Summer was well upon the city of Shakopee on Friday, June 4, as a solo violinist played in the 95-degree heat while shoppers purchased fresh food from the Shakopee Farmers Market. Around a dozen vendors were scattered throughout the River City Centre parking lot for the market’s first day of the year — more will trickle in throughout the coming weeks.

The market was the first taste of a normal summer after a year with COVID-19 restrictions. It’s a welcoming sight to the vendors, many of whom lost revenue in 2020 due to the restrictions.

For Dan Burrs with Wisconsin Cheese, this year will hopefully be one of recovery. While last year was successful among the smaller farmer’s markets he frequents, the large markets — like those Bloomington and Minneapolis — were losses for Wisconsin Cheese. Burrs said their large markets were down 30% in sales, adding when a large chunk of their revenue comes from those large markets, 30% is a lot.

“We were getting four, five hundred people a day instead of seven or eight thousand,” Burrs said of the Lyndale farmer’s market in Minneapolis last year.

But Burrs said the small markets, like Shakopee’s, were up about 20% in sales. That’s a pattern the vendors all mentioned: small markets actually did pretty well last year.

Charreise Norris with Veterans Farming, a new vendor at the Shakopee Farmers Market, said the last year was “rough” for Norris and her husband’s business.

Veterans Farming, a nonprofit farm created by and for disabled veterans, sells living microgreens that would be easy for someone confined to a wheelchair to use and take care of, among other products such as elderberry jelly, lamb and goat meat.

Last year, sales were down about 80%, Norris said.

On top of sales being down for Veterans Farming, a beef shortage scare meant Norris and her husband weren’t able to have their lamb and goat meat processed because the plants were only processing beef for a period of time.

Smaller indoor winter markets are usually successful for Veterans Farming, Norris said, but this year they proved otherwise, since most locations required them to be outdoors, and this year was “just too cold.”

This year, Veterans Farming is trying to make up for its losses by traveling to seven farmers markets instead of four.

“We have to compensate for the financial loss because now I’m paying out of pocket for our feed, and everything else that affects the farm in regards to function,” Norris said.

Debra Brand and Mark Latham with Josef Abel Smoked Meats, a vendor that sells gluten and nitrate-free beef sticks, said they are “grateful” for the business they received last year despite the fact that there was no State Fair or Renaissance Festival — two events where they vendor.

But the farmer’s markets, they said, “were great.”

Brand said that’s because most of the smaller markets consisted of people eager to get out of the house, so they said they were actually busier than normal (in the past, Josef Abel Smoked Meats travelled to Prior Lake, Bloomington and Maple Grove farmers markets).

Josef Abel Smoked Meats also had to cut out its beef jerky, because the cost of beef rose too high this year, but they didn’t run into any supply chain issues with the processing of their beef sticks.

“We kind of missed out on a lot,” Brand said of last year. “But we made it through.”

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.

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