Meet the market // The farmers market as economic developer

When we started the Kingfield Farmers Market a decade ago, no one thought we’d become a business incubator.

Oh sure, we knew we’d help vendors’ bottom lines while helping folks eat better. But we didn’t think brick-and-mortar stores would result.

Last weekend, I stepped inside a 46th & Nicollet storefront where I’d once rented videos and was hit with a whiff of warm, wonderful baking. Sun Street Breads had completely transformed the former Video Update (and Snyder’s Drugs) into a cozy birchwood-and-white-tile breakfast/lunch nook. Where the pharmacy counter used to be, Martin Oiumet vended wife Solveig Tofte’s potato bread, pulled pork sandwiches and a sweet concoction labeled “Chai soda.”

Eighteen months earlier, Solveig and Martin wandered in to one of our last fall markets wondering if they could sell Solveig’s baked goods. They were set upon as saviors.

We had lost our professional baker at the beginning of that season, and though we had a wonderful fill-in, she couldn’t keep up with the ravenous demands of 1,600 weekly customers.

We want to be a place where you can find almost all your staples, so simply having enough bread would’ve been an accomplishment. But if our market had doors, Solveig would’ve blown them off. Not just baguettes, but “Kingfield Multigrain Sourdough.” And bacon-cheddar biscuits. And Blackberry Cream scones.  Ginger jumble cookies. Fig rye. Farmgirl beer bread.

When the food reviewers got wind of all this during the 2010 season, the raves began showing up in print, and the lines formed from Sun Street’s back-market stall nearly to the Nicollet street front. Around mid-season, Solveig confided: she and Martin were going to open a store. Would we write a reference?

I joked, “Only as long as you keep selling at the market!” Of course, they replied.

As we prepare to open our second site in the Fulton neighborhood May 21, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the market’s economic development potential. Three blocks north of Sun Street, the entrepreneurs at the new restaurant Lowbrow decided to open here after discovering the neighborhood as market-goers. The Kingfield and Fulton neighborhoods kicked in $6,000 each to get their respective markets off the ground; this year, our nonprofit will employ three people part time with a payroll that easily exceeds those founding grants.

This year, Fulton market goers will get a chance to discover a bevy of new vendors, such as Big River Pizza and Gai Gai Thai, along with street-food royalty Chef Shack. We’ll have veggies from places like Waxwing Farm, Uproot Farm, The Weed Patch, Kingfield favorite Peter’s Pumpkins, Yer Yang, Savanna Vue, and Gardens of Eagan. We’ll have orchard fruit from Mary Dirty Face Farm, goat cheese from Singing Hills — and oh yeah, Sun Street will be there … as well as the lovely Patisserie 46!

Who knows which ones will take root in the neighborhood while luring others to enliven the commercial scene? Wander by this year and feel the incubator heating up.

Fulton Farmers Market, 8:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Saturdays, May 21-Oct. 29, 49th & Chowen,
Kingfield Farmers Market, 8:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Sundays, May 22-Oct. 30, 4310 Nicollet Ave., Mpls,