Meet Rochester Downtown Farmers Market

DT Pittsfield

The weather outside might be frightful – but that won’t stop Rochester Downtown Farmers Market in blustery Minnesota from decking our Instagram feed with some warm, market vibes just in time for the holidays! Market Manager, David Kotsonas took a few minutes from winter market planning to explain how Rochester DT FM spreads cheer throughout the community, not just during the holiday season, but whole year through!

Farmers Market Coalition: Tell us everything about Rochester Downtown Farmers Market. 

David Kotsonas: Now in it’s 30th year, Rochester Downtown Farmers Market is proudly a “growers only” market, originally starting off with just 4 farmers and growing to include 95 local independent farm families. With this many vendors, we carry just about every type of food available within a 50 mile radius of Rochester, MN. We are headed by a Board of Directors, comprised of 7 of our growers. We employ a full-time manager and two part time assistants, and are aided by a few loyal volunteers.

Our main Saturday Market runs from May-October and during the summer months, we also offer smaller, “neighborhood scaled” weekday markets. These markets host up to 20 local growers and offer a smaller version of the larger Saturday Market. Because of their smaller scale and easy access, they’ve been very popular with our elderly community and those with limited mobility.

November marked the beginning of our 10th Winter Market, hosting about 40 growers every other week through April. People are genuinely surprised by the diversity of produce available during the cold Minnesota winter. With advances in technology related to heated greenhouses, our growers are able to supply our community with a wide variety of produce, including fresh greens and tomatoes, all year long.

Rochester, MN is home to about 106,000 residents, IBM and the Mayo Clinic. Our summer markets are held outdoors, near downtown, adjacent to the Zumbro River. In the mornings, our markets are especially peaceful as the fog lays gently on the water and the geese gather together. Bike paths line either side of the river and are filled with joggers, bikers and families walking to market. Our large Saturday Market draws over 6,000 customers each week during the peak season. In addition to the freshest, most delicious and nutritious produce available, we offer beef, pork, poultry, elk and bison, along with eggs, dairy, baked goods, canned goods and specialty products.

We’re also very proud to have been voted “Best Farmers Market In Minnesota” by Minneapolis Star-Tribune in 2014 and finished 6th in a national polling “Best in Class” for all farmers markets in the country by American Farmland Trust in 2015.

FMC: Why would you say Rochester Downtown Farmers Market is such a popular community destination?

DK: Each week, we host live music in different areas of the market, and offer ready-to-eat concession food, such as pizza, coffee, indian cuisine, fresh juices, salads and more – all made with ingredients available from our growers. We also have special events like Kids Day, Customer Appreciation Day, Trick-or-Treat at Market and many chef and food preservation demos. There’s always something going on!

We also accept WIC and SNAP. Through partnering with others, I teach ESL students about EBT, healthy foods, and the Farmers Market. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ll hold up photos of produce or animals and the class with repeat the words in unison. I also explain EBT and interact them as to where they can enroll. It’s been a great way to teach new residents of America about our market!

FMC: How has social media and other marketing methods worked to promote your market? 

DK: With a limited advertising budget, I have to be quite creative in promoting our market. While we do purchase some ads, we heavily rely on social media, such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, as well as word of mouth. Using social media has been a good way of attracting attention and keeping our patrons posted with market news, but policy changes among some of the sites has caused some difficulties in reaching our audience. What seems to work best (and is free!) is sending out press releases to news outlet and urging them to share information regarding the market with their audience.

FMC: What are you hoping our Instagram followers take away Rochester DT FM?

DK: That even in the most brutal winter of the Minnesota tundra, there is life, happiness, and delicious, nutritious foods to be had. Everyday at Market is a celebration of life!

Don’t forget to check out Rochesher DT FM’s story by following FMC on Instagram!