The big day is almost here. On Saturday, the Rochester Farmers Market moves out of its winter home to reclaim its space in Graham Park.

In anticipation, Abby Shepler, the new market manager, has planned a grand opening celebration you won't want to miss. It gets started with an exercise class at 8 a.m., followed by music all morning by the Root River Jam. A ribbon- cutting ceremony led by Mayor Kim Norton gets underway at 10. It all promises to be a rousing start to a new season.

Customers will be surprised to see a few changes, like a generous green space between the parking lot and the vendors.

"We will be putting picnic tables and other seating in that area, making it a perfect spot to enjoy some baked treats on a Saturday morning," Shepler said. She also suggested bringing a blanket to sit on the grass for a farmers market picnic.

In an effort to continue to promote the market's mission of a healthy lifestyle, there will be exercise classes every Saturday at 8. This week it is tai chi, followed in coming weeks by Zumba, strength and cardio, and yoga.

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Music will also be a regular feature. Root River Jam starts it off, followed in the coming weeks by Nancy Tobiason-Kramer, the D'Sievers, RavensFire and Clay Fulton.

Thirteen new vendors join the lineup this year, including Bee Shed, Earth Dance Farms, Twin Oaks Orchard and the Herban Hippy. The regulars are all back, as well, including long-timers Fairview Farms, Many Hands Organic, Hidden Stream, and Whitewater Gardens.

All told, there are over 100 vendors, making this one of the largest markets in Minnesota, if not the country. It has a long history, starting in the early 1980s with just a handful of farmers. It has changed locations several times, but now it seems to be in a perfect spot.

John Shonyo, co-owner of The Bee Shed shows new Rochester farmers market manager Abby Shepler his bee facility northwest of Rochester, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
John Shonyo, co-owner of The Bee Shed shows new Rochester farmers market manager Abby Shepler his bee facility northwest of Rochester, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

Though it's still a little early for some of the produce, berries and fruits, there are still many choices. Look for fresh eggs, meats, jams and jellies, asparagus, radishes, rhubarb, watercress and ramps. Hopefully, morels are on the horizon. I can also promise there won't be a shortage of baked goods.

Cannon Valley Ranch meats ready for sale Wednesday, April 21, 2021. (Contributed photo by Holly Ebel)
Cannon Valley Ranch meats ready for sale Wednesday, April 21, 2021. (Contributed photo by Holly Ebel)

While growers in the market must live within 50 miles of Rochester, I was interested to learn something else from Shepler. Before a new vendor is accepted, they undergo an inspection to confirm that they are indeed within the mileage limits and are actually growing what they sell. She described this as "quality control." The time is also used to visit with the grower to get to know them.

"They are joining a very special community that in many cases, is like family," she said.

Aaron Waugh, seen here Wednesday, April 21, 2021, will be selling Angus and wagyu beef from his family's beef operation, Cannon Valley Ranch, at the Rochester Farmers Market this season. (Contributed photo by Holly Ebel)
Aaron Waugh, seen here Wednesday, April 21, 2021, will be selling Angus and wagyu beef from his family's beef operation, Cannon Valley Ranch, at the Rochester Farmers Market this season. (Contributed photo by Holly Ebel)

COVID restrictions are still in place. Everyone must be masked and practice social distancing. This past year, an online market offering proved very popular, emphasizing no contact, but buyers must pick the orders up at a special site at the market. To do this, orders must be placed by 8 p.m. Wednesdays at www.rochfarmmkt.org/shop. The market itself will be held every Saturday from May 1 to Oct. 30, 7:30 a.m. to noon, rain or shine.

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.