At some point in the late morning, a DJ hit “play” at the corner of 23rd Avenue South and East 31st Street and the Hues Corporation jam, “Rock the Boat,” blasted out into the sunshine. In the shadow of the new B-Side apartment building in the Corcoran neighborhood, the row of booths marked the first time that the Midtown Farmers Market was back to its old location on what for years had been a vacant parking lot.
It didn’t take long for Green Garden Bakery, the only vendor run entirely by young entrepreneurs, to start selling. The table was just one of many lining the edge of a new plaza wedged between the apartments and the Midtown light rail stop on the Blue Line light rail in south Minneapolis.
“We’re a youth-run business,” a teenager named Isahk Abubaker eagerly told me. “We started in 2015 when a friend of ours got hit by a car and their medical bills were $5,000. So we sold baked goods and were able to pay off the bills. We saw how we could help people with our baked goods, and so we decided, ‘Why don’t we help more of our neighborhood?’”
The bakery is run out of the Near North community and is just one of the diverse stands on display at the Midtown Farmers Market. The two dozen booths reflect an eclectic mix of everything from hand-embroidered jean jackets to artisanal jam to starter plants to local butchers. One of the oldest markets in the city, it dates to 2003, meaning this will be its 20th season of connecting folks in the area to local food. It has an inclusive spirit that makes it unique and was the first Minneapolis farmers market to begin accepting EBT funds way back in 2006.
“It’s a celebration vibe,” said one of the market organizers, Ocean Jurney, describing the kickoff event.
The market is run out of the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization office, one of the more active of the city’s 70-odd community groups. The market’s food is all from Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the assorted vendors are curated by the Corcoran team to provide a wide range of products for southside folks.
‘A lot of things happening’
There’s also a sense of healing in the air. After a few volatile years away from its original home, the market coming back to the light rail stop marks a return to, if not normalcy, something that puts public space at the center of everyday life.
“We’re moving back to the original location; it’s had quite the facelift,” said outgoing Market Director Keeya Allen, referring to the brand new sidewalks, grass and benches. “They have revamped that whole lot right there, in between the new apartment building and the light rail.”
To say that the neighborhood has been through a lot would be a massive understatement. The market sits on the other side of Highway 55 (Hiawatha Avenue) from the former Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct, which burned down during demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd. Vacant lots still sit a few blocks away on Lake Street, most notably on the corner of East Lake and 27th Avenue South, where the massive, century-old Odd Fellows building once stood. If you know where to look, scars of the fires of 2020 are faintly visible all over the surrounding blocks.
But today, everyone seems happy to be back on Lake Street in the new and improved location. “We’re definitely excited to move back to our home for our 20th season,” said Mo Hanson, the market’s community program director. “We love the hustle and bustle of the Hi-Lake area. There are a lot of things happening.”
For the past three years, the market was displaced from its surface parking lot during the construction of a new complex of apartments. Along with the B-Side, the Southsider Apartments each have around 150 new homes that sit right next to the light rail station. During construction, the market temporarily relocated to the lot next to the Moon Palace bookstore on the other side of the highway. (For the record, Mo Hanson asked me to give a shout out to the folks at Moon Palace.)
The temporary site was a poetic match, because, as Hanson explained, Moon Palace started as a vendor at the Midtown Farmer’s Market before opening its brick-and-mortar location. That’s just one of the small businesses that have relied on the market to spread the word over the years.
“We’re excited about the new plaza and to bring a gathering of community there,” said Hanson, pointing to the local vendors. “I actually will know where my food is coming from for the next six months.”
“There’s something for everyone at the Midtown Famers Market,” said Jurney as I chatted with the organizer team. “We are an inclusive space, family and community-driven, and once you come and visit, it definitely will become one of your favorite markets.”
But here’s a pro-tip: If you want any of Green Garden Bakery’s bread or muffins, you better get there early. “We’re already sold out,” Isahk Abubakar told me, apologetically. He and his partner Ariana Merrick were still hanging out though, hoping to sell a T-shirt or two and soaking in the sunny springtime atmosphere.
The Midtown Farmers Market is open May to October, Saturdays 8:00 am to 1:00 pm and Tuesdays 3-7 p.m. at its old location on the west side of the Lake Street-Midtown Blue Line stop.