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Guest Column: Farmers Market Week will be celebrated at Albert Lea market second week in August

Each year, National Farmers Market week is celebrated the first week in August. However, because this conflicts with our Freeborn County Fair and the events held there, our local market is delaying our celebration until the week of Aug. 8-14. We are planning many special events and fun activities at the market for that week, and hope to see all of our great market friends and customers there. Even though unfavorable weather conditions delayed some crops, we now are getting an abundance of great local produce.

Verlys Huntley

The Albert Lea  Farmers Market is now in its 41st year, and through the years many changes have taken place. It originally began in Morin Park in 1980 in connection with Colonel Albert Lea Days.  From there it went to the old Sears parking lot,  Shopko lot, Walmart lot at the Skyline Mall  and eventually ended up in the North Broadway lot north of the Marion Ross theater. Market hours are now 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and  9 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Over the years, we have made many improvements to the market. We currently can accept credit cards, SNAP/EBT benefit cards and WIC Farmers Market benefits, both for young families and senior citizens. In the last five years we have added two incentive programs to encourage more young families to come to the market.   The Market Sprouts program provides children with a punch card and a fabric market shopping bag. When that child purchases a total of $10 of any market product, they get a one-dollar market gift certificate. The newest program for kids is the Power of Produce program, currently funded through the Freeborn County Communities Foundation and the Kenneth W. Olson Charitable Foundation whereby each  child age 4 to 12  gets a free $2 wooden token each time they come to the market, both Wednesday and Saturday. This token allows them to buy $2 in fresh fruits and vegetables. The local Extension Service 4-H staff also provides fun and educational activities for the kids throughout the summer. The Power of Produce program is bringing more young families to the market and is teaching these kids more about local  produce and how to shop wisely with their own $2 tokens.

Also, Minnesota laws now allow vendors who have taken the Cottage Food Law training to bring pickles, salsas and other canned foods, as well as jams and jellies, and a number of other food products previously not allowed, as long as they meet food safety regulations. We currently have a number of vendors bringing a wide variety of home baked goodies, too, and this year have a vendor selling local beef.  We also have a number of craft vendors selling  a wide variety of interesting crafts.

The Albert Lea Farmers Market currently has approximately  20 to 25 vendors. Produce and food vendors are required to purchase an annual permit, which provides the market the funds to carry on market advertising and other necessary activities. Craft vendors have the option of purchasing a five-time permit. The market has a board of directors, who manage the market in accordance with the regulations set up for the market. There is an annual meeting each year before the market season begins  to review the past year and talk about any changes that should be made for the coming year. All vendors, prospective new vendors or others interested in learning more about the market are encouraged to attend this meeting.

All products at our market must be grown or produced by the vendor.

Some great reasons to shop at our local farmers market:

1) You will get the freshest, best-tasting and most nutritious food.

2) You will establish a relationship with the producer and get great customer service.

3) You will help the local economy, keep dollars local and support small producers.

4) In general, you will be less susceptible to food-borne illness and chemical contamination.

5) You will find  many unique products not available in stores.

6) You will be able  to buy produce in small quantities  or  in bulk if you are  canning or freezing.

7) Shopping locally will help your environment  and air quality (no long distance shipping needed).

Thank you for shopping locally, and see you at the farmers market!

Verlys Huntley is a vendor at the Albert Lea Farmers Market.