The market as a city

Farmers markets often remind me of little cities. These cities may be built and disassembled on a daily basis, but behind the scenes, there’s much at play in keeping the blueprints together.

In a higher-functioning farmers market or city, it can be difficult to identify the various players involved in its success. Vendors come to mind right away; you couldn’t have a farmers market without farmers or products available for sale. Farmers wouldn’t have a reason to come to market without customers to sell to either.

It’s necessary to have dedicated market-goers who come out ready to shop, rain or shine. But a third, often-overlooked piece of the equation is board members and volunteers.

What do our board members and volunteers do? A bit of everything, honestly.

Back in 2011, when I first started with Neighborhood Roots as one of two seasonal staff, our board members were the market organization. Board members issued vendor applications and ordered market supplies such as tents and chairs. Our volunteer treasurer had market mail delivered to his house.

The good news is we’ve evolved quite a bit since then. We have two year-round staff members and hire on a third, seasonal position every year. All three staff members can and regularly do squeeze into our single-dorm-sized office (and permanent mailing address) in the Center for Performing Arts building on 38th & Pleasant.

While staff now implements the bulk of our daily market operations and our board isn’t nearly the hands-on working board that it was years ago, the truth remains that, for a community-generated and community-serving organization such as ours, it’s essential to have more than three (staff) people provide input and assistance on many matters. It takes a network of helping hands to provide the skills, time and expertise to make our farmers market cities run.

On a market day, this means that we rely on volunteers help out with market setup and teardown. Setting up six-plus tents and carrying 60-plus chairs across a parking lot simply isn’t very much fun if you only have two out of three staff members on hand to do it. (Lo and behold, our staff members even get vacations sometimes!)

Add in a couple of volunteers and a chance to catch up on someone’s week, recent travels or farmers market-sourced meals, however, and it not only takes less time but it’s rather enjoyable, too.

Away from the markets, our Operations Committee volunteers support market operations at a single market. We have distinct committees for Kingfield, Fulton and Nokomis. These folks meet monthly and help steer the events lineup at each individual market as well as recommend outreach tactics specific to their neighborhoods. Over the wintertime, they give input on our vendor selection process and changes they’d like to see for the upcoming season.

Most involved of all remain our board members, who stay in the loop on matters related to our three markets and work to further the Neighborhood Roots organization as a whole. Each board member serves on a committee — some on operations alongside non-board members, others on our Executive Committee or our Marketing/Development Committee. They support our fundraising & fundraising events, provide input on our budget and strategic planning and help out in other areas big and small, as needed.

Want to get involved? Our board elections are coming up this fall and we’d like to hear from you, whether as a potential board member or to try out a one-time volunteer shift. I think you’d find that there are some things we do well and other areas we need to strengthen, and we can with your support.

In particular, we recognize that the composition of our board and volunteers needs to better reflect the racial, cultural and economic diversity of our South Minneapolis community in order for the farmers market cities that we build to be truly welcoming spaces for all. We welcome interest from people of color and those that share this vision of an inclusive community. Please get in touch at [email protected].

Nokomis is open through the end of September, Kingfield and Fulton through the end of October. There’s still plenty of time meet new neighbors and fellow farmers market enthusiasts and enjoy the freshest of local food while you do.

Alexandra Cortes is the executive director of Neighborhood Roots. She has been growing with the markets since 2011.