After a long winter and an even longer pandemic, the opening of the outdoor Rochester Farmers Market had the feeling of a breakout moment.
There were more vendors. Shoppers, long accustomed to being cooped up, thronged the outdoor aisles. Temperatures surged into the 70s and 80s. And a little bit more normalcy felt reclaimed.
"This year, it's going to be fun," said Daniel Miller, owner of Easy Yoke Farm, as customers looked over his produce, including radishes as big as small apples. "We're excited about this season. I think it's even more so, because when you go through a hard time and things get back to normal, it feels that much sweeter."
Last year, in the pit of the pandemic, the market had to adjust to a world of social distancing, so an online store was added, offering contract-free pickup and delivery. The market also didn't accept any new vendors.
This year, for the time since its move to Graham Park, the market was held outside with 13 new vendors. A tai chi class was held. Parents and their children danced to music provided by Root River Jam. Mayor Kim Norton and Olmsted County Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden held a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the revitalization of Graham Park. And customers and vendors greeted each other, in many cases, like it was a reunion.
Tim Thoreson, owner of Thoreson Farm in Wanamingo, said the biggest difference from last year is the more optimistic mood.
"There isn't uncertainty we had last year," he said. "I think everyone knows what to expect."
Daniel Miller and his wife, Hannah, own a 30-acre farm near Zumbro Falls, where they grow 5 acres of vegetables. The couple have been a mainstay at the Rochester Farmers Market for the past 10 years. Miller admits to a "sinking feeling," a kind of existential angst common to farmers, every time the opening of the summer season approaches.
"l tell my wife before the first market, 'What if nobody shows up? What if nobody comes?' That's just a farmer fear," Miller said.
The reality, he said, is that he is often "amazed" at how many people show up.
"The market has been growing every year we've been here, and we have such a good base of vendors," he said.
In Pine Island, outdoor shopping was a big hit during the Pine Island Citywide Garage Sales and the concurrent Craft & Vendor Market on Friday and Saturday.
"It's our first craft show opportunity since COVID," said Rachelle Bernard, who along with her mother-in-law, Cathy Jo Bernard, were selling Pastor Bob's Grillin' Magic, a spice rub the Byron-based family has been selling for 15 years. "It's been 18 months since we've done any craft shows."
Rachelle Bernard said the "secret family recipe" belonged to her father-in-law, the eponymous Pastor Bob, who would sell the spice rub to raise funds for mission trips he took as part of his pastoral outreach.
Nearby, Courtney and Darla Schletty were selling lifelike mugs of coffee and other decorative food knickknacks at Fauxfections by Court. The West Concord businesswoman was at her first-ever craft fair after starting her business in February.
"We've got to get out and start reliving," she said. "It's super exciting to be back out in the world."
Kelly Leibold, executive director of the Pine Island Area Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the events, said vendors were thrilled for the opportunity to take part in an outdoor craft fair after so many events had been canceled during the height of the pandemic.
She added that the sunny springtime weather was a bonus for the weekend, giving shoppers an extra excuse to hit the garage sales and enjoy the market near Trailhead Park.
Paying for her bounty at Sarah Aug's multifamily garage sale, Micala Vandewalker said she's looking forward to a summer of shopping. With five children, everything from kids' clothing to toys, games and books are a necessity.
Vanderwalker said garage sale shopping is one of her favorite summertime activities, one she missed greatly in 2020.
"Summer was boring last year," she said. "There was nothing open and nothing to do."
Post Bulletin reporter Brian Todd contributed to this report.