Where is the next best place to get “fresh” produce besides your own garden? The Farmers’ Markets, of course! This is where growers sell directly to the consumer and take great pride in their products. With over 100 markets in Minnesota to choose from, there should be no reason why you and your family are not out here with the rest of us buying fresh, local and inexpensive produce!
Although I have been involved with the St. Paul Farmers’ Market for almost 25 years, it should be noted that there has been a market in downtown St. Paul since 1853. Farmers’ Markets tend to grow on you (no pun intended). Once you visit, shop or get involved, it becomes an important part of whom you are. What’s not to like? We all love to eat!
What You Can Do
1. Get your free copy of Minnesota Grown, a directory of Minnesota farms and markets (call 612-397-5673 or 800-657-3700).
2. Bring your own bags that will hold up even with wet produce in them.
3. Bring small bills: $1’s, $5’s, $10’s and quarters help.
3. Shop early for the best selection.
4. Shop late and peak season for the best deals.
5. Shop without a list as selection can vary each week.
6. Walk the entire market before buying. Prices and selection vary by vendor.
7. Think ahead. In peak season buy in bulk and preserve or freeze for winter months.
8. Talk to the growers. They may share recipes, take special orders or give you a preview of what is to come.
9. If you plan to buy meat, cheese or eggs, bring a cooler to store those items on your way home.
10. Do not leave any of your purchases in the car or trunk on hot sunny days; try to get them home as quickly as possible.
11. Leave pets at home.
While markets have been around for centuries, they are increasing in popularity here in the United States. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a National Directory of Farmers’ Markets with information on 2,746 markets. In the Minnesota section there were 42 markets listed. However, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture estimates that there are about 100 markets in Minnesota. The following are some of the key reasons you may want to support your local Farmers’ Market:
Consumers purchase directly from the producer. Farmers are present to discuss the variety of the product, the use of chemicals and fertilizers, organic certification, where the product was grown and when the product was harvested.
Shopping at your local Farmers’ Market helps to keep small family farms in existence. It keeps farmland close to urban areas. The market is educational in areas of agriculture, food preparation and growing both food and plants.
People of different nationalities and cultures gather at markets and we can learn from their traditions. Markets tend to be starting points for new immigrants, allowing them to become self-sufficient. These new cultures introduce new foods and new preparation methods with which we may not be familiar.
Farmers’ Markets provide an excellent opportunity for the rural-urban connection that many city folks long for. Going to a market and meeting the person who planted, grew and harvested the food you eat is a special experience.
Farmer’s Markets are not like a grocery store. There is no buying and re-selling. Each vendor must produce what he or she is selling and must be doing it locally. In fact, the primary area of production for the St. Paul market is within a 50-mile radius of downtown St. Paul. This market is comprised of 164 open-air stalls that are rented annually to farmers by seniority. Some of them can even trace their family history of stall ownership back to the late 1800s. When an owner is not using his or her stall, he or she can rent it to another member of the market for the day. There are more farmers who want to sell than the market has stalls!
Products sold at Farmers’ Markets usually include the following: fruits, vegetables, bedding plants, potted plants, fresh cut flowers, shrubs, cheese (including cow milk, sheep milk, goat milk), eggs, poultry, beef, lamb, goat, jerky, bison, elk, pork, maple syrup, honey, herbs, bakery goods, flavored vinegars, salsa, canned organic pickles and relishes, floral arrangements, dried arrangements and even Christmas trees.
The following words and phrases relay the spirit of this market: quality food, rural-urban, nature, people-socialization, ritualistic, experience, local, neighborly, loyalty, relationships, enthusiasm, energy, economic factors, international flair, safe environment, pride of growers and customers, small business center, relaxing, fresh, not commercialized, rewarding, dialogue between vendors and shoppers, tradition, product variation, preserving farm land, healthy eating, good value and small family farms. This is a family-oriented activity for both growers and consumers. We hope to see you at the Market!