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Village Farmers Market served as an incubator for farmers new to U.S. markets in first year

The goal of the Village Farmers Market was to build confidence in Village Agricultural Cooperative farmers and get them ready to participate in mainstream markets.

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Amanda Nigon-Crowley, executive director of Village Agricultural Cooperative, exchanges money for produce grown and sold by the Yang family during the Sept. 13 Village Farmers Market at the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, Minnesota.
Noah Fish / Agweek
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — The first year of the Village Farmers Market achieved what it set out to do, said the executive director of the Village Agricultural Cooperative. 

The Village Agricultural Cooperative works with over 200 families and counting to farm on 11 acres of farmland the organization has secured since its inception in 2019.

This year, Village farmers sold produce at the Village Farmers Market, which ran every Tuesday from July 26 through October, in a park shelter behind the History Center of Olmsted County building. 

Maeve Mallozzi-Kelly, an AmeriCorps VISTA member helping to support farmers’ markets and local food producers in southern Minnesota, only had to stick around for a short time at one of the markets to provide feedback to Nigon-Crowley and Chris Allen, market manager of the Village Agricultural Cooperative. 

"She said that our market was performing very well, for the number of vendors and the number of people that we had attending, compared to what she's seen around the state,” said Nigon-Crowley. “She thought that we had a very good first year.”

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Another good sign for a first-year market was that the Village Farmers Market attracted regular customers. 

"We also have regulars after our first year, which I didn't plan for, but I think that's a sign that we have a good thing going on and that it was successful," said Nigon-Crowley. 

At the end of each market, Nigon-Crowley polled the vendors by asking for a thumbs up, thumbs even or thumbs down on how they did that night. She said for the first five weeks, everybody made money, but the remaining markets had “pretty low” attendance. 

"I think we had a lot of people come in the last two and three that were like, I've been wanting to make it all year, and I needed to make sure it got here before it was over," she said, including Olmsted County Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden and George Thompson, former Rochester Diversity Council executive director and longtime leader in the city. 

The goal

Nigon-Crowley said the goal of the Village Farmers Market was to “build confidence for our farmers to help them be ready to participate in mainstream markets.”

"It's also to help them gauge what to grow that will sell,” she said. 

On those fronts, the market was also considered to be a success, as vendors got eight markets to test their selling skills and see how their products held up against others in a market. 

"It's kind of an incubator market," said Nigon-Crowley. "A lot of our farmers, they've been farming their whole lives, but in different countries, and they haven't had the opportunity here to be in a market."

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She said that out of the nine vendors that grew food through the Village Agricultural Cooperative, it was the first time selling at a U.S. market for six or seven of them. 

She said more established markets, like the Rochester Farmers Market, where vendors are vying to get a spot in, are not the best place for beginning farmers to sell products, especially when the farmers selling don't have a ton of products. 

Vendors at the Village Farmers Market could feel comfortable simply selling whatever they had. 

"One farmer we had would show up every time with like five bushels of tomatillos, but that was predominantly what they had," she said. “Then they had maybe like a half a bushel of peppers, half a bushel of tomatoes — it's not large quantities that our farmers are selling."

Nigon-Crowley said because they didn't serve prepared food at the Village Farmers Market, no special food prep licenses were required. 

They did however feature Cottage Food-licensed vendors and food demonstrations, which she said was donation based with all the money raised by the presentations going to help cover Village expenses.

Nigon-Crowely said that requiring vendors to have a commercial kitchen in order to serve prepared food is a "big barrier" for a lot of Village farmers. 

“I think they're cost prohibitive for a lot of our farmers who are small-scale, and they want to make maybe 50 to 70 meals and sell them, and they can't afford to go rent a commercial kitchen for $300 every time they want to make 50 to 70 meals," she said. 

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Luckily for them, selling vegetables is free. 

"If it's from the farm, you don't need a license — anyone can sell anything from the farm,  anywhere," she said. "You can go stand on the side of the road of your property and sell from the farm."

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at nfish@agweek.com

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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