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Midtown Farmers Market at a critical and challenging crossroad

Posted on 25 June 2018 by calvin

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
It isn’t often that a figure of speech is true both figuratively and literally, but this is one of those times. The Midtown Farmers Market, which sits at the crossroad of E. Lake St. and Hiawatha Ave., is in a time of transition—and where that transition will lead is not yet known.

The venerable community gathering space has sat adjacent to the Hi-Lake LRT Station for the last 15 years. Originally located on the Lake St. side of the property, it was shuttled to the back in 2015 when construction began on a building that now houses Hennepin County Human Services.

“Our current location is less visible and less accessible than the original one,” said Market Manager Mallory Forseth. “For the last couple of years, customers have had to deal with major construction issues. Attendance for last year’s market season was down 20% from our peak year in 2014. We want people to know that we’re still here, even though we may not be visible from Lake St. We need the support of the neighborhood to keep our market going strong.”

Forseth continued, “There are other big changes ahead,” Forseth “We’ve recently learned that we’ll have to find a temporary location for 2019 and 2020, while the 1.4-acre public plaza meant to house us, and many other neighborhood functions, is built. The Corcoran Neighborhood Organization (which is the Midtown Farmers Market parent group) is looking, but hasn’t yet found a suitable neighborhood site for the market to relocate to.”

Photo right: The proposal for the new public plaza would reduce the number of vendor stalls from 65 to 42. Market administrators say this number is inadequate to provide the variety of goods that customers have grown accustomed to. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

According to Forseth, the process of working with Hennepin County on the plaza design has been frustrating. The operational requirements of the market are basic, but requests for public restrooms, storage for market supplies, and a sufficient number of vendor stalls have not been accommodated in the current plan. Without them, Forseth said, “I don’t see how we can continue to operate in this space. We feel we are at an impasse.”

Market supporters believe it should be clear [to Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin and City Council Representative Alondra Cano] that the benefits of keeping the Midtown Farmers Market in Midtown are worth those accommodations.

Also, the proposal for the new public plaza would reduce the number of vendor stalls from 65 to 42. Market administrators say this is inadequate to provide the variety of goods that customers have grown accustomed to.

According to Forseth, “We’re located at a very busy transit hub. From a transportation standpoint, that makes us one of the most accessible farmers market in Minneapolis—and we have the potential to grow that even more. When all of the construction is complete, there will be a total of 500 units of housing divided between the various buildings here. This is an enormous opportunity!”

“With Hennepin County Human Services being on-site,” she added, “we saw our EBT and SNAP Food Program sales go up by 25%. We’re able to offer a food match for customers participating in either of these Hennepin County assistance programs. When they enter the market and stop at our table, they can purchase $10 worth of tokens, and we’ll match their purchase with an additional $10 worth of ‘market bucks.’ This is a step in the right direction for access and equity, having fresh, healthy food right here in the neighborhood for people with limited income.”

“In addition to healthy food,” Forseth said, “the Midtown Farmers Market offers free fitness classes, live music, kids’ activities, family games, and plants for the garden.”

“The Hi-Lake Intersection has been neglected by both Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis for a long time,” Forseth said. “Reasonable accommodation for the Midtown Farmers Market in the public plaza design would give officials and politicians a chance to make good on some of their many promises.”

Image left: Market Manager Mallory Forseth said, “What makes this market so great is the sense of community celebration that comes from bringing healthy food to the middle of South Minneapolis twice a week, six months out of the year.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The Corcoran Neighborhood Association will be distributing information at the market over the next few weeks to educate customers on the issues it is facing. A neighborhood forum is in the planning stages for July 26, 5-7pm. Place yet to be determined. To learn more, go to www.midtownfarmersmarket.org and subscribe to their newsletter. Community input will be sought as the discussion continues.

Forseth concluded, “We would also value input regarding the lower level retail spaces of the buildings being constructed. The Midtown Farmers Market is a food business incubator. If the market finds a way to stay in this location, what about designing in a commercial kitchen where vendors could make or bake their products? There are many ways that retail might be implemented to support and complement market offerings, as well. With big picture thinking, this transit-oriented development project has the potential to be an amazing opportunity for the whole community.”

“In the meantime,” Forseth said, “neighbors can support us by shopping here.”

Market hours are Saturdays 8am-1pm, and Tuesdays 3-7pm. Cars can enter the Midtown Farmers Market on 31st St. and 23rd Ave. Bike racks are located near the LRT Station. Bus and train stops are at Lake St. and Hiawatha Ave.

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