Unique and well known vendors showcased during annual Rochester market

Rochester’s FEAST! Local Foods marketplace was held on Dec. 11 at the Civic Center.

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Rochester’s FEAST! Local Foods marketplace, held on Dec. 11, 2021, at the Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota. Noah Fish / Agweek

ROCHESTER, Minnesota — Despite heaps of snow on the ground, well over a handful of vendors showed up Dec. 11 for the annual market that takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas in downtown Rochester.

Over 10 inches of snow fell in Rochester leading up to the morning of Dec. 11, according to the National Weather Service, with over 20 inches reported in St. Paul. That didn't stop the Rochester’s FEAST! Local Foods marketplace from happening.

Tim Penny, president and CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, which co-hosted the event, said the FEAST! marketplace is like a "farmers market on steroids."

The eighth annual holiday market was part of the FEAST! Local Foods Network, supported by SMIF, Renewing the Countryside, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, University of Minnesota Extension and several other organizations and businesses. The network also includes the Grow a Farmer loan program and the Smart Start technical assistance program, said Penny.

The market at the Civic Center on Dec. 11 featured items including locally made cheeses, meats, honey, spices and sauces, jams and chocolates, along with a section with beer, cider and wine. Products from vendors could also be ordered through the FEAST! Online marketplace in the days leading up the Saturday market.


Penny said the annual tradeshow was spurred by a SMIF economic study of southern Minnesota done about a decade ago, which highlighted the potential growth of the local food sector. He said the area is "really uniquely situated" with many different regional outlets and close to the metro area.

"With grocery stores and restaurants wanting to source locally, we just saw there was so much potential to grow that sector in our region," said Penny of the collaborative.

Penny said that while vendor turnout for the Dec. 11 market was definitely down due to the snow, plenty of customers still made it out to shop for holiday gifts or themselves and families. He said in a typical year, which 2020 and 2021 were not, the market attracts up to 1,500 people.

"We also get somewhere around 40 institutional buyers — grocery stores and restaurants — that will attend the event and check out some of the products displayed here by exhibitors," said Penny. "That results occasionally in a good purchasing contract."


Michelle Mazzara is the owner of Luvafoodie , a "clean-eating and drinking brand" that sells filler-free spice blends, salt-free spices, Belgian chocolate bars, hot chocolate on a stick and other products made by Mazzara. The company is based out of Eagan, Minnesota.

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Michelle Mazzara, owner of Luvafoodie, helps a customer put a box of spices into her bag on Dec. 11, 2021 at the Civic Center in Rochester, Minn. Noah Fish / Agweek

"I've met some really interesting people, and potential new customers of individuals who have storefronts or marketplaces, so that's been exciting," said Mazzara on Dec. 11.

To avoid traveling through the aftermath of the snowstorm, Mazzara said she arrived in Rochester the day before market. Last year, she sold online at the FEAST! market but this was her first time selling at it in-person.


"I think it's great to share with locals about your story, and there's a big story for Luvafoodie," said Mazzara, who was busy chatting with new and potential customers at the market. "The premise is to be clean, be well, stay well."

All of her spices are made without fillers such as silicon dioxide, which Mazzara said is in many spices found in grocery stores.

All of Mazzara's products have a personal story behind them.

Five years ago, she had a stent put in after she had a heart attack and found out she had heart disease. She became involved with the American Heart Association, for which she now serves as a brand ambassador, and created her line of spices that have no salt.

"That's when I started sharing my story, and how I was misdiagnosed," said Mazzara. "That's one of the reasons I like to come to things like this, and share my story with other people and heart disease survivors."

Her passion for crafting healthy, all-natural spices extends to cats and dogs as well.

"I created this for Lucy, my little Shih Tzu who crossed over the rainbow bridge in May," said Mazzara, holding her Dog Lovers Spice Blend.

Lucy was 13-years-old when she stopped eating, said Mazzara, and started having seizures. After researching how to get dogs with cognitive issues to start eating again, she created the Dog Lovers blend. The ingredients are basil, parsley, turmeric, cinnamon and ginger.


Lucy lived for five more years, and Mazzara said she now has customers with dogs and cats who won't eat their food now unless it has the spices mixed into it.

"I'm really excited about this because I want to share with as many people as possible how to have your dog live longer and healthier," she said.

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