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Food and art combine for healthy living at farmers market

After many grew used to living in isolation, the farmers market remains a place to gather and grow.

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Maria Ervasti works with a child to create paint stamped hand bags at the Wadena Farmers Market, Friday, July 8.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
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WADENA — Maria Ervasti, of Staples, is an art teacher to Verndale students during the school season, but when summer rolls around she becomes an art teacher to the masses.

“This summer has been really, really busy,” she said.

When you’re hauling a mobile art studio across the state to 21 different community events during your summer vacation you stay very busy. Too busy to even take part in much of the fun of the community festivals she’s been visiting with her co-workers, her son, Israel, and niece, Abby, at her side.

It’s a stark contrast to the start of her mobile art business “Creative Art Cart” which began in 2019. She began offering art classes at various mobile food markets throughout central Minnesota through a partnership with Sprout, out of Little Falls. It was an effort to address not only the lack of access to healthy and fresh food in rural America, but to also address the lack of art and culture to these same areas. It was an idea that launched with funds coming in from the McKnight Foundation, Region 5 Development Commission and other art friendly non-profits to help pay for it all. Ervasti simply expressed interest in being involved and said the rest just sort of fell into her lap.

But shortly after things began to take off, things were quickly shut down due to COVID.

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Josephine Brandt paints on her hand bag at the Wadena Farmers Market on Friday, July 8.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

A health crisis, COVID-19, was putting a stop to a separate health crisis – food for physical needs and gathering for mental health and educational purposes.

“The whole point of the business is to bring people together,” Ervasti said of the reason behind the Creative Art Cart.

Now with COVID largely subsiding or at least more manageable, the art cart is riding again, like never before. It has mostly made stops along the locations of the Great River Regional Library, as she works with them to promote art and their summer reading program. She’s made about six stops across central Minnesota so far, not quite six weeks into summer vacation.

The mobile studio arrived in Wadena on Friday, July 8, to offer a similar class emphasizing monoprint using a large rubber stamp for printmaking and printing on handbags. Monoprint is a single impression of an image made from a reprintable block. Ervasti setup among others at the Wadena Farmers Market. The market, under the direction of Marilyn Holfand, SNAP-Ed Educator for Wadena, E. Otter Tail, and Becker counties, has made it a priority this year to include art to be happening right alongside the sale of fresh produce and other arts and crafts.

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Art students try their hand at monoprinting on hand bags with art teacher Maria Ervasti, center, on July 8, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

It’s an interesting marriage of what would seem like two very different things. In Hofland's eyes, the two compliment each other very well.
"Being in nutrition myself, I've always felt that food and cooking is an art itself," Hofland said. "Cooking, growing, it's not only a visual art, art comes in many different forms and you almost see every form at the market."
The look and feel of the farmers market in the open air made it an essential place during the height of COVID and it remains so today.

Art-inspired events are planned all summer long to bring more reasons to gather at the Wadena Farmer's Market.

"A lot of our seniors are feeling isolated and many of us are after COVID, this has become an outside welcoming place, a safe place for people to gather," Hofland said. Hofland adds that people are not just buying healthy foods, they are socializing and learning, a boon to their mental health. They are even being introduced to physical activity at the market. One of the artisans, a hula hoop crafter, even encourages healthy activity as many can't pass by the fabric wrapped hula hoops without giving them a whirl. Musicians have been added to the lineup and dancing is not out of the question among those visiting the market.
Ervasti said what she’s found from bringing her art to these places is that people are finding art out in public and actually giving it a try. On Friday, July 8, at least a couple adults sat down with tables and chairs filled with wide-eyed children eager to put paint to their canvas hand bags. Young and old learning together in the fresh air of the market is a pretty important need in a healthy community.
"I'm seeing a lot of new faces, young people, old people, brand new people to the market ... I'm so far loving the variety of artists that we've had," Hofland said.

“When people come they learn something and they feel good about what they do,” Ervasti said. “There is something to be said about people gathering around making art together.”

Ervasti recalls growing up in rural Minnesota and not having access to art outside of school.

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“It was so rare to have it be accessible,” she said.

She’s working to change that one event at a time.

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Brooklyn and Izabella Johnston show off their art work at the Wadena Farmers Market on Friday, July 8, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

The next art event planned at the Wadena Farmers Market is July 22. Guest artist Brad Wegscheid will have options for drawing and doodling from 2 - 5:30 p.m.

Related Topics: WADENAARTHEALTHNEWSMD
Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at mjohnson@agweek.com or 218-640-2312.
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