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Four years, four seasons and counting

Live music is part of every Saturday’s Winter Farmers Market held at the greenhouse in Sargent’s Nursery. (Republican Eagle photos by Stacy Bengs)1 / 6
Red Wing Winter Farmers Market manager Char Smith visits with a market patron.2 / 6
Get peanut butter so fresh you can watch it be made at the Red Wing Winter Farmers Market.3 / 6
Trudi Schaefer of Windbeam Art and Crafts makes downright cute fairy garden furnishings4 / 6
Red Wing Winter Farmers Market includes local produce — of the preserved nature.5 / 6
Get your hands on homemade soap from Char’s Bars Soaps.6 / 6

Farmers markets have basically been around forever. The simple concept of a nesting of tables, booths or stands with goods sold directly from farmers to consumers is a thriving seasonal scene in most communities.

Red Wing’s own summer farmers market has evolved over the years and now includes more than 20 vendors with everything from fresh flower bouquets to locally grown produce, live music, activities for children and sometimes even classes.

In 2005 the Red Wing Farmers Market became an official organization, explained founding member Dianne Aisenbrey.

“With the support of the City Council, a small group of growers and supporters developed a summer ‘Saturday Market’ with the intention of attracting new customers to buy locally grown produce and get to know the farmers who grew it,” she said. “An additional goal was to create a community gathering place with music, coffee and activities for children.”

Freshly picked berries in the spring and locally grown sweet corn later in the season have become significant attractions to local shoppers at the Farmers Market, she noted — but growers wanted to keep the momentum going.

Four years ago a small group of the local summer farmers market vendors joined on a journey to extend their season by selling products year-round — and the Red Wing Winter Farmers’ Market was born.

Nestled in the open and airy, yet toasty warm greenhouse at Sargent’s Nursery, the market operates in the winter, currently on a bi-weekly basis.

“A Saturday Winter Market in the greenhouse was viewed as a win-win relationship,” Aisenbrey said. “It is a warm, comfortable greenhouse for vendors and customers, and an opportunity for shoppers to wander around in the Nursery on the off-season.”

The big question

Winter market manager Char Smith explained that in the summer of 2010 Aisenbrey and fellow market director John Anderes contacted Sargent’s Nursery about using the greenhouse space for starting up the winter market. The greenhouse was also the location for a slew of craft shows Sargent’s hosts over the winter and the collaboration seemed to work out great, she noted.

While is not uncommon for larger cities to have farmers markets year-round, Smith said the viability of small-market sustainability loomed.

“The question was could our community support an ongoing year-round market as well?” she added.

Being a much smaller community she says it was a concern, but the idea was that this would keep the impetus going from the summer market. “So, with the support of the loyal shoppers and vendors the first market opened in the fall of 2010,” she said.

Working on a shoestring budget, the market signed on a few producers who could bring late-season vegetables, but the majority of vendors were those who sell nonperishable items.

In the beginning, the market ran every week from November through the end of February with one market day in March.

“This was an ambitious undertaking in commitment from the vendors and some felt this was too often,” Smith said. Now the market successfully runs from 9 a.m. to noon on alternating Saturdays after the holidays.

Fresh and clean

There is an obvious product shift from summer’s farm fresh vegetables to winter’s non-perishables. Consumers can expect to find locally raised honey, jams, sweet breads, pickled products, aromatic soaps, homemade cards, gluten-free treats, colorful crocheted crafts, fairy garden furnishings and peanut butter.

The market is operated by a board, which reviews and approves the vendors.

“This season some vendors have expressed an interest in taking advantage of the interior space of the greenhouse by offering classes or demonstrations of their particular craft,” Smith said. “The market is considering this as it moves forward and hopes to develop this into an ongoing offering.”

Live music is still part of each week’s market, she said. The market is open from 9 a.m. to noon this Saturday with music from folksinger/guitarist Lee Mensinger and vocalist Brenda Owen. Three more winter markets will held Feb. 14, Feb. 28 and March 14 in the greenhouse at Sargent’s Nursery, 3352 N. Service Drive.

Stacy Bengs-Silverberg

Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.

(651) 301-7880
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