Growing Strong farmers market exhibit opens at the Mill City Museum

Minnesotans love their farmers markets!Mayor Rybak, self proclaimed marketoholic

Is it still not farmers market season yet? It feels like it’s been warm enough for a month now – with the occasional frost thrown in for variety – but our market still won’t be open for weeks.

To help manage the market jones – or, I guess, to make it much worse – Martha and I headed down to the Mill City Museum tonight for the opening of ‘Growing Strong’, an exhibit highlighting Minnesota farmers markets and their impact on our community. The exhibit was put together by our friend Mr. Farmers Market David Nicholson.

The exhibit itself consists of a series of panels hanging in front of the wall of the lobby of the Mill City Museum with text and photos highlighting aspects of farmers markets in our state. Each panel fell into one of four main topic areas: Healthy People, Fresh Food for Everyone, Economic Opportunity, and Urban-Rural Connection. We were about halfway through ‘Fresh Food for Everyone’ when the program began.

David Nicholson speaking

First up was David, who spoke about some of the work that went into the exhibit, thanked the sponsors, and introduced Dr. Marc Manley from sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Dr. Manley opened by stating that he had hoped to open his speech with a joke about farmers markets. This drew nervous laughter, I am assuming because farmers market people generally take the markets way too seriously to be making jokes about them. Dr. Manley was forced to resort to the Internet for comic inspiration, where he found this diamond in the cow pat:

Two cows in a field…
“Daisy, have you heard?”
“Moo. Heard what Buttercup?”
“There’s going to be a Farmers Market at the town hall next week.”
“That’s good, let’s sell our farmer and see if we can get a better one.”

Unsurprisingly, this got more groans than laughs, providing a nice segue into the more serious part of his talk – about how important a role farmers markets can play in encouraging healthy eating in Minnesota. Apparently, only 15% of Minnesotan adults eat a healthy amount of fruits and vegetables. To change this, Blue Cross has been supporting programs to allow farmers markets to accept SNAP/EBT benefits and to provide extra incentives for people to shop at markets. Our own market, Midtown Farmers Market, has benefited greatly from those programs, with EBT usage (and therefore customer counts) increasingly significantly since the Market Bucks incentive program was introduced three years ago.

After Dr. Manley concluded, we were treated to some quick, off-the-cuff remarks from none other than Minneapolis mayor RT Rybak, who got things off to a good start when he deadpanned “Hi, my name is RT, and I’m a market-a-holic.” He then explained he and his wife Megan’s weekend schedule, which involves visiting just about every market in the city.

The mayor’s priorities for Minneapolis markets? Use markets as places of education, let markets define a sense of place for our city and region, and make sure markets are structured to provide good economic opportunities for farmers and producers. These priorities echoed the themes of the exhibit.

Overall the exhibit did a great job of explaining the important role farmers markets can play in improving our communities, beyond being the sort of Yuppie playgrounds they are so often caricatured as (though, don’t get me wrong, they are still very much that too). If you’re in the area of the Mill City Museum, stop in and check it out (the museum itself is also well worth a visit). The Growing Strong exhibit runs through July 22.

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