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Spring greens in March: Mill City Farmers Market transitions to winter hours

Operation through colder months helps promote business for local vendors and foster community.
Image by Grace Aigner
Sign directing patrons to Mill City Farmers Market on Nov. 4.

The Mill City Farmers Market, located in the Mill District neighborhood of Minneapolis, welcomed a crowd of patrons and a plethora of vendors to the Mill City Museum last Saturday, marking the beginning of the market’s winter hours.

From May to October, Mill City Farmers Market hosts up to 70 vendors on any given Saturday. The market transitioned to its winter hours on Nov. 4, streamlining its vendors to about 40 every first and third Saturday from now until April. This year’s winter season is four months longer than when the market began its winter hours in 2015.

The condensed version of the market typically expects between 2,000 and 3,000 customers, a significantly smaller portion compared to the almost 10,000 visitors the market gets during the summer and fall.

Despite the cold weather and limitations of an indoor space, the market continues to offer a variety of produce, prepared food and artisanal goods. Maya O’Brien McLeod, the communications manager for the Mill City Farmers Market, said people are often surprised to find the variety the market offers.

“Even by March, you can get spring greens from people who are growing in high tunnels and using different season extensions,” O’Brien McLeod said. “It’s definitely surprising to people how much produce and how many groceries you can get at the market.”

One such produce vendor is Clover Bee Farms from Shafer, Minnesota. The farm can grow and sell produce through the winter using a homemade solar greenhouse. Matthew Kunnari, who helped run the Clover Bee Farms stall on Saturday at the market, said being able to sell produce during the colder months helps sustain spring costs and keeps the farm connected with its clients.

“We’re able to grow a couple fresh greens and stuff like that and just keep a small revenue stream going,” Kunnari said. “It helps with startup costs in the spring and it’s good to get out back to the city and it’s free marketing and good to interact with the customers still.”

For Ivette Jelves, co-founder of Latin American catering company Atacama Foods, it is the interaction with customers and vendors alike that brings her family’s business to the Mill City Farmers Market. Selling homemade empanadas, salsa and sourdough bread at their stall, Jelves said the market is a great opportunity to connect with patrons, vendors and market staff all year long.

“It’s fun, it’s a good market,” Jelves said. “You make a relationship with the people that work here, with the people that are vendors, with the clients, with the people that just come to walk through and look at everything.”

The market serves as a reprieve from the frigid slowness of winter, not only for vendors but also for patrons. Mike Armstrong and Neelu Choudhary recently moved to Minneapolis and live by the Mill City Museum, which houses the market. Armstrong said the farmers market offers the pair a way to get out of the house and get to know their new neighborhood.

“It’s kind of like a new thing for us to come do every Saturday,” Armstrong said. “Wake up in the morning and get going instead of staying in bed all day.”

Promoting business for local vendors and providing produce and handcrafted goods for customers, the Mill City Farmers Market has cultivated a space for community and commerce despite the harshness of Minnesota winters. O’Brien McLeod said a hallmark of the winter market is its ability to strengthen the local economy and community, which sets it apart from regular grocery stores.

“It’s really important to remind people of [the difference] year-round and kind of encourage them to support those local makers because it just strengthens the overall community and economy and obviously is better for the environment too,” O’Brien McLeod said.

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