Guest column: Albert Lea Farmers Market now in 44th year

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2024

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Guest column by Verlys Huntley

The local farmers market will be opening in mid-May for its 44th year, and will be open through the month of October.

Verlys Huntley

Through the years many changes have taken place. It originally began in Morin Park in 1980 in connection with Col. Albert Lea Days. From there it went to the old Sears Parking lot, Shopko lot, Walmart lot and currently is in the North Broadway parking lot north of the Marion Ross theater two days each week.

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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 (with bonus market bucks received when using these benefits at the farmers market) and Farmers Market Nutrition benefits, both WIC for young families and FMNP for senior citizens.

We currently have two incentive programs to encourage more young families to come to the market and hope to continue those programs if funding remains available. The Market Sprouts program provides children with a punch card. When that child purchases a total of $10 of any market product, they get a $1 market gift certificate, which can be redeemed at any market vendor’s booth. The newest program for kids is the Power of Produce program, where each child 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 originally was funded by the Freeborn County SHIP program, but has now been funded for a number of years through grants from the Freeborn County Communities Foundation.

Minnesota now allows vendors who have taken the online Cottage Food Law training to sell pickles, salsas and other canned foods, as well as jams and jellies. We currently have a number of vendors selling their home-baked goodies, too, as well as vendors who sell some really unique home-crafted items.

The Albert Lea Farmers Market currently has about 20 vendors, but is looking for additional 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.

All vendors, prospective new vendors or others interested in learning more about the market are encouraged to attend our annual meeting, held in the early spring each year (date to be announced).

Farmers markets provide some of the freshest and tastiest produce you can buy. All products at our market must be grown or produced by the vendor. Shop with us because:

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

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

You will help the local economy, keeping dollars local, and supporting small ag.

In general, be less susceptible to food-borne illness and chemical contamination.

Find unique products not available in stores and buy vine-ripened fruits and veggies.

Be able to buy in smaller quantities or bulk for canning or freezing.

Help your environment and air quality (no long distance shipping needed).

Follow the Albert Lea Farmers Market Facebook page, or listen to KATE radio for current information about the market. We are currently looking for new vendors, and especially will welcome more vegetable and fruit growers.

If interested in becoming a vendor, or have other questions, message the market on their Facebook page, or call or text Verlys Huntley at 641-590-7571 or call 507-297-5546. There is now a link on the Albert Lea Farmers Market Facebook page, where through the Convention and Visitors Bureau you can obtain the current market rules and vendor application so you can better determine if becoming a vendor at the Albert Lea Farmers Market might be something you would enjoy doing!

We are looking forward to the upcoming season and excited about some additional fun activities and events being planned !

Verlys Huntley is a longtime Albert Lea Farmers Market vendor.