Farmers’ market hopes to keep its home

Amy Reisdorf and her children Anjali, 7, and Mark, 2, at the Farmers’ Market near the crepe stand (Anjali’s favorite).

Photo by Scott Russell

Safe for this season, the Midtown Farmers’ Market hopes to stay planted next to LRT

The Midtown Farmers’ Market’s future is uncertain. The property it has used rent-free for six-plus years is going up for sale soon. Yet vendors and patrons have reason to be hopeful.

The Farmers’ Market has run for more than six years on Minneapolis Public School (MPS) property, the parking lot of Anishinabe Academy, a K–8 school at 2225 E. Lake St. The district has surplus property and is hurting for money, so it plans to put the site on the market this summer. (See related story, Anishinabe Academy prepares for move to Sullivan.)

The Farmers’ Market is in no immediate threat of eviction, said Meredith Fox, MPS special assistant to the chief of policy and operations. “They definitely can rest assured that they are safe, at least through this season and maybe through next season, depending on how quickly the sale process goes,” she said.

The Corcoran Neighborhood Association hopes the Farmer’s Market can put down permanent roots on the site, either through a lease agreement with the new owner or by buying a small piece of the property outright. Fox said the school district is not opposed to the idea, but it needs fair compensation for the land.

“As you can imagine, we are in a difficult financial position ourselves,” she said. “We need to look for every opportunity we can to be good fiscal stewards of our resources.”

MPS asked the Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) department to act as the district’s sale agent. The city could help the district facilitate a community-input process, Fox said.

Eric Gustafson, assistant director of the Corcoran Neighborhood Association, praised the district for its past support. “It has been extremely generous,” he said. “The Farmers’ Market could not have happened at that location without the Minneapolis School District and their help.”

Still, the lobbying has already begun. Farmers’ Market supporters have been talking to elected officials and DFL convention delegates, Gustafson said. They have a petition with hundreds of signatures. Gustafson talked of trying to get money to buy a piece of the land in next year’s state bonding bill.

If for some reason the plan falls through, however, there isn’t much of a Plan B: “We have taken a serious look at eight or 10 sites. We haven’t found anything that would work without a lot of redevelopment,” Gustafson said. “We consider other sites to be last-resort alternatives.”

At the market

People at the market are concerned about its future and want it to stay.

Amy Reisdorf and her children, Anjali, 7, and Mark, 2, made their weekly stop at the Farmers’ Market crepe booth (Anjali’s favorite) on a recent blustery Saturday. The market has become an important part of their community, Reisdorf said. The kids get to know people, like the 85-year-old grandmother that made them knit caps last year.

Said the 7-year-old Anjali: “The first time I came to the Farmers’ Market I liked it because everybody likes me.”

Reisdorf, a former MPS teacher, said she understands the district needs to sell the building. “I hope they can find a partner to work with us to continue to use the property,” she said.

Brett Laidlaw has run Real Bread at the Farmers’ Market for six years and is on its advisory committee. He knew the market was guaranteed space for the rest of the year but also said the school might demolish the building. “We will still have a parking lot, even if it is in the middle of the rubble,” he said.

The current location is an ideal home in many ways: good visibility, parking and transit access, he said. “Everyone knows where the market is,” Laidlaw said. “We’d like to stay here.”

Emerging issues

Even with the housing market slump, MPS’s Lake Street parcel next to the light rail station offers a great location for affordable housing. And that could provide leverage to promote the Farmers’ Market.

In a recent newsletter, Ward 9 City Council Member Gary Schiff wrote that he is committed to requiring a developer to offer the Farmers’ Market a long-term, low-cost lease if it wants to get city affordable-housing subsidies. “This market is a community asset, and it deserves to stay,” he said.

One crunch issue for any redevelopment is parking. The new development will add parking demands. The Midtown YWCA can have busy nights with parking overflowing into the neighborhood. The Farmers’ Market benefits from the school’s current off-street parking. Depending on the redevelopment, it could push more shoppers and vendors to seek on-street parking.

There also will be pressure to add green space. Corcoran’s Gustafson said the neighborhood’s vision for the new Farmers’ Market is not simply continuing the current asphalt footprint. It plans to seek ideas for how to create a public plaza or park that could serve as a public space 95 percent of the time and accommodate the seasonal, twice-weekly market for the small remainder of the time.

“Our neighborhood plan calls for some public open space,” he said. “If there is housing on the site, those residents are going to want some open space to enjoy.”

The Midtown Farmers’ Market is open Saturdays, 8 a.m.–1 p.m., May–October; and Tuesdays, 3:30–7:30 p.m., July–October.

last revised: June 3, 2009