Ending food shelf stigma with a free farmers’ market

The parking lot at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in North St. Paul will be bustling with activity at its free farmers’ market on Monday, July 29, put on in conjunction with the local food shelf and a food bank. (Amy Felegy/Review)

This is the first time St. Marks, 2499 Helen St., in North St. Paul has hosted a free farmers market with the North St. Paul Area Food Shelf and Second Harvest Heartland. The market will be open on Monday, July 29 from 4 to 6 p.m. (Amy Felegy/Review)

Summer in Minnesota is synonymous with time outside, refreshing food and getting out into the community for some fun. Three east metro organizations are joining forces to do just that, but not via a typical summer event.

The North St. Paul Area Food Shelf, Second Harvest Heartland and St. Mark’s Lutheran Church are inviting neighbors to their first-ever farmers’ market on Monday, July 29. The twist? Visitors won’t need to bring their wallets.

“The reason we’re doing this differently is just so that people see other people just like themselves, happy to have something extra,” said food shelf volunteer Mary Brown.

The free farmers’ market is open to everyone. No appointment, proof of residence or income restrictions are part of the equation. In contrast, the North St. Paul food shelf, while open year-round, takes appointments and requires several forms of ID.

“We can all benefit from it,” said St. Mark’s Pastor Mary Froiland of the free market, nodding to all income levels. “There’s a pride sometimes in not going to a food shelf, but this is for everybody. People can just come and take food.”

Second Harvest Heartland, a St. Paul-based food bank, gets an influx of produce from local farmers during the warmer months. The extra fruit, vegetables and other crops are sent to more than 200 food shelves and donation events like this one, said Pat Pearson, Second Harvest Heartland’s agency relations director. Partnering farmers plant extra crops and are reimbursed through grants.

Collaborators say they want a space for neighbors to gather, enjoy a summer evening and pick up some fresh food with no strings attached.

“It’s a community event, not an event for people who need food — not as a stigma piece,” Pearson said. “So if you’re there in line, everybody is welcome.”

The food shelf orders produce from Second Harvest Heartland at just three cents per pound. Apples, potatoes, onions, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, limes and watermelon were available at similar events in White Bear Lake and Mahtomedi. 

“That’s an awful lot of good stuff,” Brown said.


Service to community

This isn’t St. Mark’s first run with food giveaways, either. Froiland said the church packs weekend meal backpacks for students and sometimes equips the food shelf with volunteers. Every Wednesday at 5 p.m. during the school year, the church hosts a community dinner with a $2 suggested donation.

“It’s important for a congregation to be of service to its community, to its neighborhood,” Froiland said. “This is one very simple way we can do that.”

Another piece of the pop-up market is the location. Froiland said it can be hard to walk into a building you don’t know, such as a food shelf, so the market will be outside in the church’s parking lot. Froiland emphasizes the outdoors aspect, which makes it just like any other farmers’ market.

“The concept is to take it off-site,” Brown said, adding the market is comparable to other summer outings and isn’t meant to be a food shelf.

The North St. Paul Area Food Shelf collects food from Cub Foods, Second Harvest Heartland and other distributors. Volunteers say the shelf even carries meat now. It’s open to people living in North St. Paul and Oakdale from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays the shelf is also open from 4 to 7 p.m.

“I think what is happening is a lot of people think a food shelf has got a negative connotation,” Brown said. “Like you really, really can’t help yourself. And that’s not it at all. It’s just kind of an add-on to the community.”

Though most of the food is likely to go home with market visitors, leftovers are expected to be taken to the food shelf. The three organizations are also considering hosting another free farmers market later this summer.

These community-focused events, Pearson said, lessen the stigma of using food services.

“It’s a really great opportunity to meet other people in the community and just have fun and enjoy,” she said.

On the day of the farmers’ market, Second Harvest Heartland will deliver pallets and boxes of produce to St. Mark’s. Volunteers will prepare the food before opening the free market, which runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Visitors are asked to bring their own bags.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church is located at 2499 Helen St. in North St. Paul.


–Amy Felegy can be reached at afelegy@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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