By Ella Daniels, Executive Director, Mill City Farmers Market & Charitable Fund
Did you know that the Mill City Farmers Market set a new record for attendance with over 10,000 visitors in one day at its peak last summer?
Each day since I began my role in January I’ve learned a new reason to be proud of the Mill City Farmers Market and Charitable Fund. A key priority for me this year is to listen and learn in order to sustain the success of this amazing organization. I’m asking questions like: “What’s your reason for supporting this organization?”, “What do we do well?”, and “What do you think we could do better?”
My notebook and my mind are full of quotes and stories from the vibrant community of staff, Board members, Market Chefs, current and past vendors, grantee-partners, market-goers, neighbors and donor-partners that represent Mill City Farmers Market (MCFM). I’ve heard some common themes, but honestly each person’s reason for supporting MCFM is as distinct as each of the more than 10,000 regular market-goers — that’s altogether 10,000 reasons why this market is important to people in our community and beyond.
The reason why I started coming to the market was because I was searching for food that was local, in season and unique to the Twin Cities food shed when I moved back home to Minnesota from Washington, D.C. in 2016. I was captivated by the market’s iconic setting (I still am!) and I ascribe to the Julia Child quote that, “people who love to eat are always the best people.” (Honestly, how great is grocery shopping while simultaneously eating and socializing?) My kids started looking forward to our Saturday market routine because they could “win” market tokens for trying new veggies at the Power of Produce booth, then roll all the way down the hill at Gold Medal Park.
In 2017, a friend invited me to the Harvest Social Annual Fundraiser, and the reason why I became a donor was because I learned that the Mill City Farmers Market is more than a market. It’s also a non-profit organization with a Charitable Fund whose mission is to grow a more equitable and sustainable local food system. It’s an organization that uplifts regenerative farmers as leaders at the forefront of reimagining our modern food system, in service of our climate, our health and our communities. Among other good deeds, the Charitable Fund helps level the playing field for emerging farmers and food entrepreneurs by providing grants to accelerate their business growth.
Through each new conversation with a member of this special community, I learn another reason why this Market matters. Here are five reasons that resonate with me the most so far:
- Mill City Farmers Market is known among vendors as a springboard for local food makers and entrepreneurs due to its strong and dedicated customer base (Larissa Loden, Vikings and Goddesses, Salad Girl, Maazah Chutney just to name a few). Buying locally keeps 4x the money in the local economy compared to shopping at chain stores.
- Mill City Farmers Market has the highest standard for local sourcing among Twin Cities farmers markets. Vendors must meet a minimum standard of 25% local ingredients in value-added, baked goods or prepared foods. That means that when you purchase from Pure Ginger for You, Northern Fires Pizza, among other beloved vendors, you also support the regenerative local farms who supply their delicious ingredients: Burning River Farm, Cosmic Wheel Creamery, Clover Bee Farm, Ames Farm, the list goes on.
- Since 2013, the Mill City Farmers Market & Charitable Fund has distributed Next Stage Grants totaling $395,000 to more than 100 small family farms and food makers in Minnesota and Wisconsin. This funding makes it possible for grantee-partners to complete professional certifications and invest in on-farm projects that extend growing seasons, improve soil health, decrease tillage and water usage and increase yields and resilience to climate change. Grant applications are currently open – click here to learn more.
- Since 2019, the number of transactions by customers who pay with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has more than tripled. Through the Market Bucks program, a customer who spends $10 receives an additional $20 from the State of Minnesota to boost their purchasing power. Additionally, in 2023 we donated over 10,000 pounds of high-quality, locally-grown produce to food insecure neighbors in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood with our Greens for Good program.
- In 2009, Mill City Farmers Market became the first zero waste farmer’s market in the great state of Minnesota. By composting and recycling everything we serve you at the market, you help us strengthen our commitment to sustainability by diverting nearly 4,000 pounds of waste from the landfill annually.
I can’t wait to meet you and learn why you support the Mill City Farmers Market. I hope you’ll introduce yourself if you see me at an upcoming market. Our next winter market is Saturday, February 17 from 10am-1pm and we will be back outside for the summer starting on Saturday, May 4th! Until then, be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to keep in the loop about what’s on the horizon for MCFM.