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Farmers Market vendors prepare for summer

Get ready for fresh, locally grown produce. Prospective vendors attended a farmers market workshop at the James Valley Community Center Saturday to prepare for seasonal marketing events and get ready for the June 4 opening of Mitchell Farmers Market.

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Rena Hebda, left, and her son Joseph, of rural Mission Hill, speak with Jennifer Nelson, right, of Viborg, Saturday during a farmers market workshop at the James Valley Community Center. Hebda sells family-produced goods at various farmers markets under the name Hebda Family Produce. (Ross Dolan/Republic)

Get ready for fresh, locally grown produce.

Prospective vendors attended a farmers market workshop at the James Valley Community Center Saturday to prepare for seasonal marketing events and get ready for the June 4 opening of Mitchell Farmers Market. The market opens June 4 at a high-visibility location -- the new city parking lot at the corner Fifth Avenue and Main Street.

Official hours will be from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays, said organizer Rube Adam, "but if vendors want to stay longer, that's their call."

Adam said the market is a fundraiser for the James Valley Community Center, which will sell vendor space at the market for $15 a week and $10 for additional spaces.

"My wife and I got the idea during a trip to Coconut Beach, Florida, a few years ago," Adam said, "and we thought it might work well here."

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This is will be the fourth year of operation for the Mitchell market.

Last year, it averaged eight to 10 vendors a week, "but I think we'll have more than that this year," Adam said.

This year, participants will include at least one garden nursery.

In addition, Mitchell Animal Rescue will have a few pets handy for adoption.

The Rosedale and Old Elm Hutterite colonies will also sell farm produce, baked goods and handcrafted items.

The lead speaker at Saturday's farmer's market event was Sandy Patton, of Brunswick, Neb.

Patton is the director of Farmers Market Moms, a two-year program funded through a federal Department of Agriculture grant that is designed to connect people with their food.

The project touts the benefits of home-grown produce and encourages the sale of those products at local farmers markets.

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A similar seminar will be held in Kimball this week.

"There's a great interest in eating from the land," said Patton, who raises crops, meat goats and Icelandic sheep and alpaca for their wool.

Rena Hebda, of Mission Hill, demonstrated how to attractively display a variety of farmproduced wares. Hebda Family Produce, sells farmgrown asparagus, baked goods and value-added items such as jams and jellies made from fruits and berries grown on the farm.

The Hebdas sell their wares at multiple farmers markets, she said, but high gasoline prices have the family reevaluating its market options.

"On Saturdays, we had been selling at both Sioux Falls and Sioux City, but now we've chosen to cut back," she said. "We're going to continue with Sioux Falls but we're also looking for closer markets for other retail sales."

The Hebdas have also sold produce wholesale to area markets, she said.

"Over the years, we've done everything from growing the products to marketing them and we've also found it's a way to educate our eight children -- ages 3 to 19 -- on the business and management sides of agriculture," Hebda said. "They help where they can."

Cindy Nelsen, who formerly operated a greenhouse in Menno, attended the Saturday seminar hoping to get some ideas on building a homebased business. Their family has since moved to a familyowned 2,000 acre farm in Mission Hill.

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"We have two small children and it would be nice to have them at home and work," Nelsen said.

"I usually have a very large garden, so I'm toying with the idea of a selling at a farmers market."

She said that in the past she has had success selling homegrown herbs.

Nelsen said her family is considering adding additional refrigeration units to preserve fruit and other produce until it can be sold or processed.

Community garden

Guest speaker Kevin Thurman, director of Mitchell's Golf and Cemetery Department, also oversees the city's community garden. He told those present that the community gardening concept is taking off.

"It's been really successful and people enjoy it," Thurman said. "A lot of towns struggle to get a community garden going but we've been really successful."

He said the farmers market asked permission to place signs at the community garden asking for produce for the community center or for excess produce which could be sold at the Farmers Market. Growers often grow enough to feed family needs but there's also plenty of intragarden swapping of crops, he said, and some growers may have surplus for other purposes.

Mitchell's community garden began six years ago, Thurman said, "and before we even got going, we had to expand it to 40 plots."

The following year the program expanded to 60 plots, and presently there are 100, 10-foot by 20-foot plots, situated at the north edge of the Servicemen's Cemetery beside the city maintenance shops.

Demand keeps increasing each year, Thurman said, and it's not difficult to understand the attraction.

If you like to grow your own veggies this is one of the best deals in town, he said.

For $25 a season, renters get a 10-foot by 20-foot rototilled garden plot that even includes free water for the entire growing season.

"We've had no trouble renting them out," Thurman said.

Growers also have free access to mountains of rich compost and mulch that city crews have created from grass clippings, leaves and downed city trees.

"We don't allow people to bring in their own compost because they could introduce weeds or herbicide-contaminated materials that are harmful to gardens," Thurman said.

The well-tilled gardens appeared wet and barren during Saturday's rainy and cold weather but, here and there, was evidence that nature was at work -- frost-nipped onion greens and a few peas that were beginning to sprout.

One gambler even planted some grape tomatoes that were bravely displaying a few buds.

Demand for more space is strong, he said, and plot sizes may be expanded in the future for some who have requested more growing space.

Beyond the practical and recreational advantages of gardening, participants enjoy the social aspects of community gardening.

It's fairly typical for someone to take a break during gardening and to step over and visit with a fellow gardener at one of the two picnic tables in the area.

"It's their little oasis from the mad rush," he said.

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