PoP! Goes the Market

Special programs for children power attendance numbers at the weekly Marshall Farmers Market

Photo by Karin Elton Longtime vendor Sunny Ruthchild shows eight varieties of garlic and some herbs from her farm to a customer on a recent Saturday morning at the Marshall Farmers Market which is located behind the Marshall Area YMCA.


The Marshall Farmers Market is really popping these days. The organizers and community sponsors are enthusiastic about increased attendance.

At midway through the season, Kim Guenther, market coordinator, says there has been an increase in attendance — especially with families.

“The market is going so well,” she said. “We have had a total of 419 kids, ages 4-12, sign up for the Power of Produce club and are averaging over 125 kids per Saturday signing in to get their $2 POP tokens for a fruit or vegetable each week.”

And that’s not counting the kids who return to the market: Guenther says 753 children — which includes returning kids — so far have received tokens.

That’s $2 extra that is being spent at the vendors. At the end of the day on Saturdays, the vendors turn in the tokens for cash at the information booth that is always set up in the corner of the market next to the performance area. The booth is staffed by volunteers coordinated by United Community Action Partnership.

POP is a national farmers market program. Regionally, it’s sponsored by the University of Minnesota Extension, United Way of Southwest Minnesota and Minnesota State Health Improvement Partnership. The program aims to increase family participation at farmers markets, increase vendor revenue and build healthier communities.

The United Way of Southwest Minnesota has increased its involvement because of the popularity of the program, said Marcy Heemeyer, UWSWMN president and CEO.

“In southwest Minnesota, we focus on health, education, financial stability, hunger and safety and well-being,” she said. “The Power of Produce program has clear alignment to United Way of Southwest Minnesota’s funding priorities and demonstrates a positive impact on children and families throughout our region.”

The agency was integral to the program’s initial success.

“The UWSWMN granted $1,000 for children’s tokens for the 2017 Farmer’s Market through our Small Grant initiative to get the program off the ground locally,” she said. “During the first season there were 251 kids between the ages of 4-12 that participated. Children reported enjoying the ability to choose their own produce with their $2 token. The program helped families stretch their food dollars/budget and increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The Power of Produce program also increased nutritional awareness in children and got them excited about healthy foods like broccoli, raspberries and snap peas. Many of these food options were ones the children had not had an opportunity to try prior.”

For 2018, the Power of Produce program was awarded a $1,000 Community Impact grant from UWSWMN to provide another 500 tokens worth $2.

The Marshall Area YMCA is the fiscal as well as the physical host. The new location — it was formerly on West College Drive and now located in the back parking lot of the YMCA — is working out well.

“We have a strong 45 vendors every week,” said market organizer John Blake. “We averaged 15 per week in our old lot.”

Blake said the addition of music to the market is “a plus. It’s nice to walk around or sit and listen. You can shop at your leisure.”

Music at the Market organizer Sunny Ruthchild said she has seen a definite “uptick” on the participation of kids to the farmers market.

“They’ve been real responsive,” Ruthchild said.

Blake and Ruthchild are longtime vendors and sell vegetables and garlic, among other items. Other vendors sell grass-fed beef, jellies, and coffee, to name just some of the variety at the market.

Guenther and her family are big fans of the market.

“I thoroughly enjoy being a part of the Marshall Farmers Market,” she said. ” The food is as absolutely fresh as you can get it outside of growing it yourself. It’s affordable, there’s a terrific variety, and it supports our local economy and local family farming. I love talking with the vendors about the types of produce they offer and the variety and how to prepare it. And honestly, it’s just a great way to start the weekend. With music and activities for kids, and people riding bikes and walking dogs, it’s a great place to gather. Have a cinnamon roll for breakfast, stock up on your favorite vegetables, meats and bread, try a brand new vegetable you’ve never heard of and take home fresh cut flowers for your kitchen for the week.”

Guenther said one of those “brand new vegetables you’ve never heard of” is an Armenian cucumber.

“It’s a melon, but tastes like cucumber,” she said.

To keep people up-to-date on happenings at the market there is a website (marshallfarmersmarket.org), and Facebook page.