A.L. Farmers Market unveils program

Published 9:29 am Friday, August 12, 2011

Virginia Brewster of Albert Lea looks at corn and cucumbers from a vendor Wednesday at the Albert Lea Farmers Market. The market was celebrating National Farmers Market Week. -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

A place to go for fresh produce, good nutrition and a sense of togetherness.

That’s how people visiting the Albert Lea Farmers Market this week said they benefit from having the market in the community.

On Wednesday, as part of National Farmers Market Week, area residents enjoyed fresh samples, a game and other highlights as they took part in the market.

Albert Lea resident Jodi Bump, right, obtains tokens Wednesday from Albert Lea Farmers Market Manager Linda Peterson to use from her electronic benefits card. Starting Wednesday, people using EBT cards at the farmers market also received $5 additional free Market Bucks to put toward purchasing produce. -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

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Market Manager Linda Peterson said another local program was also unveiled for low-income market users who use the electronic benefit transfer program at the site.

For about a month now, people receiving food assistance through EBT cards can bring their cards to the market, in exchange for tokens to purchase fresh produce.

On Wednesday, people who used their cards could also obtain an extra $5 in Market Bucks, sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota and the Minnesota Farmers Market Association, to purchase additional produce. They can do this for each day of the market, or a total of $10 a week, since the market is twice a week.

The program will continue the rest of the market season.

“It promotes good nutrition and helps you eat more fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Albert Lea resident Jodi Bump, who used the Market Bucks on Wednesday.

Various types of onions are for sale at one stand Wednesday at the Albert Lea Farmers Market. -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

Bump said she planned to purchase strawberries, carrots, potatoes and canned pickles.

Peterson said though the EBT cards have been able to be used at the market for about a month already, they are just beginning to pick up acceptance.

“I think it’s an excellent program,” said Verlys Huntley, a vendor at the market and the president of the market board. “There’s a lot of low-income people in our community.”

People are now also able to use debit and credit cards to purchase items.

Huntley said the market brings several other perks as well, such as locally-grown produce.

“It’s tastier and it’s fresher,” Huntley said. “Most of it’s picked the day of the market.”

She said the local farmers market also supports local vendors, who come from a 35-mile radius to sell their products ranging from crafts to pastries.

Peterson said there are about 35 vendors at the market this year, from as far away as Owatonna and Riceville, Iowa.

Albert Lean Virginia Brewster said she attends the farmers market to buy produce including cucumbers and corn.

“It just seems fresher to me, almost straight out of the fields,” she said.

The Albert Lea Farmers Market is from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Though the season started out a little slow, Huntley said there’s loads of fresh produce coming into the market now, and people seem to be getting into the swing of things.

National Farmers Market Week continues through Saturday.