For all 30 years of his life, David Klingelhutz has been no stranger to farming. His parents grew sweet corn, tomatoes and cucumbers to sell at a roadside stand. Now, he farms himself.
“I’ve been doing this for my entire life,” said the Klingelhutz Farm and CSA owner.
So he knows the drill. As soon as the ground dries out, farmers across the state get to planting. It depends on the year, but most seasons start near the end of April or early May.
This year, Klingelhutz and a few workers prepared a handful of acres for fruit and vegetables at his Waconia farm.
“All types,” he said. “Anything that grows in Minnesota.”
He grows with the intention to use the food for community-supported agriculture (CSA), where consumers buy memberships for produce.
The remaining crops are sold at farmers markets.
COUNTING ON THE MARKET
State government plans to allow farmers markets to continue, with proper social distancing and other safety precautions.
But this year, Klingelhutz and other farmers aren’t sure whether they can rely on market sales, with the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s not depending on sales from the 2020 Downtown Chaska Farmers Market to make a living, and usually doesn’t, but the virus could mean less customers this year.
“We are planning on it, yes, but am I going to put all my eggs in that basket? No,” Klingelhutz said.
Downtown Chaska Farmers Market Manager Autumn Kaye said this year’s exchange will go as planned. Set to begin June 17, the market will be at the Chaska City Hall Plaza or City Square Park, pending a council decision.
“We are still having the Downtown Chaska Farmers Market this summer,” Kaye said.
Allyra St. Aubin, owner of Somewhat Crafty, is relying on market sales. The soap and candle business opened in Carver last year but has since closed amid the pandemic.
“It’s hard to tell if it’s permanent or temporary,” St. Aubin said, of the closure.
She lost her part-time job as a personal care attendant and can’t afford Somewhat Crafty’s rent. Add that to a handful of other arts and craft shows that have been canceled, and she’s grateful the Downtown Chaska Farmers Market plans to stay open.
“This would be a huge relief,” St. Aubin said with a sigh, noting she’s sold at this market before.
She said she’s not sure how comfortable people will be with crowds in the summer, or if the government will restrict the market somehow. But when she reached out to Downtown Chaska Farmers Market organizers, they offered a bit of relief.
St. Aubin said the market sent an email to vendors, explaining they’ll likely space out stalls and encourage vendors to have touchless payment or online shopping options.
But for a soap, bath bomb and candle shop, online shopping isn’t the same.
“I’m hoping it’ll still be in person. People being able to see and smell and touch is still very valuable, for my trade at least,” St. Aubin said.
She does have an Etsy shop, temporarily paused while she is moving to a new home, and expects it to be up and running this summer.
Unlike produce, soaps and candles don’t exactly have an expiration date so that’s one silver lining of a potentially postponed or altered market. But for farmers, timing is everything.
“We’ve planted quite a lot of stuff already,” Klingelhutz said.
He’s ready to stock CSA orders and, with what’s left, the market. But with all the unknowns thanks to the virus, he’s gearing up for plan B.
“If there’s not a Chaska market, I would look for a different market that would happen,” Klingelhutz said.
Plan C? Perhaps he’d sell to a few restaurants at wholesale prices. Plan D is to take produce orders on Facebook, but he calls that a shot in the dark.
His last resort, Klingelhutz said, is donating to the food shelf.
“There’s a lot of variables this year,” he said. “We’ll make it happen. We’ll be alright.”
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture suggests vendors wash products, sanitize all surfaces, and frequently wipe off equipment.
The Minnesota Farmers Market Association states drive-through markets are encouraged, and “all possible protections should be taken.”
Social distancing must be in place and hand-washing stations have to be “utilized abundantly” and available at farmers markets, it said.
Klingelhutz has yet to sign up as a market vendor, but intends to. He said if he managed the market, he’d keep business as usual.
“I would have the market just be 100% normal. People need to have something that feels normal again,” Klingelhutz said. “Farmers markets are something that can continue even if there is this whole thing that’s still going on. You don’t have to shake hands at farmers markets.”
Kaye said vendor participation has been a “bit lower” this year than last, but vendors still have time to sign up.
The market’s public health plan is in place, she said, but details have yet to be released.