When I’m asked about my line of work and I say that I run several farmers markets in South Minneapolis, the follow-up question most often posed is, “What do you sell?” I cannot, however, take credit for being a farmer or a food producer. Instead, I answer that I’m a part of the nonprofit organization, Neighborhood Roots, which brings these vendors together several times a week and makes the markets happen.
It’s not often on people’s radar that there’s an entity working behind the scenes to coordinate farmers markets, and before I began to work with them, the truth is, it wasn’t something I would have thought about much either. As a customer, when you show up at a market you’re more likely wondering where the smell of the baked goods is coming from, and whether the cooler weather means apples are in season yet. Perhaps you focus on scoping out a seat at one of the available tables as you listen to the music, your kids enjoy the craft activity of the day, and you try to recall some of the final items still needed from your grocery list.
Only if prompted to pick that scene apart is it likely that you may realize that the tables and chairs need to go somewhere at the end of the day, and that the musicians are there because they were scheduled to be. The apple vendor had to plan with someone to ensure that there’d be a spot for him among the orderly rows of vendor stalls once apple season came around. Someone, or more likely multiple individuals, planned and executed the daily activity, which was partially funded by vendor fees and sponsorships. And it took a coordinated effort to set an appropriate vendor mix, schedule the vendors, collect those vendor fees, develop those sponsorships, and set a budget for how to allocate those funds.
At our markets, the main physical elements of the market come together thanks to a small crew of set-up and clean-up volunteers. While market staff members are directing vendor vehicle traffic and getting electricity turned on, volunteers are making trips back and forth across the parking lot carrying the market’s tables, signage, and tents. Christine at Fulton draws beautiful chalkboard signs. Steve and Tracy at Kingfield form assembly lines when vendors need an extra hand unloading. Jon at Nokomis recently showed up at for his tear-down shift with his drill in hand to fix up the market chairs that he’d noticed were losing screws. Everyone steps in when they see vendors struggling to pop their tents open on their own.
Farmers markets don’t come together without a lot of effort, but it holds true that a lot of helping hands can make the workload lighter, as well as more enjoyable. If you can offer an hour and a half of your time once a month — or even just a couple of times a season — to pitching in and supporting the behind the scenes elements of your local market through some straightforward heavy lifting, we want to hear from you! While it may not be particularly glamorous, any of our vendors, staff, or board members would tell you those extra hands are truly necessary and deeply appreciated. And working with the good people of the markets can be lots of fun!
If you have time and skills to contribute to making the markets happen beyond set-up and tear-down, there’s a need for that as well. Are you skilled at fundraising? Passionate about local food policy? Comfortable with web development? Strategic planning-minded? Our market organization relies on a group of board members, currently 13 individuals from across South Minneapolis, to help steer our organizational course and further our mission of bringing neighbors together to buy, eat, and learn about local food. We’re gearing up for our annual board elections later this fall, and we’d love for you to sit in on a board meeting or chat with a board member if you’re interested in learning more. Get in touch at [email protected] We’re looking forward to meeting you!
Alexandra Cortes is the Executive Director of Neighborhood Roots. She has been growing with the markets since 2011.