We love our local co-op, we really do, but we urge you step away from your local store just one Saturday a month and get over to the Mill City Farmers Market to eat local while the weather outside is telling you otherwise. We saw you there all summer long chowing down Smack Shack mini donuts with peonies and spring peas, so repeat after me, "Yes I can support local organic growers and producers year round"!
Here in Minnesota the farmers market season comes to a grinding halt in early fall. Little do most people know that there are year round growers and producers who continue to shine at a few local markets in the winter. Mill City is one of those markets. The Mill City Farmers Market has long been a favorite of Tootie & Dotes because of its commitment to quality sustainable farmers. We know we aren’t alone when great local chefs are singing the praises of the vendors and are using the market to discover new and seasonal produce vendors. Mill City's wonderful vendors include a James Beard Nominated Pastry Chef and growers of organic produce that can be found on the plates of the top restaurants in Minnesota. We sat down with market manager Kate Heilmann to get a closer look at the market and learn a little about their fabulous winter market and their vendors.
A Few of Our Favorites:
Red Table Meat Co.
Loon Organic Farm
Salty Tart Bakery
Mill City Farmers Market
Located between the Mill City Museum and the Guthrie Theater:
750 S 2nd St, Minneapolis, MN 55401
The Indoor Market is every Second Saturday, Nov-Apr, 10 AM - 1 PM inside the Mill City Museum.
They also have an off-site market every spring at the UMN Landscape Arboretum.
This year, it falls on Mar 5th, from 10 AM – 1 PM.
Marketing + Events Manager
Tell us what can we expect to see during the winter market season and how is it different from the summer season?
Customers are always surprised by how much produce we have at our winter markets. The November and December markets are especially full with farmers’ tables overflowing with Brussels sprouts, tender spinach and salad greens, carrots, beets, radishes, squash, potatoes, onions, garlic, etc. The winter markets tend to be much more grocery shopping focused. People come in, do their shopping, and get on with their day. The outdoor market is a combination of grocery shoppers and a community gathering place, and for some a place to hang out and spend the day.
The winter markets have a much different feel than the outdoor markets. We are in the warmly lit Mill City Museum, with musicians playing the harp, fiddle, and accordion. The tone is much different, much cozier. We have about 40 vendors each week at the winter market versus 60 at the outdoor markets, so there are plenty of choices. The winter markets are increasing in popularity, although many people still do not know we are open year-round. Our customer counts estimate that about 1,400 customers come through on a given winter market date compared to upwards of 6,000 at an outdoor market.
Can you give us a little backstory on the market? Who are the founders/humans behind it?
In 2006, Brenda Langton, in collaboration with the Mill City Museum, founded Mill City Farmers Market. The museum was just opening, and the area was ripe for development. Brenda had a vision to have a European-style marketplace on the riverfront and personally handpicked the original vendors who gave it a chance that first year. Ever since 2006, the MCFM vendor community has grown quite a bit, but always at a pace that has preserved and nurtured the important relationships that have grown strong over the years.
What is your vendor selection process like? What is your relationship like with these farmers?
MCFM vendors are selected based on their fit with our mission and their commitment to environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable practices. We recruit growers and vendors committed to sustainable practices and land stewardship, including USDA certified organic growers.
As a market, we strive for organizationally sustainable practices, including maintaining financial stability and the integrity and diversity of our vendor/product selection. No new vendor is added without a lot of thought put into how they will fit with our current mix of offerings. We are careful to balance new vendors with our existing selection, so that collaboration is emphasized over competition, in order to ensure our vendors are all economically successful. We have a tightly knit vendor community, one that we nurture and grow responsibly.
Who are a few of your must see vendors/farmers?
It really is so hard to name just a few, but at the winter markets, you won’t want to miss the produce selection from Pam of Prairie Hollow Farms (she’s at all of our winter markets), the roasted hazelnuts from Hazelnut source, spicy kimchi from Kiss My Cabbage, dilly garlic goat cheese curds from Singing Hills Goat Dairy, and organic whole wheat loaves from Heritage Bread….I could go on and on but that’s a start.
Can I feed my family all of the food groups from this year’s Winter Market?
We have farmstead meat and cheese at all of our markets, granola, bread, preserves, and grains. Our produce is very abundant in November and December, but tapers off slightly until March. I personally buy about 90% of my groceries from the Market during our outdoor season, and probably about 60% during the winter months. It’s hard to believe, but there are fresh greens, potatoes, squash, onions, and other produce available at all of our winter markets.
Do you offer any programs for frequent market shoppers?
Yes, we currently have two programs aimed at our frequent shopper base. The first is our market membership program, which includes weekly member specials, $10 in market tokens to be used with any vendor at the market, over $30 in coupons from our sponsors, and a donation to the Market to support our educational programming. To become a member, customers can just stop by our info booth during any market and sign up.
We also have a new program called FarmFan. This allows customers to opt in to receive a text message reminder the morning of the market, which lets them know what’s available that day. FarmFans also can “check in” at the market, which accrues points for rewards like a free market mug or a chance to win $25 in market tokens. You can sign up to be a FarmFan on our website or at the Market.