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Off to market: Farmers markets provide venues for local food growers

Linda Erceg shops for fresh produce Saturday at the Bemidji’s Natural Choice Farmers Market. Malachi Petersen | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 4
Mary Melchior purchases bread form Becky Schulze on Saturday at the Bemidji Area Farmers Market. According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, there are 176 farmers markets in the state. Malachi Petersen | Bemidji Pioneer 2 / 4
Everything from homemade bread to canned goods are sold at the farmers markets in Bemidji. Shoppers say the freshness of the produce draws them to shop at local vendors. Malachi Petersen | Bemidji Pioneer 3 / 4
Robert Balsager shops for strawberries Wednesday at the Bemidji Area Farmers Market. Balsager has been shopping at Bemidji farmers markets for the past 16 years. Malachi Petersen | Bemidji Pioneer4 / 4

BEMIDJI -- Two Bemidji farmers markets are benefiting from the national trend toward healthier lifestyles.

The Bemidji Area Farmers Market and Bemidji's Natural Choice Farmers Market are situated less than two blocks from each other and feature produce grown by local area farmers. The two markets were created after a difference of opinion split the North Country Farmers' Market six years ago.

The Bemidji Area Farmers Market, located in the parking lot between the old Pamida and Subway, is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, as well as Saturdays and Sundays, and is home to about eight vendors.

Laura Lee Nennich, a co-organizer of the market and owner of Ter-Lee Gardens, is in the parking lot nearly every day to sell her fruits and vegetables. Nennich said the season for the market is about four months long.

"We usually start the first of July and go through Oct. 31st," she said.

Nennich said in recent years there has been a "big push" among the general public to eat healthier and believes the trend has been important in providing business to local farmers. According to her, locally grown food is healthier and fresher because fruits and vegetables picked for stores usually come from several states away, picked weeks ahead of being ready for harvest.

"A lot of this stuff was picked just this morning or last night. It's just so much healthier for you." Nennich said.

She said most of the food sold at the market is comparable in price to counterparts found at big chain stores and anything more expensive at the market is worth it due to the time and energy it takes to grow their food.

Bemidji's Natural Choice Farmers Market, located in the Union Square parking lot, is less than two blocks away and features about 24 vendors. They are open on Saturdays and sell arts and crafts along with food.

Duane Hayes, the president of the board for the market, said they have been open since Memorial Day but because of bad weather delaying growing, the market has not been able to be open on Tuesdays as they had hoped.

Hayes said the farmers market is visited by about 150 people each Saturday; with busy summer tourists adding to that number.

"We're becoming more of a destination for people to go since we have such a variety," he said.

Hayes said a special thing about farmers markets is being able to talk to the people who grow the food.

"The people selling them are the ones producing. If you're a purchasing, you can ask how it's produced and how it's raised," he said. "It's usually picked that morning or the night off, so it's fresh. You don't get that in a grocery store because you don't know where it's coming from."

Healthy living

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are more than 8,100 farmers markets in the United States, with about 176 in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture tracks farmers markets in the state. In the past decade, there's been a 33 percent increase in markets.

Paul Hugunin, coordinator with the Minnesota Grown program, an organization within the state ag department, said he believes the increase may be a simple result of people wanting to lead healthier lifestyles.

"People are interest in reconnecting with farmers and where their food comes from," he said. "We constantly hear we need to eat more fruits and vegetables, we need to eat more colors, we need to eat fresh -- and the farmers markets are a very logical place to get that."

Robert Balsager, 86, has shopped the farmers markets in Bemidji for the past 16 years, he said. He tries to come to shop at the Bemidji Area Farmers Market at least once a week.

"We love the people, for one thing, and you don't get berries like this any place else. All of their produce is just wonderful," he said.

Mary Melchiour comes to the Bemidji Area Farmers Market every other week during the summer to purchase freshly made bread. She said she shops the market in order to support local farmers.

"It's worth checking out. The people are so friendly," Mechiour said.

Linda Erceg, a shopper at Bemidji's Natural Choice Farmers Market, said she likes the freshness of the food. "It's just good food. It tastes good," she said.

Economic impact

In a 2010, the USDA issued the report, U.S. Department of Agriculture report "Local FoodSystems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues." The report concluded farmers markets have a positive impact on local communities by providing healthy food and spurring economic development.

"Local food markets may stimulate additional business activity within the local economy by improving business skills and opportunities," the report said. "The presence of local food markets may also spur consumer spending at the businesses in a community."

Austan Erickson, an in-store manager at the Subway located by the Bemidji Area Farmers Market, said business there sees an uptick the days the market is open.

"I would say at least the people that work there come in to use the bathroom, to get something to eat or to get something to drink. I'd say it probably brings people in for sure," he said.

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht said she believes the farmers markets in Bemidji are a nice asset to the city.

"It provides a reason for people to come to town and gives a reason for people to come into the downtown in particular," she said.

For more information on the Bemidji Area Farmers Market, visit

For more information on Bemidji's Natural Choice Farmers Market, visit

List of area farmers markets

Bemidji Area Farmers Market

Old Pamida/Subway parking lot at 200 Paul Bunyan Drive South, Bemidji.

Sundays: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tuesdays: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thursdays: noon to 6 p.m.

Saturdays: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Bemidji’s Natural Choice Farmers Market

Located in the Union Square Parking Lot, 2nd Street and Beltrami Ave., Bemidji

Saturdays: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Bagley Area Farmers Market

State Highway 92 and Great Northern Ave.

Fridays: 3 to 6 p.m.

Blackduck Area Farmers Market

Wayside Rest, Blackduck

Saturdays: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For a list of farmers markets in Minnesota, visit