Farmers markets just the start for local producers
WILLMAR -- Locally grown produce is not just for farmers markets anymore, but they remain a great place to start. Sonja Siemieniewski of rural Sacred Heart started selling produce from her vegetable garden 35 years ago at farmers markets in the area.
WILLMAR -- Locally grown produce is not just for farmers markets anymore, but they remain a great place to start.
Sonja Siemieniewski of rural Sacred Heart started selling produce from her vegetable garden 35 years ago at farmers markets in the area. She reports that consumer interest in fresh, local goods is growing. She sees more young faces at farmers markets these days.
Young families are discovering the quality of local, fresh goods, she said, as well as the economics of home cooking and canning.
Pauline Stranlund, who organizes the Montevideo Farmers Market, said they saw more customers this year buying goods for canning than ever before.
The Willmar Farmers Market is the area's largest, and Siemieniewski's favorite. She said the market has had as many as 48 or 49 vendors on some summer weekends. "More vendors bring more customers,'' she said.
Efforts to promote locally grown produce are also focusing on new opportunities for direct sales to customers, as well as creating new retail and institutional markets, according to Terry Van Der Pol of "Pride of the Prairie," a cooperative venture of regional producers.
Community-supported agriculture is providing some of the best opportunities, she said. In these ventures, growers market directly to consumers. Consumers buy shares that entitle them to a weekly portion of a garden. Consumers share in the risk, and growers are assured of revenue.
This area is the home to a number of community-supported agriculture ventures, including a Milan greenhouse that keeps the greens coming through the winter.
Van Der Pol said they are also working to make it more convenient for consumers to buy local goods by putting the products on the shelves of grocery stores.
Bergen's Prairie Market, of Milan, features a variety of locally raised goods. Owner Bergen Standahl said he has many customers who come to the store specifically for them. Locally raised and milled flour from Dry Weather Creek Farm, fresh eggs from Earth Rise Farm, and grass-fed beef from Double D Meats have become traffic generators for the store, according to Standahl.
He sees continued opportunity for locally raised goods, since many customers express a preference for them. But he said local produce has two major challenges: Customers are price conscious. Local producers must price their goods competitively.
The other big challenge is finding people willing to produce local foods. By most measures, Standahl and others said demand exceeds supply.
The West Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership is working to interest more people in the economic opportunities provided by raising fresh goods for local markets. Its director, Dorothy Rosemeier, said the partnership is also working to help develop new institutional markets for those goods. She noted that the food service company serving the University of Minnesota-Morris campus buys and serves locally raised goods weekly.
The Willmar School district is also working with the partnership to promote the nutritional and economic benefits of locally raised foods in its lunch rooms. The program has been well received by students and their parents as well as producers, said Rosemeier.
The partnership is working to get a number of growers working together to assure a large and stable supply of goods to meet the demands of larger institutional markets. But she said the challenge is the same one facing the local farmers markets. Stranlund said the Montevideo Farmers Market sees no shortage of customers. The challenge is recruiting vendors, she said.
There are 18-hour workdays in the summer for Siemieniewski, who said it isn't necessarily the economic rewards that keep her at it. She laughingly said she raises vegetables "to meet people.'' She loves the socialization at farmers markets and the many customers who have become her friends.
"I could never fill a big trailer and have someone pick it up and drive it away,'' she said. "I like to see who buys my stuff.''