ROCHESTER, Minn. — The high temperature during the first weekend Rochester Farmers Market in February was 2 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wis.,
"The Rochester community is very hardy," said Abby Shepler, manager of the Rochester Farmers Market, on Feb. 6. "We're still going to get out here and support local farmers when we can, despite any weather."
Inside the Graham Park building it was only about 40 degrees, which felt toasty compared to the air outside. Set up just a few feet from where customers enter the Graham Park building that houses the Rochester Farmers Market is the stand for Serio Farms, where Andrew Serio and his wife, Jenny kept busy with customers on the morning of Feb. 6.
At their farm in Preston, Minn., which runs onto Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, Serio uses greenhouses and a hydroponic growing system to produce greens and tomatoes year-round. Although he has managed to find a way to grow vegetables throughout a Minnesota winter, Serio said that traveling over 30 miles and selling the products on mornings like Feb. 6 is a whole other beast.
He said he wakes up around 4 a.m. to make it to a Saturday market in the winter on time. Even though he runs an electric heater in his van the night before, he has to start the van about an hour before he needs to start driving.
"At that point it's all about blankets," Serio said. "As you're packing stuff into your vehicle you are covering it with blankets, just to keep it warm enough to be able to bring it."
Serio sometimes sells live plants at markets, but he stopped doing that in the coldest months of the year.
"One year I brought live plants and just left them sitting against the wall, not even thinking about it," he said. "I turned around and they were frozen solid."
Across from the Serio Farms stand was Monica's Lefse & Preserves, operated by Monica Brossard out of Pine Island, about 20 miles from the market. At Brossard's stand, where on Feb. 6 she was getting help from her younger sister, Carmen, were rows of canned vegetables and jars of different flavors of jam.
"I do a lot of canning, and the lefse keeps me busy," Brossard said. "This is kind of my slow time of the year, but I still like to stay busy."
Brossard been selling her products year-round at the Rochester Farmers Market for 13 years. She knows exactly how relentless Minnesota winters can be.
"One year on the first Saturday in May, we had to shovel snow out of our spot so we could get started," Brossard said. "But I always give the customers credit because they keep coming, even in the cold."
"I'm very fresh," said an upbeat Shepler as the market wrapped up on Feb. 6. She replaced Mary Glenski, who left the position at the end of 2020, just two weeks earlier.
"We had a really successful market today, despite the temperatures," Shepler said.
That was referring to the well-attended market for vendors as well as the market atmosphere, aided by some live acoustic performances. The musicians played from behind a plexiglass shield to prevent the spread of germs, and had to stop frequently to warm up their hands, said Shepler.
Aside from booking the talent, Shepler said the Rochester Farmers Market has a list of cold weather related items to see to on mornings like Feb. 6.
"I think the biggest issue that we face is making sure that it's safe for everyone to get into the market," Shepler said. "So making sure that everything is plowed and there's salt down, because we don't want any injuries."
At one of her first markets as manager, Shepler was already getting positive feedback for something she had instituted — live video. She said there will be Facebook and Instagram lives taken at every market.
"We actually had someone come up to us who'd never been to the market before, and saw the Facebook Live and thought, I gotta get out there," Shepler said. "It gives people a great opportunity to support local business and support local farmers."