The Veterans Harvest Market that started in 2016 but halted at the end of last season returned to Prior Lake earlier this month at Tractor Supply Co. with a new name.
The Little Market that Could, created by veterans charity organization Smoke Signals, serves as an outlet for local vendors and Power of Produce, the Minnesota program to help many Minnesotan kids and seniors access healthful food.
“We saw the need,” said Smoke Signals co-founder Rosemary Frank. “We know that food deprivation is running rampant. We had a good network of people in Prior Lake to make it happen.
“Smoke signals are one of the oldest forms of communication,” Frank added. “When the call was made, people came out. We’re pretty darn excited.”
About 12 percent of Minnesotan households are food-insecure, or do not have consistent access to fresh food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Unsold produce at the Little Market that Could on June 20 was donated to local food shelves.
Dozens of passersby and patrons on June 20 also encountered dancing clowns, flashy cars, brick-oven pizza and a number of local vendors showing off produce, homemade treats, decorations and more despite a little rain in the area.
Among the vendor tents was that of Brenda Dotzler, who makes decorations and accessories from recycled items like books and guitar strings. She was also selling snacks that day, including various forms of peanut brittle. Smoke Signals co-founder Sheldon Bryant, who’s also a clown, was there representing Clowns Across the River.
The market will be open 4-7 p.m. on Thursdays through Oct. 10.
Veterans Harvest Market began as a veteran fundraiser by Colleen Callahan and the Smoke Signals team but stopped last fall due to a lack of VFW volunteers, Suzie McNeal with the post said.
“The VFW didn’t have the resources (to continue the market) as they do things like breakfast fundraisers, dinners, that kind of thing,” Callahan said. “It was just beyond their capacity.”
This is the market’s first year in the supply company parking lot. The business partnered with Smoke Signals to host the event each Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. until Oct. 10. Volunteers will pitch in every week.
Smoke Signals collects used wheelchairs, walkers and scooters to donate to veterans with its Ride for Mobility program, among other projects.
“Today we have about 22 volunteers,” Frank said. “That’s because of the rain. People have other lives, someone might get ill, so you have to pinch hit and ad lib it. We’re always looking for more help.”
Those wanting to volunteer for the Little Market that Could or for Smoke Signals can visit smokesignalsgives.org.
“We’re completely volunteer-based,” Frank said, adding vendor fees and sponsors help support the program.
Frank said she gathered volunteers and vendors by word of mouth and door-knocking. The initial partnership between herself and Callahan came just after the end of the Veterans Harvest Market last year.
Prior Lake could pay more than $1 million more than previously estimated on its Highways 13 and 21 project following a City Council vote Tuesday.
City Engineer Andy Brotzler said during the special meeting that the lowest bid came in from S.M. Hentges & Sons at $13.4 million, about $3 million above a 2018 estimate. The city’s share of the cost in partnership with Scott County therefore rose from a projected $2.6 million to $3.8 million.
Having allotted $2.7 million for the project, Brotzler said he’s looking for ways to make up the gap without a levy increase. He said that this year, contracts are more expensive across the board due to increasing material costs and a lack of skilled labor workers.
One option is delaying a median monument project of about $560,000. The monuments would have been sailboat mast-like structures with LED lights.
Brotzler said if the change order can be negotiated with the contractor and the project can be completed later on, the city could save about $310,000. That would leave the shortfall at $750,000.
“In essence, we’d be able to obtain more competitive bidding by getting the package out to a number of specialty contractors,” Brotzler said.
He said there are additional costs in the project that will allow the city to dip into its state-aid funds to make up for the rest. He also said the city’s construction and utility funds have leftover money that could be used.
“I think it’s smart and wise, fiscally, to wait on the monuments,” said Councilwoman Annette Thompson. “But I would like some kind of guarantee or commitment that we will get those installed within a short period of time, whether that’s six months or a year.”
City Manager Michael Plante said the city and the county are taking the brunt of the overall project cost increase.
“(The Minnesota Department of Transportation) is going to consider increasing their contribution as well,” he said. “That’s not included in these funding sources only because it’s not a certainty.”
Councilman Warren Erickson said he believes now is the worst time to put out a bid due to contractors taking on a high volume of projects, and he asked Brotzler whether the city could receive lower bids in winter. Brotzler said there’s a risk to re-bidding and delaying the project when the bid amount might stay the same.
Councilman Kevin Burkart said the contract’s bid and timing weren’t ideal.
“The first thing to go is the window dressing,” he said. “Those citizen groups who wanted to do these monuments, that was good input. But I think if you’d told them that the price tag was $350,000 or $500,000, I think very few would say that’s a go.”
The council voted 4-1 to recommend that Scott County accept the $13.4 million bid with Burkart’s dissent.
The city in recent weeks sold general obligation bonds for $2.65 million to fund road resurfacing and roundabout construction on Highways 13 and 21 and downtown roads.
The roundabouts will be constructed at the intersection of Highways 13 and 21 and at the intersection of Highway 21 and Arcadia Avenue toward the end of summer. Stage 1 of the project, stretching from Highway 282 to Vergus Avenue on Highway 13, began in May.