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Farmers Market season begins Tuesday

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WORTHINGTON — Recent rains have brought a flourish to local gardens, which means the farmers market is ready to open for the season.

Starting Tuesday, the Downtown Worthington Farmers Market will be open from 4 to 7 p.m. on the lot between the Worthington Fire Hall and Wells Fargo, along Second Avenue. The market will be open every Tuesday through October, with the Saturday Farmers Market opening July 1 in the Schwalbach Ace Hardware parking lot. That market is open from 6:30 a.m. to noon each Saturday.

Jill Cuperus, owner of Bushel+Peck Produce and a rural Wilmont farmer, is the new manager of the downtown market. Her family’s farm will mark its third season as a vendor this year, joining a mix of long-standing and new vendors.

“We’re still accepting vendors; we’re nearly full, though,” Cuperus said, noting 30 to 35 vendors are already committed to the market. Their offerings will include everything from fresh, locally-grown produce to canned goods, baked goods, fresh whole chickens, fresh eggs, cut flowers, honey and other items.

“We have a good variety of cultural vendors — three or four Asian vendors that have beautiful stuff — and some Hispanic vendors, so we’ve kind of got something for everyone,” Cuperus said.

When the farmers market opens Tuesday, Cuperus anticipates vendors will have an assortment of early season crops, from lettuces and rhubarb to radishes, kale and perhaps kohlrabi. Vendors come from a multi-county area with their home-grown foods.

“The great thing about the farmers market is you get to know your farmer,” Cuperus said. “You can ask questions, know it’s locally grown and picked fresh. It hasn’t been hauled on a truck.”

As a vendor, Cuperus said farmers are able to let things ripen on the vine as long as possible before it’s picked, ensuring customers get the freshest foods.

“We pick it, wash it up and it’s on our table in about a three-hour process,” she added.

No cash? No problem

After experiencing great success with the introduction of a card reader mid-season last year to accept EBT, credit or debit card payment in exchange for tokens, the Community Wellness Partners is again offering the card reader option this year.

Christine Bullerman, coordinator of Community Wellness Partners, said offering the alternative payment option netted $5,200 in additional income for vendors, with 120 new customers visiting the market because of the card reader and Market Bucks, a dollar-for-dollar matching program (up to $10) offered to EBT clients through the SNAP-Ed program.

This year, the card reader will also be available at the Saturday Farmers Market. Bullerman said the payment option is available thanks to the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council, which has agreed to be the fiscal host for the card reader, and to First State Bank Southwest, which provided funding to cover transaction fees.

“It’s easy for vendors, it’s great for the public,” said Cuperus. “If you forget cash at home, you can come with your debit card, swipe it for $10 or $20 and you’re good.”

Community Wellness Partners has secured the help of University of Minnesota Extension SNAP-Ed staff, but is in need of more volunteers to help at the information booth at both the Tuesday and Saturday farmers markets. For more information, contact Bullerman at 295-5394.

Building on the markets

With Cuperus now managing the downtown farmers market, plans are to expand the Tuesday market to include local musicians or entertainment, along with programs for children. She hopes to implement some of the activities in July.

Anyone interested in performing during one of the Tuesday markets is asked to call Cuperus at 360-1465.

“We’re trying to freshen it up this year,” she said. “We’re wanting the market to become more of a community event — a gathering spot for people to mingle, not just to stop and grab some produce.”

Other plans include inviting local nonprofits or service groups to promote their work at a community table, and finding sponsors for the farmers market.

“Having more money allows us more advertising and the ability to reach more people, and have more marketing materials to get the word out,” Cuperus said. “We really want to form a network of the market and different like-minded businesses so we can promote them and they can promote us.”

For updates on the Worthington Farmers Market, find its page on Facebook.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at farmbleat.areavoices.com.

(507) 376-7330
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