What could be better than an open air market, featuring an array of locally produced fresh vegetables, diverse offerings, and upbeat live music on a warm and breezy summer day? The season is approaching and the answer is simple: fostering a farmers market right in your own hometown. A group of volunteers are working to make that dream a reality in Columbia Heights.
On its way to generating more interest and involvement, the Columbia Heights Farmers Market Committee held two community conversations in late March. At the meetings, community members brainstormed and bounced ideas around including how to attract vendors, provide activities and live music, and offer classes from Master Gardeners or the University of Minnesota Extension programs, to name a few.
A factor that garnered high importance is the diversity and inclusiveness factor at the future Columbia Heights Farmers Market.
“It’s so important to us to keep that diversity piece and the community togetherness,” Columbia Heights Farmers Market Chair Lisa Boatman said. “And we want to make sure that the entire community is involved in the process. There are so many different recipes and ingredients from around the world in our diverse community, and we want to include these food staples in the farmers market.”
As rich as the diversity and culture is in Columbia Heights, Boatman said the goal of the farmer’s market is to represent all the residents in the city, making the entire community feel welcome.
“We want this to be a weekly event that people can all gather together at, where everyone feels comfortable,” Boatman said. “This diversity is what makes Columbia Heights so special.”
Reaching every group in Heights is not an easy task. A community made up of many Tibetans, Somalis, and native Spanish-speakers, the Farmers Market Committee intends to gather interest and possible participation from a variety of cultures around the city.
Farmers Market Committee member KC Kye has been doing the research.
Founder of K-Mama Sauce, LLC and an experienced farmers market vendor around the metro area, Kye and the committee are aiming to reach these underrepresented groups.
“The way that you come into a group really matters,” Kye said. “The way that you invite people is very important. There’s a different communication style among western and non-western cultures.”
Recognizing these differences is essential to offering invitations to the different cultural groups of Heights.
“There is a responsibility beyond just being inclusive, we have a social responsibility,” Kye added.
Vendors, vendors, and more vendors
Building the farmers market from the ground up, the committee is tasked with forming a solid business plan. This plan is the key to attracting vendors, a piece that the entire market would rely on.
According to Boatman, vegetable vendors can be tricky to find.
“It’s going to be really hard for us at first to get these vendors to come in here until we have an established market,” she said.
As these vendors are high in demand, the committee is searching for hometown residents interested in developing their own gardens.
Committee member Michele Schluender has spearheaded this initiative, working to start a committee to reach out to hobby farmers in the area about becoming a vendor at the farmers market in 2018.
“I’d like to develop a way to empower local residents who are interested in selling produce at the farmers market,” Schluender said. “Our main focus for the farmers market is on building community. I know that there are community members who have impressive vegetable gardens and skills in the kitchen. I would like to find a way to guide and support those who want to make the leap from providing for family and friends to going into business and providing for the community.”
Schluender will be working to put together a series of workshops to help hobby farmers transition into farmers market vendors.
Boatman herself has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) garden on her land, growing and supplying vegetables to fellow neighbors every year. For over 25 years, CSAs have become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. A CSA allows farmers to grow their own produce and offer a certain number of “shares” to the public, which typically consists of a box of vegetables. Consumers purchase a “share” at the beginning of a season, and receive seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.
This personally-grown vegetable aspect is an idea that the committee wants to encourage to the residents of Heights.
“There are a lot of people who think that they don’t fit into the farmer’s market mold, so I think we have to reimagine what that means,” Kye said.
Building an interest for regional farmer development would make this market uniquely Columbia Heights.
The committee is also planning on creating a vibrant atmosphere for the community to enjoy on a weekly basis. Including aspects like providing hot food for a quick bite and live performances by local bands, the committee wants to create a community-oriented and special feel for the hometown market.
The committee also wants to incorporate events for the elderly, considering a “Meet Me at the Market” event for seniors to gather and connect with each other each week.
An additional aspect that is being considered is food demonstrations as an opportunity for residents to share their recipes, tips and tricks. The committee also wants to bring in experts in gardening-related fields, including the U of M Extension programs and Master Gardeners, to share their knowledge and provide classes to residents.
Farmers market in the future
With its bits and pieces coming together, the committee hopes to debut a farmers market for the 2018 season. With a long way to go, the group is still looking for volunteers.
“We’re looking for all the help we can get,” Boatman said. “We would love to have input from everyone in the community.”
The group meets every third Thursday of the month, from 6-8 p.m. at Community Grounds Coffee Shop, 560 40th Avenue NE, Columbia Heights. To follow along, like the Columbia Heights Farmers Market – MN Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CHFarmersMarket.
Residents are still able to provide feedback through a survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SYTJR23.
Contact Lisa Boatman at columbiaheightsfarmersmarket.gmail.com with questions.
Contact Sarah Burghardt at [email protected]