Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Entrepreneurial Musings from the Farmers Market

I love to spend my Saturday mornings at the farmers market. I load up on fresh produce for the week and discover sights, smells, and tastes to inspire my cooking. Last week was National Farmers Market Week, and communities across the country celebrated their local farmers markets. The market for locally-grown food has seen dramatic growth over the last decade, and farmers markets across the country continue to grow. There are over 8,500 farmers markets across the country—50% more than there were only five years ago. Farmers market growth is great for the local food movement, which supports our local economy and provides a launching pad for entrepreneurs. 

On a recent visit to the Mill City Farmers Market, I found a moment to take in the experience and was struck by some entrepreneurial themes. The farmers market is a lively gathering place, where growers and eaters interact, bustling with social and economic activity.  The exchange at a farmers market is such a pure and simple form of commerce. Growers and food artisans build relationships when they communicate with customers, suggesting cooking techniques and sharing the story behind their products. There’s an energy at a farmers market that makes shopping feel like a special occasion and a joyful adventure.

The farmers market environment also is a great entrepreneurial proving ground. Entrepreneurs can use a farmers market to start a business slowly, focusing on building a brand and a customer base. I hadn’t heard of drinking shrubs until I sampled the fruit-vinegar infusion offered by The Twisted Shrub. The hand-crafted shrub drink is a refreshing mixer for cocktails or sodas. The Twisted Shrub offers interesting flavors like Peach Habanero and Blueberry Lemon. The founder, Scott Dillon, used farmers markets to introduce his product to customers looking for something unique. After testing the waters on the farmers market scene, Dillon’s startup has taken off and it now distributes to local liquor stores and grocers. Shrubarita, anyone?

I picked up some beautiful heirloom tomatoes from the Amador Hill produce booth, which made a wonderful Caprese salad. The Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI) manages an organic farm on the Amador Hill Farm Campus in North Branch, Minnesota for demonstration and education programs. The Amador Hill farm supports a CSA, farmers market stands, cultural heritage farming projects, and has a wide range of internship and training opportunities to nurture entrepreneurs. From visiting with one of the interns working the booth, I learned how the program gives interns and volunteers a chance to develop farming expertise as well as skills in sales, customer service, and marketing from the real world experience of selling products in person at the farmers market.

At the Dumpling and Strand pasta booth, I was drawn to the clever packaging, touting “exceptionally curious noodles.” But, it was the conversation with the owners Kelly McManus and Jeff Casper that lured me into buying some handcrafted fresh Rustic Egg Pici. We chatted about our favorite noodles from around the world—from Japan to Italy. Their recipe suggestions did not disappoint – in fact, our meal reminded my husband of a special meal we had last summer where we gorged on Pici in Montepulciano. The opportunity to connect and build relationships with venders nurtures customer engagement in an authentic way. From this single, in-depth experience, I feel loyal to the brand and I want to tell my friends (and entreVIEW readers!) about the product.  I’m already following Dumpling and Strand on instagram so I can see what’s on the menu next week! 

Check out your local farmers market to celebrate the seasons, discover new products, and support local entrepreneurs.  There are 188 farmers markets in Minnesota –click here to find a farmers market near you.

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