BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
In 2016, the leadership of the Midtown Farmers Market (MFM) knew they were going to have to either find a new location for 2019-2020 or pause the operation for two years. The market, which has been in existence for 16 years now, was really beginning to “take off” in terms of popularity and a solid base of both vendors and customers. Most people felt instinctively that a two-year hiatus would be very damaging, if not fatal. So the search began for a spot. The first place they tried, and spent most of the time pursuing, was the Target parking lot, but unfortunately after months of negotiations, Target decided to withdraw—a firm no. At about this time, Moon Palace approached the market staff to offer consideration of an extra parking lot they happen to have, between Moon Palace and the bike co-op. Moon Palace and MFM were already in business together, as Moon Palace has been a frequent non-food vendor at the market, dating back to the time when they were tiny, and hidden away behind Peace Coffee, and barely had a couple of parking spaces. Terms were agreed upon and the market staff could breathe easy and start spreading the word.
According to Jenna Yeakle, the manager of the market since November, the relationship is about as perfect as you could ask for. She says their contract is more of a partnership than a simple lease. The market’s spring grand opening was May 4 and Southside Pride cruised by for a look. We were only there a short while, but we saw food trucks (K-Town, and Taqueria el Victor); we saw produce, bread, honey, granola; we saw adorable baby goats. We saw handmade furniture; cute little birdhouses that look like campers; and lots and lots of bedding plants. We saw a big blood donor van doing a brisk business. And we saw crowds. They easily meandered from Moon Palace to the market, and sometimes they bought stuff both places, and they were very happy. Then there were the things we missed. There was music. Lonnie and the L-Train, and the Brass Messengers. Those baby goats? There was goat yoga. There were prominent electeds and local celebrities. Angela Conley, Alondra Cano, Aisha Gomez and R. T. Rybak. Oh, yeah—those baby goats? R. T. got in there with them and did goat yoga. No, seriously.
Midtown Farmers Market has been in existence since 2003. It’s a program of Corcoran Neighborhood Association (CNA). The executive staff of the market is the executive director of CNA, Jenna, and her part-time assistant manager, Kate Sheldon. Operations are assisted by an advisory committee, which includes, along with CNA members, activists from other neighborhoods, including engaged shoppers and food activists. Jenna says that in the past year, things are tightening in focus, such as programming. In the past, the non-food vendors and information tables were somewhat random, and a large number of organizations have passed through. Now they know what really fits with their programming and can be more selective. An example of programming is the Try-it program, funded by a community grant. Ten new vendors a year get a fee-free spot for two market days, to test the market and learn the ropes. The market even provides them with a canopy and supplies and advice. If it works for them, they sign on as a regular vendor. Recent Try-it vendors have included D’Argent French Bakery, tamale vendor Comidas Cruz, and an urban farmer from Corcoran neighborhood.
It takes about $125K per year to run the market, and vendor fees only bring in about $30K. The rest is made up by a combination of business or organizational sponsorships, grants and individual donations. Sponsorships can be a very hard sell, and grants come with a lot of restrictions on the work and time period they cover, and create a large workload for the tiny staff, so individual donations are absolutely vital to the market’s survival. The market is also always in need of volunteers. Most of the people you see working at the market besides vendors are volunteers, but there is also a lot of behind-the-scenes work. So consider—as well as patronizing the market regularly if you think it’s worth keeping around—becoming a donor and/or volunteering.
Moon Palace, the parking-lot-providing hero in this saga, is also experiencing an explosion of community love and business success. The Geek Love Cafe may have been a bit of a gamble but it’s a gamble that has paid off. We may do a more in-depth review of their food in a Dish column, but let’s just say, it’s a wonderful space. If browsing books makes you a little peckish, you can have anything from a simple coffee drink, to a muffin, to an entire personal pizza with rad gourmet toppings, maybe with a beer. All of the specialty pizzas and most of the salads are given literary names, and the tabletops are decorated with what looks like a decoupage of pulp fiction and Penguin classics covers. There is a bistro sort of space at the back of the store that fills four functions—overflow seating for Geek Love, a space for the bookstore’s literary events and gatherings (which are many!), a space for hosting its own music program, and a space for rent for parties or other events.
Here is just a partial list of programs upcoming at Moon Palace, a mix of music and literary.
• May 23, 7 p.m., The Well-read Black Girl Book Club (a recurring event group)
• May 24, 9 p.m., Kitten Forever, GRLwood (KY), Oyster World, Inhymanity (music)
• May 26, 7:30 p.m., Dreamland Faces, Jarelle Barton (music)
• May 31, 7 p.m., My Caesarian, readings from the anthology by editors/authors
• June 3, 7 p.m., Queering the Tarot with author Cassandra Snow, readings and class
• June 11, 7 p.m., Books and Bars (a recurring event group) discusses The Nix PLUS Book Swap (concurrent with Tuesday night farmers market)
• June 21, 7 p.m., Ann Reed and Larry Long in a Summer Solstice New Longfellow Serenade (the local superstar folk singers happen to be Longfellow neighbors!)
• June 22, 9 p.m., KFAI MSP Monthly Sound Showcase
Another interesting strip of Minnehaha Avenue, between 41st and 42nd Streets, is home to a collection of alternative healers and other ancient wisdom purveyors, including a small yoga studio and a variety of massage therapists. Anchoring this block is the corner store called Awakenings. This is the current Twin Cities base of a pair of psychics and teachers who operate under the name of 2GuysInTheKnow, and since their website explains them pretty well, we’ll just quote it. “2GuysInTheKnow LLC is a Minnesota based company that provides professional psychic/medium and spiritual healing services. Eric Earll and Bert Allen (the “2 Guys”) use their psychic toolboxes collaboratively to provide you with unique, multi-perspective messages that will enhance and deepen your connection with your higher self, spirits, guides, angels, and loved ones that have passed. Eric’s quick wit and ‘tell it like is’ approach coupled with Bert’s laid back and calm style help you gain insight and foster hope in a fun, relaxed, and positive atmosphere. Bert is also a healer and is able to channel spiritual healing to clients.”
Awakenings sells all the tools and artifacts you can possibly imagine will help you learn, heal and explore in the realms of spiritual healing, psychic awareness, etc. Even though they are also on the road a lot doing shows, expos and workshops, Eric and Bert also offer programs in the store, such as classes, group readings/talks called Psychic Gallery, and individual readings and healings. Awakenings has a separate website from 2Guys at //www.awakeningsmn.com, so you can check there for upcoming event information. Or just drop in. They are closed Sunday and Monday, but open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. other days. It’s worth a visit; they have only rave reviews on Yelp and other platforms.
Quite close to the Awakenings strip is All Square grilled cheese restaurant and its connected Dream Lab/ Institute, in a classy (quite square) architect-designed building on the corner of 41st and Minnehaha. All Square in not like other restaurants; for one thing, its menu is limited quite deliberately – to grilled cheese sandwiches and their accompaniments! For another thing, it has a mission and a nonprofit behind it, which is the reason for its slogan about “guilt-free” dining. In the actual words of the mission statement: “All Square is a civil rights social enterprise centered on a craft grilled cheese restaurant and professional institute.“ All Square focuses on providing a path to employment and stability to formerly incarcerated people, probably the most disadvantaged sector in the job-seeking pool. So, its staff consists of such folks, who bear the title of “fellows.” The menu consists of twelve unique sandwich offerings which all are grilled, contain cheese, and are cut into squares, plus some side dishes and desserts, wine, Coke products and a rotating selection of beers. One half of the building, called the Dream Lab, houses the Institute on Mondays and Tuesdays, when the restaurant is closed. The fare at All Square is very good. You don’t even need the extra “guilt-free” hook to make you want to go back once you’ve tried it. And maybe slide them some cash on their website too, to keep this worthy idea in operation.