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Growing power: North Dakota communities urged to embrace farmers markets

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Mike Moen

(Prairie News Service) In the coming months, North Dakotans will be filling baskets at local farmers markets. As vendors prepare this year's produce, communities around the state are reminded of the economic benefits associated with these markets

This week, a variety of stakeholders tied to local food production took part in a workshop to discuss the intersection of farmers markets and community support. 

Becca Jablonski, assistant professor and Food Systems Extension economist at Colorado State University, shared research on the topic. She noted that while these markets might not be huge economic engines, they do create positive gains that are felt in a variety of ways.

"Those sectors that are impacted are not just going to be in the case of a farmers market, farming sector, right?" said Jablonski. "They're also going to be the places where employees, for example, spend their money. So, on things like childcare and grocery-store sales."

She noted that vendors often purchase local equipment, animals, and other essentials to help with their food production, adding to the ripple effect. 

Leaders from some North Dakota markets say common obstacles include access to suitable venues, as well as connections to local business leaders who could help with sponsorships.

Simone Wai - co-founder of Folkways, which hosts Red River Market in Fargo - said local marketing partnerships are another way communities can help these ventures succeed and become an economic asset. 

"These organizations want to use the farmer's market to advertise their community to new residents," said Wai. "I know a lot of communities in the area are struggling with attracting new residents. And this is an awesome way to help do that."

She and other organizers have said that helping to build markets can make them more attractive for events, such as concerts. 

The discussion also focused on fostering growth in areas where there's not as much competition, but still enough of a customer base to drive sales of local food. 

Through a federal grant, the awareness effort is being led by the Entrepreneurial Center for Horticulture at Dakota College at Bottineau.