Farmers market leaves downtown looking at options

Joan Gartner said she’s been going to the downtown Rochester Farmers Market for decades.

“I go every week, unless I’m out of town, so I’m there 99 percent of the time,” she said of her four-block walk to the market site on Fourth Street Southeast.

With plans to relocate the summer weekend market to Olmsted County’s Graham Park, Gartner said her weekly trips are likely to end.

“Part of the farmers market is the freedom to come and go,” she said, adding that the need to take a bus would limit her freedom.

“If you take me in a cab or a bus, then I wait for a bus to come and that defeats the whole purpose,” she said, pointing out that she doesn’t drive.

Jessica Joyce, manager of Rochester Farmers Markets, said organizers are aware the move may disrupt summer routines for some market customers, but they are looking into options to make the new venue accessible.

“We are pursuing transit options,” she said. “We looked into ways to make it more walkable, bikeable and transit friendly.”

Paul Schmidt, chairman of the market’s location committee, said he’s hoping the new location, which is approximately 10 blocks from the previous site, will inspire some downtown residents to carpool or work together to stay connected to the market. Residents like Gartner could coordinate trips with a neighbor, he added.

Rochester Farmers Markets has announced they are moving to Graham Park this summer.

The plan to move the market started with a unanimous board recommendation, but it required a vendor vote, which was held earlier this month.

Schmidt said vendors voted 40 to 6 for the move.

The markets have approximately 100 overall vendors, but Joyce said only 60 typically vote.

Schmidt said he communicated with five vendors who didn’t attend the Feb. 4 meeting, and four of them would have supported the move.

“I think they would have attended if they felt the need to vote,” he said of the venders who missed the meeting.

He added that key vendor opposition to the move, which is expected to start with the May 2 market, centered on concerns about informing customers.

“It will be very visible,” he said, noting market officials plan to work with Olmsted County on communication efforts.

He said concerns about co-existence with the Olmsted County Fair and Gold Rush markets are also being addressed.

On the other side, he said vendors supporting the move appreciated the added parking convenience at Graham Park, as well as space to grow and the ease of moving into a stall. The move also puts the Saturday market at the same site of weekly summer Wednesday markets and the winter markets.

County officials have said they are glad to welcome the weekend farmers market.

“I think it just presents a lot of opportunities,” said Mat Miller, the county’s director of facilities.

County Administrator Heidi Welsch said she’s also been hearing community support for the move.

“We’ve had lots of good feedback from the public,” she said.

At the same time, downtown entities are looking for ways to respond to the loss of a neighborhood staple.

“The news was of some concern to me as a representative of the neighborhood association,” said Amy Garretson, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

She said that in addition to reducing access to affordable fresh produce, she’s concerned it could reduce opportunities for downtown residents to connect as a community, among other potential impacts..

“I’m also a little concerned it also will bring lost revenue from market customers for downtown businesses,” she said.

To address the emerging concerns, she said she hopes to hold discussions with Rochester Downtown Alliance and Destination Medical Center officials.

Patrick Seeb, DMC Economic Development Agency director of economic development and placemaking, said he’s open to looking at opportunities to bring produce vendors downtown.

He said Discovery Walk could serve as a site for pop-up markets in the future, and other activities could partner with market vendors, acknowledging the planned move was unexpected.

“I was surprised to learn of it,” he said.

At the same time, Seeb said long-term use of the city-owned lot on Fourth Street Southeast was unlikely,

“I think it is a very attractive location along the river,” he said, indicating development pressure for the site will likely increase as the city works on a transit hub near Graham Park.

Work on the transit hub also adds some uncertainty as plans for the market relocation emerge.

While Olmsted County commissioners have been united in preferring the hub be created at the former Seneca Foods site, differing opinions have been heard from Rochester City Council members.

Olmsted County Board Chairman said he expects final decisions this spring but added that the area in north Graham Park is best reserved for the farmers market.

“It’s a very nice location, and it gives them space,” he said.

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Schmidt said he’s also hoping the market will be able to work with local sponsors to fund improvements at the site, which could play into the county’s master plan for Graham Park.

“I’ve talked to some local businesses that want to participate,” he said.

Seeb said similar community support could come into play to address downtown concerns.

“I imagine it will be a gap that gets filled downtown,” he said.

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