the first day," Vandesteeg said earlier. "A lot say that with nothing to sell they will still be there to have a party."

Vandesteeg, wife of the late Henry Vandesteeg, said the market has been going strong every year and her husband would be proud to see it today after its inception in 1965 with only five vendors.

"He would be very excited to see how full the lot is every week," she said.

Harold and Mary Jo Larson of Willmar plan to help fill the lot as they are usually setting up their jams, bread and pot holders stand at 5:30 in the morning, Harold Larson said.

The couple have been attending and selling their goods for the past 30 years. They sold produce for a majority of the time, but have moved to jams and bread for the past 10 years.

Larson said the people and atmosphere is what the two enjoy and they are looking forward to seeing everybody at the market today.

"Whether they buy from us or not we don't care," he said, "Just as long as they spend time talking to us."

Larson said they usually don't keep record of any loss or profits made at the market, he just knows that "if there is a profit, it's a miracle," he joked.

"We're just lucky and happy that every Saturday we take in a bit of money and hopefully it covers what we sold," he said.

Larson was hopeful the rain wouldn't keep people away as last year's first farmer's market was a "washout," he said. It ruined many signs and displays he created.

The unfavorable weather conditions this year will keep Lyle and Pamela Lundstrum's produce from the market today, Pamela Lundstrum said. The 15-year market veterans had to plant three separate times due to the wet or cold climate.

"Think this year it will be tough at the beginning," Lundstrum said. "I'm not the only one; everybody has had hard weather to deal with."

But the weather won't keep the Bird Island couple away. Lundstrum said they are always looking forward to market Saturdays because they enjoy raising the vegetables and providing the fresh produce to those that appreciate it.

"The best thing people can do is go there and eat local," she said. "The fresher it'll be, the better it will be for you."

The fresh foods of the market have continually attracted a younger audience, Vandesteeg said, which she is excited about because it is a clear indicator that younger couples are becoming more cautious about feeding their children nutritious foods.

"One of the goals is to help provide a place for fresh produce for the consumer," she said.

The amazement that comes with the farmer's market for Vandesteeg only translates into what she said is "a Saturday morning that Willmar can be proud of."

"It's a plus for the community and draws people from a large area to shop," Vandesteeg said. "It gets people to know that Willmar stands for a community and gives the vendors an outlet for their products."

Harold Larson agreed with Vandesteeg and said the size of the farmer's market helps draw in many people from miles away.

"They have a good variety and prices are right," he said. "It's a good day of the week on Saturday and I know they don't just come to the market but other businesses as well -- it's a good deal for the city of Willmar."