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Published August 10, 2009, 12:00 AM

Miller Hill Mall joins statewide trend of more farmers markets

A farmers market will be open Thursday afternoons through September at the Miller Hill Mall. It is part of a statewide increase in farmers' markets as more people seek out fresh produce and other products.

By: Andy Greder, Duluth News Tribune

Customers waiting in vehicles for torrential rains to end on July 30 provided a snapshot of initial demand for the outdoor Miller Hill Mall farmers market during its first month.

Once the rains ended, customers left their shelters and flocked to the fresh fruit, vegetables and other foods offered by about 10 vendors in the parking lot of the region’s largest shopping center.

“We’ve started to draw a crowd, and they aren’t going to be deterred. That was encouraging to see,” said Joy Hedquist, organizer of the market and a member of Green Pastures Dairy, a family farm business near Carlton. “We’ve also had a lot of repeat customers, and that was encouraging to see.”

The mall had been seeking a farmers’ market to complement its retail offering for about two years when Hedquist approached mall management prior to July. The market will be open Thursday afternoons through September, and the farmers have an agreement to operate again next summer.

“The response has been very positive from vendors and customers and has been growing each week, despite the weather challenges,” Cindy Rodenhizer, director of mall marketing, said in an e-mail.

The Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association estimates there are about 120 markets across the state, an approximate increase of 10 percent compared to last year, according to John Ulland, the association’s president.

“There is more and more demand for fresh and local foods and to support the local economy,” Ulland said.

Ulland said local farmers can’t compete with large producers that offer lower prices, but local farmers can reassure customers that what they are eating is healthful.

“It’s the one-on-one relationship and trusting where it comes from,” Joy Hedquist said. “It’s also the freshness and quality that you get when you buy local.”

The market’s biggest draw is fresh produce from growers south of Superior, Hedquist said. The first hour of the market can be hectic as customers race to the fresh-picked tomatoes and carrots.

“Everyone wants to be there for the first pick,” Hedquist said. “It can be crazy.”

Offering an abundance of vegetables and fruits is a current advantage the Miller Hill Mall market has over the farmers market on East Third Street, which requires vendors to be from Northeastern Minnesota.

The Wisconsin vegetable farmers at Miller Hill Mall begin harvest earlier than their northern Minnesota counterparts.

“People want what they want when they want it,” said Peter Borgren of Mr. B’s Berries and Bouquets, who sells at both markets. “Then it’s about filling that gap.”

The Miller Hill Mall farmers market reaches customers in a different area of Duluth than the East Third Street market, said Joy’s mother, Ken Marie Hedquist, who ran the family’s cheese stand Wednesday morning at the market in the East Hillside neighborhood.

“It’s an untapped area,” Ken Marie Hedquist said of customers coming from Hermantown and Duluth Heights. “People go there that don’t come downtown.”

A second farmers market allows small businesses such as Tom and Colleen Ferrian’s Peace, Love and Chocolate a chance to get in front of more customers.

“Down here there are regulars that come all the time,” Ferrian said of the East Third Street market, “but there we are able to get in front of a different range of people, and that is good for my product since I’m a new business.”

More competition, however, at the Miller Hill Mall market hasn’t led to more sales of jams, flowers and fresh berries for Mr. B’s Berries and Bouquets.

“I’m not selling much there, but I support the effort,” Borgren said. “There are two other vendors that sell raspberries and they have a much larger quantity. My effort is to support the market this year, and next year we’ll see if I participate.”

Miller Hill Mall farmers’ market
Who: About 10 vendors selling vegetables, fruits, meats, cheeses, chocolates and other foods
Where: Miller Hill Mall parking lot, in front of Coldwater Creek and The Great American Bar and Grill
When: 2-6 p.m. every Thursday through Septem­ber, weather permitting
More information: Call farmers market organizer Joy Hedquist at (218) 384-4176