On a crisp, cool morning, farmers market vendors set up their tents while wearing winter jackets and gloves. As guests began to file in, the warmth of the atmosphere made the chill disappear.
“What we experienced on Saturday is the product of people gathering in the same place over a period of 21 years,” said Catherine Reynolds, Minnetrista Farmers Market manager. “There’s something very interesting about that that’s out of all of our control — that’s kind of magical and awesome.”
Reynolds has managed the market since September 2020, when she first took over the position. It isn’t without its challenges, including many rules and regulations the market must abide by, but her passion for sustainable food and supporting local businesses has carried her through these obstacles.
“When people care about a place and they gather in it over a long period of time, that’s what creates a sense of community,” Reynolds said. “There are all kinds of interesting things that can happen when you can create that place for people.”
The market includes more than 20 farmers and providers, all of whom bring unique products to their tables — most are food-centric, but there’s variety in what’s offered. In addition to organic meats, vegetables and fruits, providers also sell honey, coffee, maple syrup, herbs, vegan baked goods, craft-beer cupcakes and freeze-dried candy — all locally produced.
Minnetrista Farmers Market hours
With weather permitting, the Minnetrista Farmers Market will be open 9 a.m. – noon every Saturday May through October. From June through September, patrons will be welcomed as early as 8 a.m.
Face masks are required for all vendors and visitors.
Source: Catherine Reynolds, Minnetrista Farmers Market manager
Lynda Michael, a self-described “herb lady,” is one of the longest-tenured vendors. She and her husband, Arvin Michael, have been managing their booth “Michael’s Honey and Herbs” at the market for 14 years. For Lynda Michael, getting to know community members is what the market is truly about.
“There’s just something about our age I think,” she said. “We’ve made friends with Ball State students, and one year, we had a young man that would come and talk to us, and he said, ‘Can I come to your house with my girlfriend? I’d like to know what you think.’ That kind of thing, especially with Ball State … We just enjoy that. We just love it. It’s why we’re here.”
Lynda Michael isn’t the only seller who found a community at the Minnetrista Farmers Market. Tiffany Turner, first-time provider at the “Fresh Market Treats” booth, felt she learned more about her neighbors.
“It’s just a great way to reach out and get to know your community better,” Turner said. “I think it pulls everyone together.”
As many people isolated in their houses and couldn’t get out much last year, fewer locals could attend the market and connect with their neighbors. When the market moved indoors last fall, Reynolds said there was a strict limit of 300 people at a time. Now, though, she expects turnout to return to its normal range of around 3,000 people per week, or roughly 45,000 annually.
While the community is the strongest selling point for some of the vendors, others are captivated by the beauty of Minnetrista’s campus with its vibrant flowers and budding trees.
“We came here two or three times as customers and we enjoyed it,” said Doug Featherston, who’s been selling produce at farmers markets from his booth “Chaplin Farms” for 13 years. “It’s a beautiful market, and the setting is beautiful. We decided we wanted to try it. We had done several other markets like Anderson, Pendleton, Noblesville and New Castle, but never did Minnetrista. This is the closest market, I don’t know why we didn’t do it first … It’s just really nice.”
For Reynolds, the market also serves as a way to bring the efforts of local farmers and businesses to light and help stimulate the local economy.
“I think it’s a tragedy that it’s not easier for people to make a livable wage,” Reynolds said. “To me, the only solid foundation that [farmers] have to stand on right now is a farmers market. There’s no other policy or anything that truly is helping out the small-scale sustainable farmer or small-scale sustainable food business.”
Based on data from the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey in 2015-16, farmworkers’ mean and median personal incomes the previous year ranged from $17,500 to $19,999, with only 14 percent earning $30,000 or more.
“The answer is all around us, in the form of untapped potential within the community itself,” Reynolds said. “There are current and future entrepreneurs here. As developers, we’d be wise to ask ourselves how we can be their advocate. As a planner and a farmers market manager, my question is how do I facilitate this upward movement? The good news is that we are the change that we’re looking for."
Contact Garrett Chorpenning with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gachorpenning.