East Isles plans a new farmers market for The Mall

The Mall between Hennepin and Humboldt avenues will host a new farmers market.

A farmers market is in development for the green space on The Mall west of Hennepin Avenue.

The East Isles Residents Association is closing in on tentative plans for an evening weekday market of about 40 food-focused vendors to launch this summer.

The “heart and soul” of the market is fresh food from local sources, said Debbie Gold, an East Isles resident and board member leading the effort.

The weekly market would span at least one block between Hennepin and Humboldt, with the possibility of expanding to a second block if needed. Target market dates are mid-June through September.

The East Isles Residents Association is working through the red tape to launch a pilot project with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which has never permitted a recurring  farmers market on park property before. The pilot dovetails with the Park Board’s urban agriculture initiative, which aims to boost access to healthy food in the parks.

Permits Manager Shane Stenzel said the Park Board has always said no to famers markets in the past, but this concept is appealing because it’s coming from a neighborhood group. He said The Mall is also an appealing location because of its access to transit. Cross streets would remain open, he said.

“It is pretty exciting,” he said. “Who knows, down the road we may add opportunities for farmers markets in other parts of the city.”

The East Isles neighborhood has worked in recent years to highlight The Mall, making plans to add trial gardens, replace benches and install chess tables. The farmers market would further those efforts, Gold said.

“It’s about calling attention to The Mall, about community building, and bringing fresh and local produce into the neighborhood,” she said.

The EIRA’s next step involves hiring a market manager. The cost to the neighborhood isn’t yet certain, but the board is seeking co-sponsors to help cover costs that include city licensing fees, signage and marketing. EIRA is not looking to profit from the market, but rather provide a service and create profits for vendors, Gold said.

An Uptown Farmers Market operated from 2009-2012 at the Intermedia Arts parking lot and on 29th Street between Lyndale and Dupont avenues. Organizers attributed the closure of that market to high rent, slow business and dwindling volunteers.

The East Isles neighborhood came close to seeing a new farmers market in the mid-90s. Resident Steve Havig remembers hashing out the idea with an Isles Bun & Coffee customer from the University of Minnesota’s 4-H program. They received approval from the condominium association at 1425 W. 28th St. to hold a market in the building’s parking lot. But at a time when farmers markets were less common, Havig said they couldn’t secure a market insurance policy, and the idea fizzled.

“I think insurance stops a lot of good ideas,” he quipped. “…Having a farmers market on The Mall is going to be spectacular.”

Interested vendors or market managers can contact [email protected]