Anyone who lives in Minneapolis right now knows that we are in the middle of an unprecedented rebuild of the city’s infrastructure—the city just launched a site called the Big Build which reports on some $4 billion worth of construction happening all around us. Does the name Big Build have unfortunate echoes of the Boston Big Dig? Break into groups and discuss. But as I tell my kids, as we sit, and sit in traffic, this is going to be a fantastic place to live in three years.
But. Will we have any farmers' markets in three years?
I’ve been talking to a few vendors lately and things are looking bad. Really bad. Let’s divide the badness into two chunks, to best process it.
Downtown Farmers' Markets, Bad:
Did you know that the Nicollet rebuild, originally scheduled to wrap up in the fall of 2017 (before the February 4, 2018 Super Bowl) is now scheduled to wrap up in 2018? True! Our core downtown Farmers' Market has always taken place on Nicollet Mall. Last year it was on Hennepin, which was a disaster. There was too much traffic, and panhandlers harassed the customers trying to get their change from their lettuce purchases. As May Kou, one of the members of the Hmong family behind Afton Mist Farms told me, “When they would see the change being given, that’s their cue—can I have a buck? And you can’t say: I don’t have a buck. It was uncomfortable and a lot of our regular customers stopped coming.” Brian Frederickson, the anchor Nicollet Mall vendor with nationally famous single-source Ames Honey put it more bluntly: “Hennepin Avenue was a joke.”
Comparatively, the downtown Farmers' Market on the Government Center Plaza is pretty neat, clean and fun to be at. Though anyone will notice that it’s only about a quarter of the size of the original Nicollet Mall market, in terms of both vendors and customers. So now we have to wait until 2019? That’s a long time. In such a long time shoppers develop new habits, and small farmers and small businesspeople go under.
Also, while I’m griping about Nicollet Mall, does it feel like we planned to re-do the guest room because important guests were coming to stay with us (the Superbowl) and now our important guests have to sleep on the floor because the guest room is blocked off and being plastered, and we would have been better off just painting and buying some nice candles?
The Main Minneapolis Farmers Market, Worse:
Alright, now let’s get to the real problem. The main Minneapolis Farmers Market, our city’s pride and joy, (open in one place or another since 1876 and open at its current Lyndale location since 1937), is being totally strangled by the Lyndale construction happening a few blocks away by the Walker Art Center. Frederickson, who sells both bees and apples, says the place has been a ghost-town—he’s making less than a third what he did last year, and still has to pay the same stall-fee to be there. “My business is going to survive, but a lot—a lot—of other businesses aren’t going to. Can’t the city put a traffic cop into that mess on the weekends? Some of those streets are dead-ended or blocked off and they still have red lights, the traffic doesn’t need to be anywhere near as bad as it is. It’s like the city said, 'Let’s send everyone home on the weekends and screw those [farmers' market] businesses.'"
Frederickson also acknowledges the recent farmers' market boom isn’t helping, with 40-odd farmers' markets in the cities now, most people have one closer to them, and they can get there without hassling with the Lyndale traffic. Kou agrees, “Sales have gone down at Lyndale a lot—a lot. I don’t put all the blame on the city, maybe it wasn’t too well planned to have all this construction around the famers' market at once, and I do have some customers who say they don’t come as frequently because of the construction. But it’s also been a funny spring, and everything is pushed back a little out of season. People always want cucumbers and tomatoes, and not a lot of people have them yet. When people come and see green veggies and herbs, maybe they’re thinking I’ll wait for tomatoes.”
Are you thinking you’ll wait for tomatoes? It might be time to rethink that as a winning strategy. Remember when Vincent and La Belle Vie closed, and everyone was wailing: If only someone had said something! I would have gone and spent my money! I was taking it all for granted! The city I had was the city I wanted—not this new thing that’s less cool. Well this is the wake-up call. The core Minneapolis farmers' markets are seriously hurting. There is no end in sight for this construction. If you were a Lyndale Farmers' Market shopper—sit down with a map and figure out a new route. If you were scared and annoyed by last year’s Hennepin market downtown, come on over to the Government Center, it’s really nice.
And I can’t stress this enough: If you want core Minneapolis Farmers' Markets in five years, your support is needed now, this year. Tell your friends. Our downtown Minneapolis Farmers' markets need us.
Lyndale Farmers' Market; Open Daily 6 a.m. – 1 p.m.; 312 E. Lyndale Ave.—612-333-1737
Downtown Farmers' Market; Thursdays 6 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Government Center, South Plaza, 300 S. 6th St.,—612-333-1718