How the market community extends beyond Saturday shopping
Photo from Neighborhood Roots.
Originally published in the Mill City Times.
If you’ve ever walked through the Mill City Farmers Market on a Saturday morning, you may notice there is something that distinguishes it from other shopping experiences. Not only do over 120 local farmers and artisans transform the historic train shed overlooking the Mighty Mississippi into a bustling marketplace, but they also create a community. Farmers educate shoppers about this year’s sweet corn harvest (it will be going late into September) and the Alaskan fishing season (Sockeye goals were met!). Local artisans explain their crafts through weaving demonstrations, small-batch sauerkraut samples, bees buzzing in a table-side beehive and even a sourdough starter on display, bubbling away in the morning heat. You will also see neighbors gather to support healthy foods and local farmers.
“From my perspective, [what distinguishes Mill City Farmers Market is] a combination of Brenda’s vision for the market, and a customer base that cares about the farmers and vendors,” says long-time Mill City Farmers Market vendor Jeff Nistler, who sells organically grown sweet corn, melon, tomatoes and winter greenery from his farm in Maple Plain, MN. “It translates into a desire for education and a desire for the farmers to diversify and experiment. It’s not just words; they put their money down to help fund education programs and grants that enable farmers to expand and improve practices. There is no other market that does this.”
The Mill City Farmers Market Grant Program that Nistler mentions started in 2013 as a way for our community to support their farmers in times of crop loss, structural damage and other forms of hardship. It has since grown into a program that not only offers hardship support, but also funds small farmers and food makers working to improve sustainability in their businesses. Nistler, for example, is currently working on a tomato grafting project funded by the Organic Field Grant, in which he aims to reduce viruses in his plants by joining delicious tasting tomatoes onto virus-resistant ones to get the best of both.
Tomatoes in Jeff Nistler’s greenhouse
Since 2013, the Mill City Farmers Market has awarded almost $67,000 to grantees. The grant program is funded through donations at the market’s annual fundraiser, The Harvest Social, which is coming up on Sunday, September 10th. The event includes and abundant farm-to-table dinner sourced from the market’s vendors, live music, a silent auction and a passionate live auction and Fund-A-Need that directly supports the Market’s grant program.
Moses Momanyi, a Mill City Farmers Market farmer and grant recipient, will be speaking at the upcoming Harvest Social about the impact the grants have had on his farm. In 2016, Moses and his wife Lonah received a grant to implement an irrigation system on their new 20-acre certified organic vegetable farm in Cambridge, MN. The irrigation allowed them to increase the quantity and quality of produce they bring to market every Saturday. A few months later, they also applied for a hardship grant for crop loss due to flooding, ironically. Heavy rains destroyed over $10,000 worth of crops in their fields. While Moses and many other farmers have crop insurance for such events, it rarely covers the full value of the crop. Support from our generous market community makes a huge difference to farms and families in times like these.
Flood damage in the fields.
Moses and Lonah at 2016 The Harvest Social.
In addition to hardship grants, the Organic Field Grant has funded other projects, including: packaging and labeling improvements, trialing new crops and value added products, cool-storage systems, soil improvements, experimenting with new growing techniques and organic certification. The market and its supporters believe that investing in local farmers and food makers through its grant program promotes bio-diversity, reduces pesticide and herbicide use, produces food with greater nutritional content, and benefits the environment. Money spent with local growers and food makers also stays close to home and is reinvested within the community.
Starting this year, the Organic Field Grant is part of the Market’s new Charitable Fund, making all contributions tax-deductible for the first time. The success of the Mill City Farmers Market’s educational programming, grants and food access work over the past eleven years inspired the creation of its new Charitable Fund. Launched as an extension of the successful Mill City Farmers Market, the Charitable Fund shares resources and collaborates with partners to improve community health and well-being. While the Mill City Farmers Market has been funded by sponsorships and individual donations since its beginning, this new fund will allow the Market to expand the scope, reach and sustainability of its educational and charitable activities.
You can support the Mill City Farmers Market’s Grant Program and Charitable Fund by attending the Harvest Social Benefit on Sunday, September 10th. Enjoy signature cocktails and an abundant farm-to-table dinner prepared by Market Chefs Jenny Breen, Beth Jones and Nettie Colón in the historic Mill City Museum Train Shed. Plus, listen to live music from Orange Mighty Trio and support the market with highly curated silent and live auctions. Purchase your tickets or sponsor a farmer to attend the event by clicking here.
For more information and a summary of past Mill City Farmers Market Organic Field Grant Awardees, click here.
Silent auction baskets, supporting local farmers
Community members at The Harvest Social
Click here to view more photos from The Harvest Social