WILLMAR — Farmers markets are a common, brightly colored sight throughout the region all through the summer, with a season running from June to the end of October, weather permitting.
As October wraps up, area farmers market vendors are readying their stalls for the final weeks of this year's harvest. Squash, onions and potatoes are the mainstays for the tail end of the season, but customers may yet see a smattering of tomatoes, beets and cucumbers before the Willmar markets close for the winter in a few weeks.
In Willmar, those wishing to sell their homegrown produce are welcome to set up a stall in the parking lot of Uptown Willmar, just off the intersection of 19th Avenue and Fifth Street Southeast, next to Aldi's, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and from 7 a.m. to noon Saturday mornings.
Anna Mary Martin has been growing, baking, packaging and selling Martin's Produce and Greenhouse products for the past 10 years at the Willmar farmers markets.
"There's some of us that have been doing it longer than that," she said.
Martin is based out of Grove City, but drives twice a week to set up a stall in the parking lot of Uptown Willmar, where rows and rows of homemade bread and desserts, noodles and apple butter accompany honey, fresh garden produce, apples and an assortment of meat cuts available for sale.
"I first started on the baking, because when we started we didn't have much on the produce end," Martin said. "We sort of grew into the vegetables. So I started with the baking and just sort of went from there."
"We first started by selling sweet corn out of the back of the truck in 1971," Mary Larson said. "Then we started selling at Cash Wise, and then in '93 we set up our stand over at Cullen's, and we had everything. And then last year, we started doing just the Wednesday and Saturday market."
The Larsons' summer actually begins in early spring, when they start their tomatoes and cucumbers from seed in their high tunnels. And they'll have plenty of produce to keep their stall open through the end of the month, with tomatoes, cucumbers and squash still readying for harvest each week.
"Everybody loves strawberry-rhubarb jam," she said. "We made a bunch more this fall, and it just flew off the shelves. One lady bought eight jars."
One obstacle she's encountered this year, however, is a shortage of canning lids.
"It's hard to get lids, so people bring back their used jars," Larson said, "but I haven't been able to get lids."
While the glass jars and metal screw bands are reusable, experts advise against reusing the lids themselves because the sealing component on previously used lids may fail, thus resulting in unsafe food.
Dave Helmuth, who lives just south of Atwater, is in his 14th year as a farmers market vendor, setting up his stall every Wednesday and Saturday in Willmar. His stall had a little bit of everything, from beets to carrots to squash and tomatoes, but he also had some of his favorites ready for customers to peruse.
"My favorite is the beans," he shared. "(I prefer) the beans over everything else. I actually make more money with beans. With the labor and the cost of production, the beans are the money-makers."
With beans, he explained, there's no washing or cutting to size. He can pick and bag them right off the vines. And when you compare the ease of that harvest to that of beets, which have to be dug up and washed before Helmuth would consider them sellable, you can see where his favoritism comes into play.
"Beets are a lot of work. They're hard to grow," Helmuth said. "It's hard to get the seed going. Carrots make money too, but they're a lot of work. They're a little harder to start, and it's harder to clean them up."
LaRae and Joel Sachariason, who live halfway between Clara City and Montevideo, sell quilted and woodworked items in addition to their homegrown produce and homemade baked goods at their stall. The couple has been a regular presence at the Willmar farmers markets for 15 years, give or take, according to Joel Sachariason.
They'll be selling their goods through the end of October "unless it freezes, since then the garden's pretty much done. Then all you've got left is onions, squash and maybe a few potatoes."
This year, the weather's been pretty good to them outside a few rainy weekends, but Sachariason said they expect those types of days to happen no matter the month.
The Sachariasons begin preparing for the farmers markets during the early spring, starting some of their planting in March. They aim to have all their plants in the ground by the first week of May each year, but that deadline is dependent on Minnesota weather cooperating.
"We seed some things, like we plant our potatoes and carrots and onions. That goes in the ground" earlier, Sachariason said. "But our tomatoes and the stuff that we've started in the house, that don't go in until May 5, or when the danger of frost has really passed."
Now, of course, it's a race to beat the frost before winter starts to make its appearance.
Area farmers markets wrapping up the season
Willmar: 11 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, through Oct. 27, Uptown Willmar parking lot, next to Aldi’s
Litchfield: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday, through Oct. 28, Community Market on Fourth Street on the north side of Central Park.
Benson: 3 to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 24 through mid-October, Railroad Park on Main Street.
Montevideo: 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, through Oct. 28, Smith Park, across from City Hall
Willmar: 6:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 10 through Oct. 30, American Door Works parking lot on east Highway 12.
Willmar: 7 a.m. to noon Saturday, through Oct. 30, at Uptown Willmar parking lot, next to Aldi’s.
Montevideo: 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, through Oct. 30, Smith Park, across from City Hall
Glenwood: 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, through Oct. 30, parking lot south of Pope County Museum on State Highway 104