Cultivating Community and Growth: The Impact of the Elk River Farmers Market

Cultivating Community and Growth: The Impact of  the Elk River Farmers Market Main Photo

21 Jul 2023


Farmers' markets are summer staples of communities nationwide but are often considered small operations with limited or niche products. But the truth is they are a big deal. In 2020, USDA reported that farmers' markets had $514 million of direct-to-consumer sales. Therefore, farmers' markets are more than fresh, organic foods; they are an outlet for local farmers and small businesses to support themselves, create local jobs, and cultivate strong communities. As the Farmers Market and Special Event Coordinator for the City of Elk River, Karen Wingard has witnessed firsthand how this market has fostered economic development, supported local businesses, and created a sense of community among vendors and visitors.

Boosting Economic Development

The Elk River Farmers Market has played a pivotal role in enhancing positive relationships between the downtown business district and various organizations throughout the city. Local businesses have benefited from attending the market through sponsorships, which grants them valuable exposure to the market's advertising platforms within the community. The sponsorship dollars are further utilized to fund token programs, incentivizing and rewarding shoppers of all ages for choosing healthy local food and products from the market's vendors.

Moreover, Wingard says that the Elk River Farmers Market has actively participated in the University of Minnesota's FM 360 program since 2018. This data-driven initiative collects valuable information on shopper behavior, spending patterns, and other useful metrics. The insights gathered from this program provide tangible evidence of the market's direct impacts on driving shoppers to the area, their spending habits, and the positive effects on surrounding businesses during market days. This data helps downtown businesses understand how community events contribute to their bottom line.

Fostering Entrepreneurship and Collaboration

Karen Wingard emphasizes that the farmers market is an excellent incubator for small businesses, artisans, and entrepreneurs. It provides an ideal environment for testing products and receiving continuous customer feedback, leading to product refinement. As the season progresses, many vendors experience substantial growth and success, with some eventually expanding into storefronts or supplying grocery and retail stores.

The collaborative nature of the market is noteworthy, Wingard says, as vendors often recommend neighboring vendors to customers if they have yet to have the exact product a customer is looking for. This collective approach fosters a unique and positive experience for vendors and customers, increasing the market's popularity.

The market has also supported student entrepreneurs, allowing them to showcase their products and grow their businesses with minimal startup costs. The experience gained from the market helps vendors develop critical skills such as interpersonal communication, critical thinking, and adaptability in marketing and pricing to meet customer needs. What’s more, the market provides the nonprofits within the area a space once per market season free of charge to gain valuable exposure. This can be used by anybody, from scouts selling popcorn to the local booster groups to sell fundraiser items or the city’s public health department to notify of programs available, Wingard adds. 

“Great Teamwork and Mutual Respect”

When asked if she could share a few success stories or notable examples of how the Parks and Recreation Department's initiatives in organizing special events have played a role in attracting visitors, generating revenue, and fostering economic vitality in Elk River, Wingard replied,

“Our team in the Parks and Recreation Department works well together in that we all contribute to the success of our events. I am unsure how to answer this one as I can not think of one example, but rather a continued growth in our events due to the great teamwork from all levels and departments.  Any of our events are true measures of our city as a whole, from our communications team skill in marketing, our public works ability to keep our parks in top shape that attract visitors from all over, police and fire to look over all safety plans, our planning department to ensure all the pieces will fit as we hope they will, our admin and finance to make sure all contractual components are paid and they want to return to Elk River, our municipal liquor staff who do a phenomenal job in our adult beverage tasting events, I think the team approach is what continues to take our events to the next level in Elk River, and I am grateful for all involved.” 

The Elk River Farmers Market has catalyzed economic development, community engagement, and entrepreneurship. Through collaboration with local vendors, artisans, and entrepreneurs, the market has supported existing businesses and nurtured new ventures. Additionally, the success of the Parks and Recreation Department's initiatives in organizing special events further enhances the city's appeal, attracting visitors, and boosting economic vitality. The continued growth and prosperity of the farmers market exemplify Elk River's commitment to fostering a vibrant and thriving community. If you are interested in volunteering and would like to give back to your community in Elk River, please contact us here. Also, learn more about how to join in on the fun at the upcoming Elk RiverFest here.