Albert Lea Farmers Market opens with spring produce, programs to encourage healthy eating

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, May 16, 2024

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By Ayanna Eckblad

The parking lot on the corner of Broadway Avenue and Fountain Street on Wednesday was crowded with vendors for the long-awaited opening day of the Albert Lea Farmers Market. 

Because it is still early in the year, fresh produce available was mainly spring vegetables like asparagus, rhubarb and green onions. According to vendor Patty Billat, there will be radishes available soon. 

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There were also plenty of other goods that people could buy at the farmers market including jams, pickles, sauces, honey, eggs, live plants, bread and other baked goods. 

Vendors are hopeful that this year’s mild winter and drought do not affect the growth of their produce.

“I’m praying for rain so I’m hoping all the 800 seedlings that I’ve got going this year are going to make it through,” said Mary Ulland. She has sold goods at the Albert Lea Farmers Market for about five years. 

Many of the vendors said that the good company is their favorite part of the market every year.

“You get to know your customers,” said Billat, who has been a vendor for 30 years.

Verylys Huntley added, “It’s just always fun to get back and see your customers that … you’ve been serving for years and you miss them over winter.”  

Kathleen Bleckeberg has been with the Albert Lea’s Farmers Market for 22 years. She explained that she is in charge of running the board’s annual meetings, contacting and working with vendors, answering questions and many other responsibilities. 

“I see people here I don’t usually see any other time during the year. It’s like coming to  the fair,” she said. “I love the camaraderie, I like seeing people and I love having a garden.” 

She also explained some of the programs the farmers market participates in to make healthy food more available for people in the community. 

One example is the Sprouts Program. In this program children pick up a card at the farmers market with spaces for different vendors to sign with their initials. Once the child has 10 initials on his or her card, they receive a $1 gift certificate that they can use anywhere in the market.

Another similar program is the new Power of Produce or PoP Program. Children who visit the farmers market receive a $2 wooden token that they can redeem for any vegetable at the market. 

The Albert Lea Farmers Market also accepts SNAP EBT. Those participating in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program can also receive $4 checks they can spend on any produce.

“We try to get people to eat healthier and local. The biggest thing is for the farmers markets here to provide fresh and very local produce, and baked goods, and honey, and syrup and crafts,” said Breckeberg “We all work together to make our market successful.”

According to Huntley, there will be several new vendors at the farmers market on Saturday. 

The Albert Lea Farmers Market is open from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. It is at the corner parking lot between North Broadway Avenue and Fountain Street. More information can be found at the Albert Lea Farmers Market Facebook page.