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Farmers’ Market Hubs: Making Local Food Available to Local Institutions

Kristi Kropp and Sara George take a moment to smile for the camera while accepting deliveries from the local farmers. At Wabasha-Kellogg schools.
Contributed by: Grace Brogan, Renewing the Countryside and Jane Jewett, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture

Farmers’ Market Hubs in Minnesota are farmers’ markets that have secured food handler licensing from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and are operating as “aggregators.” These nine farmers’ markets are open for wholesale business and could make perfect partners for local institutions, including schools and early care facilities. The hubs collect products from multiple vendors – including farmers but also bakers and crafters – and offer those products for sale. The markets have been operating as aggregators since 2018, with a focus on sales to institutions like schools, early-care facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals. The nine farmers’ markets across Minnesota participating in the aggregation project have been funded by Specialty Crop Block Grants to help establish the model: https://farmersmarkethub.org.

The markets would like their local institutions to know they are still open for wholesale business! With the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020, the markets pivoted to serve household consumers as well and implemented COVID-19 safety measures at the market, which temporarily consumed much their attention. Now, though, those changes are well in place and with the season advancing and larger quantities of a wider variety of vegetables will soon be available – and the markets stand ready to deliver to wholesale buyers like the community institutions mentioned above.

This summer would be a great time for Summer Food Service, also known as Summer Meals, programs to connect with a farmers’ market hub! Greens, radishes, rhubarb, and asparagus are abundant at many markets right now, with cucumbers and peas coming soon.

Looking ahead to later summer, the markets will have an abundance of sweet corn, tomatoes, string beans, cucumbers, peppers, summer squash, and cabbage as school comes back in session. Minnesota produce can be incorporated into menus in a diversity of ways, and our team members are happy to work with your food and nutrition staff as we all learn more about what meal service looks like in the months ahead. Later in the fall, you can expect more cabbage, winter squash, onions, potatoes, carrots, and beets. Kale and other greens are typically available all season long.

Many of the farmers involved in sales through the hub have voluntarily taken produce safety training and developed on-farm food safety plans. The Farmers’ Market Hub project continues to work with U of MN Extension Educator, Annalisa Hultberg, to offer more produce safety training opportunities as more farmers come on board with the online sales.

If you’re a buyer, school nutrition professional, or a local food advocate working with a school, summer food program, or other type of institution, check out the Buyers page on the Farmers’ Market Hub website for more information and links to the markets’ online stores: https://www.farmersmarkethub.org/for-buyers/

Contact our project team members for direct assistance in connecting with a market manager, or for help finding farm-to-school resources:
Sara George, southeast MN:  saralgeorge@gmail.com
Kathy Zeman, metro & south metro:  kzeman@mfma.org
Cecilia Coulter, north metro: mcecilia.coulter@gmail.com   
Jane Jewett, central & northern MN: jewet006@umn.edu
Jan Joannides, project leader: jan@rtcinfo.org
Grace Brogan, Farm to School & Farm to Early Care specialist: grace@rtcinfo.org
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