When I was 7, 8 10, thereabouts, I was the one in the gang to write, cast, direct and star in the neighborhood productions. We had different venues. The Burgess yard was perfect for western dramas. Their dad, a frustrated artist, had built a virtual set in the backyard, replete with pond that featured a fountain and bridge, surrounded by undulating mounds of grass. You could throw yourself down behind the rise, hugging the ground, while aiming a Roy Rogers cap gun at the villain. I’ve forgotten the gist of the script now, but I clearly remember furiously penciling the dialog and feeling a certain despondency when my cast didn’t measure up to my art.
The Hill kids had a large expansive space with a clothes line that revolved on casters, providing an array of backdrops, curtains and scrims for our various acts. The variety show, mainly musical numbers culled from the movies of the day, featured Betty Grable/Dan Daley tunes, magic? acts and tricks with Tippy the dog.
We sold tickets (handmade and brightly crayoned) to the neighbors, family, and local merchants. Bless their hearts. They were enthusiastic. As I recall.
Given this background then, is it any wonder that I succumbed last year to the challenge to begin a farmer’s market in Fergus Falls. “Hey kids. We can put on a show!”
I was motivated of course, by the grand farmer’s market festivals in California and other parts of the country. The town of San Luis Obispo, our last stop on the west coast, closed down three blocks of the main street each Friday night and lined both sides with vendors. There were vegetable stands and plants, musicians, neck massagers, political activists, yummies to eat on the spot, all manner of hand-made crafts. It was an obstacle course and one had to elbow a path through the throngs of happy shoppers and celebrants.
Lynn and Dave, two of my friends from the local garden club, had the same dream. Here in Fergus Falls, we reasoned, all we had to do was beat a few drums and they would come. Right?
Imagine our surprise when there were only two tables that first Saturday. And pitiful dribs and drabs of buyer/visitors all day. By the end of the season, it’s true, we had built up to 10 vendors and they were all quite happy with their proceeds. But it wasn’t my dream and I definitely didn’t feel that we had “put on a show.”
But last Fall when I was ready to ring down the curtain and fade away, I received a call from Janet at the county department of health, who had noticed our paltry effort and was interested in helping to promote the market. Janet’s interest was in building community relationships with local food producers, providing growers with a source to market their wares, ensuring local consumers an opportunity for fresh, healthy food, all the time putting local money back into the community. In other words – a focus on health, wealth, social connectedness and our environment.
Multiple meetings later, Lynn and Dave and I are now fired up and ready to go.
For one thing, we now realize that we have to do a great deal more than just “putting out the word” and “knowing they will come.” Not only have we joined the Minnesota Farmer’s Market Association, but we’re also now a part of an organization called Minnesota Grown, which means that we have access to educational guidelines and also cool stickers and signs.
A week ago we hosted a brunch and networking gathering for farmer’s markets around the state. Our keynote speaker was Lynda Annoreno from the Fresh Start Farmer’s Market of Baudette. Lynda moved to the small community near Lake of the Woods after 30 years in Arizona and like myself, decided she wanted to “put on a show.” Why not?
But Lynda managed to grow her market into over 30 vendors in one season with total sales of $250,000. I know. WHAT? I was skeptical until I heard her speak and tell her story.
Her basic premise throughout was that she was offering OPPORTUNITY to everyone in the community. She never asked for money. She gave the local hardware store an opportunity to advertise by providing 300 cloth shopping bags with their logo. She let the local bus service introduce senior riders to their service by giving them an opportunity to transport shoppers for no fee on market Saturdays. She gave the school art department an opportunity to design the market logo, and the Chamber of Commerce an opportunity to award the winner with a $50 coupon for local merchandise. The local café had an opportunity to advertise by bringing their popcorn machine and offering it in logo-ed bags. A seed company donated 5 pounds of bean seeds for a “Spilling the Beans” event and the fish and tackle store provided a hundred lures (with their logo, of course) for Father’s Day. And that’s just a sampling of the opportunities.
Thank you Lynda. You’re the best kind of Bossy Pants. I surrender the crown.