Weather Forecast


Farmers Market in Willmar, Minn., sees strong start to another season

WILLMAR — The cloudy sky and stiff breezes didn’t seem to be keeping people away from the first day of the Willmar Farmers Market on Saturday.

By 9 a.m. Dave Helmuth of rural Atwater had sold out the 7 gallons of beans and 10 gallons of red potatoes he’d brought to sell, and he had fewer than a dozen left from a cooler full of zucchini.

Dean Risa of Montevideo had sold out four big baskets of cucumbers, too.

Both still had produce to sell, and they said they’d seen steady traffic all morning.

The market opened for the season Saturday in the parking lot of the YMCA in Willmar. Vendors will set up every Saturday morning, rain or shine, from 6:30 a.m. to noon through Oct. 12.

Not all of the reserved stalls were occupied Saturday, but organizer Miriam VandeSteeg said she wasn’t surprised or concerned and guessed the cold, wet spring probably had something to do with it.

“Some don’t have things to sell yet,” she said. “All the spaces are paid for and reserved.”

Many of the vendors have been selling at the market for years, she said, and the group is like a big family. The market has one new vendor, selling meat jerky, this year.

Jeff and Julie Taylor of New London were selling candy in their usual slot. “It’s a fun day to be out,” Julie Taylor said, because the cooler temperatures make it easier to display their chocolates.

The Taylors said they had spent much of the morning catching up with the other vendors, as they hadn’t seen some of them since last season. “It’s nice to see everyone back,” Julie Taylor said.

Jeff Taylor said he always enjoys coming to the Willmar market. “I like the sociability of it,” he said.

Risa has been coming to the market for about 10 years, and it’s a favorite for him. “Through the years, this has been a dependable one, good selection for the customers,” he said.

In addition to locally grown produce, the market’s vendors sell a variety canned goods, handmade items and baked goods.

VandeSteeg said she has several questions for vendors: “Did you make it yourself, did you bake it yourself, did you grow it yourself?” The market has always stuck to the rule that the foods and other items sold must be local, he said.

The diversity in the market is good for the consumers, VandeSteeg said, and many of the longtime vendors have their own following of customers who come to shop the rest of the market, too.

Dawn Walkow of Willmar said she likes the location at the YMCA, new just last year. “I go to the Y, so it works perfect,” she said, as she chose from a wide selection of pens with duct tape flowers on them.

“It seems like there’s such a good variety of things,” Walkow said.

Mary Solbreken’s daughter makes the flowers, which Solbreken sells through her family business Rustic Designs. Their stall sells a variety of goods on Saturday, fresh flowers were available, along with potholders for every occasion and rag rugs.

Allen and Deb Floren of Willmar stopped while on their morning bike ride and chose a couple potholders and a brightly striped rug for their daughter. “She moved into an apartment in the Cities, and we keep sending her little gifts,” he said.

VandeSteeg said her late husband Henry started the Farmers Market in 1965 with five vendors. When their children got older, she worked on it, too. Her children, now adults, also work with her to organize the market which was located at the Westside Liquor parking lot before moving to the YMCA lot.

The market is limited to 60 vendors, she said. The fee for vendors is used to pay for advertising.

In years past, many of the customers at the market were middle-aged or senior citizens, VandeSteeg said, but she has enjoyed seeing more young families shopping there in recent years.

“I think that’s a good sign,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in promoting a healthy lifestyle for our young mothers.”

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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