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Number of Bemidji farmers markets doubles

Sandy Reitmeier makes her color selection of gladiolus at the North Country Farmers Market Sept. 8, 2009. Bemidji will see two farmers markets this year. Pioneer File Photo/Monte Draper

A difference of opinions on the future of the North Country Farmers Market has led to the splintering of the group.

Tuesday night, a majority of farmers market members voted to dissolve the organization. They met the required two-thirds majority vote.

Eleven members have since come together to form the Bemidji Area Farmers Market, which will operate this summer out of the Pamida parking lot.

"The majority of members felt that the market needed a new direction to better support the community and attend to the fresh produce needs of Bemidji," said Dick Schmidt, who served as the president of the former farmers market. Schmidt also is president of the new Bemidji Area Farmers Market.

Four of the members who voted against the dissolution of North Country Farmers Market have since formed their own farmers market group, which, coincidentally, they have also been calling the Bemidji Area Farmers Market. A location has not yet been determined for this group, but there are two options currently being considered.

"We did not want to abolish it or dissolve it or anything," said Jeff Molnar, who was one of the five who voted against the dissolution of North Country and has since joined to form the second farmers market.

It appears the first group - the one with 11 members - will probably keep the Bemidji Area Farmers Market name; that name has been registered and given a state and federal identification number.

The new Bemidji Area Farmers Market has drafted a charter to register it as a 501c6 organization. Under a 501c6, a board of directors would represent the larger membership.

Schmidt said the decision to seek 501c6 status stemmed from the results of a recent market study, which recommended the development of a functional board of directors.

Molnar said he was not in favor of the creation of a board of directors that would limit the input of market members.

"I thought that maybe wasn't the best option," he said. "It would be better to continue with having direct representation."

Location, location

Recent community discussion on the farmers market has been focused on its location for this summer.

A presentation was made last week to the Parks and Trails Commission on potential "temporary" locations. The Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Authority also have discussed a possible site.

Presumably, the need for a location was due to the construction of a new multi-tenant center in the Pamida parking lot that will feature a new Subway location.

But Schmidt said the location was never an issue.

The farmers market has always been open to new location possibilities, he said, but it has had a good relationship with both Pamida and Hegna Inc., which is developing the Subway facility.

"They want us there," Schmidt said, noting that farmers market representatives met multiple times with both Pamida and Subway during winter.

"It's a triple-win situation," added Terry Nennich, a member of the new Bemidji Area Farmers Market.

New markets

The Bemidji Area Farmers Market this summer will be located in the parking lot at Pamida.

Rather than being located on the north end of the parking lot, closer to Second Street, the market will move south next to the Pamida building.

The most visible change, Schmidt said, will be the loss of the traditional North Country Farmers Market sign.

But, instead, the Bemidji Area Farmers Market will be included on the planned sign for Subway, he said.

"Through the cooperation and support of Pamida and Subway, we will carry on," he said.

Meanwhile, the other farmers market - which will be led by President Dale Krystosek - is reviewing two possible locations - Molnar said.

Both spokesmen for their markets said they are interested in new memberships.


Molnar said members received a card in the mail about a week ago informing them of a special meeting to consider the future of North Country Farmers Market.

Getting notice by mail was typical, he said. But the special meeting was odd, so he tried calling Schmidt, who did not answer. Molnar said he did not leave a message.

During the meeting, a motion was quickly made and seconded to dissolve the farmers market. No discussion was allowed.

"It was hurtful," said Molnar, who served as president of the farmers market for 10 years, during most of the 1990s.

Most frustrating, Molnar said, was that he did not know what the issue was that prompted the vote.

"If there were legitimate problems, I don't know of them," he said.

Following the vote, the membership agreed to give its remaining $4,000 in funds to the Minnesota Farmers Market Association.


Schmidt said the recent market assessment analyzed the work and goods available at the North Country Farmers Market. A Twin Cities-based professional listed some good points about the farmers market but also recommended several changes.

Two of the recommendations were that the farmers market be incorporated as a 501c6 and that a functioning board of directors be established.

He acknowledged that every member was not in favor of the move.

Molnar said the farmers market had become increasingly formal as agendas and discussion points were developed and discussed via e-mail in advance of meetings. Committees became more common and formal.

Molnar noted that some members of the farmers market are not computer-minded individuals.

"As farmers, we like to do our business in an open way," he said.

Organic issues?

Molnar wondered whether it was a factor that those who dissented are organic farmers or natural farmers.

"I think that will be the strongest dividing line (between the two farmers markets)," said Molnar, who used to be certified as an organic farmer. While he said he practices organic farming techniques, he has not maintained a current certification.

Schmidt and Nennich said the Bemidji Area Farmers Market is open to all types of agriculture.

"We really encourage organic farmers, but if you're going to be organic, you're going to have to be certified," Nennich said.

Not only can it become an insurance issue, Nennich said, but people with allergies to certain types of pesticides, for instance, could be affected by false claims.

Market history

The North Country Farmers Market existed for 32 years old. It had been in the Pamida parking lot since 2005, when construction of the new layout of the split Paul Bunyan Drive was complete.

From 2002-2004, during construction, the farmers market was located in the Paul Bunyan Mall parking lot, but it was not an ideal, highly visible location.

The market has typically been open on Tuesdays, Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays.