Third annual Linden Cohousing Farmers Market is back and expanded

The Thursday market began as a space to support local Hmong growers during the pandemic. Now other small-scale growers and producers of color are included.
Outdoor farmers market with fresh vegetables set on a table.
Photo courtesy of Linden Cohousing.
The Winnebago St. farmers market is open every Thursday, 3-6 p.m.

In March 2020, Madison-area Hmong farmers were left with three bleak options amid the pandemic: forfeit the whole year and not farm at all, continue to grow and hope things got better, or look for alternative ways to sell their products. Unfortunately, few alternatives were available. 

As farmer’s markets shifted to online ordering, Hmong growers who lacked access to newer technologies or were unable to communicate due to language barriers were left behind.

“They may not have a laptop or a smartphone,” says Yimmuaj Yang, community director with Madison-based nonprofit Groundswell Conservancy. “Or they may have a smartphone, but don’t know how to use [the] apps that are being utilized by farmers’ markets to do the ordering for delivery.” 

To help these farmers sell their produce during the pandemic, Groundswell Conservancy, the Center for Community Land Trust Innovation and Linden Cohousing partnered to create a market that was free and accessible to Hmong growers. 

Now in its third year, the Linden Cohousing Farmers Market is open every Thursday 3-6 p.m. in the Linden Cohousing parking lot on Winnebago Street. While the market was initially focused on Hmong growers, this year Yang spearheaded an effort to diversify vendors and include more producers of color. Minority and immigrant farmers already face barriers to long-term land access and have an even more difficult time securing venues to distribute their products. This season a handful of new producers operating out of FEED Kitchens are offering new selections including homemade salsa and fresh egg rolls. Roche’s Taste of Chicago will also be vending through a food truck on a weekly basis. 

“We want to provide a space for them,” Yang says. “I make sure that I’m being inclusive of vendors that likely will not get opportunities, or just want to try [it] out and see how the products do in the world.”

Larger farmer’s markets like Dane County Farmers’ Market also remain inaccessible to smaller producers with less capital and to those unfamiliar with the process. “It’s harder to work with these smaller producers because it’s not just a one-and-done deal where we set it up and they show up,” Yang says. “It’s constant communication and constant relationship building.”

The Linden Cohousing Farmers Market became a way to replicate a typical farmers’ market in a small, controllable site where outreach that extended to the broader community was made possible. It could “provide folks with access to fresh veggies without having to worry about going into a grocery store,” says Greg Rosenberg, coordinator at the Center for Community Land Trust Innovation. 

With sponsorship from Total Administrative Services Corporation, volunteered time by Linden Cohousing residents and collaboration with Groundswell, the farmer’s market is able to remain free to its vendors. 

The east-side market will run through Sept. 22.

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