Minneapolis Farmers Market Manager Larry Cermak is a serious man. He's been managing the market for 25 years, he tells me, and "this is the most miserable October we've had." The weather has been damp and cold, making it challenging for the farmers to harvest their crops - corn and soy beans are still not ready - and the sun hasn't shown its smiley face in what seems like ages. Larry is realistic, but not necessarily optimistic. "We need people to come out this week and next weekend," he tells me, "we need a big Halloween weekend."
Many of the farmers I had the chance to speak with echoed Larry's sentiments. Paul Nelson, who helps his father-in-law Jerry Untiedt run Untiedt's Vegetable Farm, one of the Minneapolis Farmers Market's most celebrated farms, spoke candidly about the difficulty his farm is having this year and how the cold weather has impacted his business. This 2 minute video features a short interview with Paul, conducted by Susan Berkson, who generously walked me through the market this past weekend:
Not all of the farmers I spoke with were that bleak. Doug Harvey from Fireside Apple Orchard said that this year was pretty typical for him, and that people were still buying apples. (He only got fired up when discussing SweeTango apples - which he was out of - and how their unique licensing arrangement has impacted the market.) Bob Dehn (pictured here) from Dehn's Garden said that it's been a pretty typical Minnesota fall for his business, a little bit slow but nothing too concerning. Shari Heinel from Heinel Farm in Little Canada, MN said that business has been down a little bit, but that the people who do come are "shoppers, not browsers [...] the people who are here want to buy your food."
Still, there was no denying that a bit of gloom was in the air. I'd never seen the market with so few people in it, and most businesses said that sales were down between 10% - 40%. Terry Picha talked about having lost many of her farm's tomatoes, peppers, and other warm season crops. Other farmers said it was hard to find workers to harvest vegetables in the cold.
For me, the trip was successful, another reminder of the terrific bounty avaialble day after day at the market. These days, prices are low and farmers are extra generous. I left with more than a pound of delicious, sweet chestnut apples from Plum Crazy Orchard, purchased on a 2-for-1 deal for $3.50. Now's a great time to support our local farmers; the deals are outrageous, and they need our help.