Behind the Farmer’s Market

by Jill Jensen

 By Hailey Colwell

Every Wednesday morning, Courtney Tchida packs her Prius with fresh produce for the St. Paul and Minneapolis campus farmers markets.

As the manager of the Cornercopia Student Organic Farm in St. Paul, she has worked for years to promote the efforts of her farming students by putting their produce in the hands of the campus community.

Though the venture helps students develop farming skills, Tchida said that it also lets them explore the field of marketing.

“I think the growing skills are probably the easier ones to get,” she said. “The marketing ones are probably more challenging to really understand.”

Working with the farmers market gives students a chance to apply farming to business by talking with customers and promoting what they grow, she said.

“If you can’t sell what you’re growing, you’re never going to be able to pay the bills.”

As one of Tchida’s long-term market managers, horticulture senior Katelyn Lepinski said that working at the market has taught her about packaging and displaying products to make them more appealing to customers.

“Our job is figuring out what the customer likes, what they want, and how to best market to them so that we can sell our produce,” Lepinski said.

Working across the Twin Cities has allowed her to observe two very different selling locations, she said. Though the Church Street farmers market in Minneapolis sees a higher level of traffic than the tucked-away Andrew Boss Laboratory of Meat Science in St. Paul, she said the St. Paul market attracts more customers.

“A lot of the faculty and people who come to our famers market in St. Paul are long-running customers and really know a lot more about the food they’re buying.”

Working in this position has opened up many networking opportunities, she said. Since May, she has traveled with Cornercopia to a variety of farms in the area. Trading information with so many farmers has allowed her to explore internships, she said.

“Without this experience, I probably would have had a harder time trying to find and nail down work for next summer.”

She said what she has learned during her time at Cornercopia and the farmers market will follow her after graduation and through her career.

“It’s really given me a good piece of knowledge to go away with as far as farming in the Midwest and what I’m capable of,” she said.

Nicholas Cox, the other market manager for the farmers market, graduated with a degree in biology, society and the environment last May. He continued his work with Cornercopia to explore his interest in food and sustainable agriculture.

He said that working with the farmers market has helped him develop his knowledge of sales.

“I’m learning a lot about how to do that successfully — what vegetables grow well here and what vegetables sell well and how to sell vegetables differently so that they will sell well.”

The production and consumption of food also interests him, he said.

“It’s pretty cool to see a plant go from seed to producing all of this food and that food going straight into the hands of the people that are going to be eating it.”

Though his work with the market will end this month, he said he is excited to see the farm’s expansion of perennial crop growth.

“Over the next few years those are going to really be developing,” he said. “They kind of take care of themselves, which is really exciting.”

He said that Cornercopia has played an instrumental role in his progress toward an agricultural career.

“It’s a great place to learn,” he said. “For us to be able to actually get experience farming, those of us that are interested in doing it as a career and working in that sector, it’s very unique.”