by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Holli Wieser and her sisters just started their candle making business in January. Wieser brought their goods to the Winona Farmers Market (WFM) last weekend as it opened for its summer season. However, she already “can’t wait to come back.” Wieser is one of the vendors joining the WFM as more of its pre-pandemic community-building elements return.
Though WFM organizers and vendors persevered last year and held the event and enthusiastic customers continued to attend, the feeling of community that comes from gathering to learn about and bring home local products was not quite the same as it had been in pre-pandemic years, several organizers and vendors agreed. “And while we had very loyal customers last year, people didn’t feel like they could hang around and have those long, interesting conversations that farmers market customers have,” Market Coordinator Monica DeGrazia said. The community feeling is returning this year as more vendors and customers come out for the market and organizers reinstate past staples that contribute to the event’s welcoming environment, including live music and outdoor dining. The return is welcome after the WFM incurred some expenses last year associated with putting COVID-19 safety protocols in place. The market also hosted a limited number of vendors, kept vendor fees low and could not hold its typical fundraisers.
On a bright, warm Saturday with a summery breeze, organizers, vendors and customers mingled and chatted while embracing the first outdoor market of the season. Some community members strolled from vendor to vendor with a coffee in hand. Several walked through the market with their youngest family member in a stroller. Others stopped to listen to a musician playing guitar live or took a moment to sit down and enjoy a snack or meal at a picnic table.
It was wonderful simply to see community members interacting, organizers and vendors said. “With the weather being as beautiful as it is, everybody’s happy to be out, happy to be socializing again, and just making those human connections, which are so important for us as well,” WFM Secretary Sarah Schaub of Valley Gardens LLC said. Bob Carlson of Carlson Roasting Company said he appreciated talking with several people who moved back to the area. “[The] market is a great place to connect,” he said. For Wieser of Pickwick Sisters Candles, discovering connections with community members and fellow vendors was a meaningful experience. “It’s the small town feel,” she said. She added, “It is just a friendly atmosphere.”
It was great to reconnect with community members who attended the market last year, Emily Miller of Little Red Dairy said. Some remembered that she was expecting last year and customers asked how her child is now doing, she said. “It’s really fun when you get to memorize faces and know names,” she said.
For some community members, local goods were something that felt like a certainty in the uncertain early days of the pandemic, Schaub said. “Our customers last year really came to appreciate that from us, that they had that local source here that they could come to to know that no matter what, they still had that food source here at the market that they could come to and rely on,” she said.
Miller said discussing the work that goes into making those products is enjoyable, too. She appreciates answering questions about the farming process. “I think with cows, specifically, or livestock farming, so to speak, there’s a lot of misconceptions and ideas, and it’s nice to clear those up,” she said.
The Winona Farmers Market will take place at Levee Park each Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. through October 30.