As I start the descent down the hill into the traffic-laden streets surrounding the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market this bright Saturday morning, my head starts throbbing. Why, oh why didn’t I drag myself out of bed earlier so I could beat the crowds? It’s 10:00 am, peak market time.
I remind myself why I choose to shop at this market — there’s a fantastic selection of fresh produce, and I seem to learn something new from the vendors each time I shop here.
Parking chaos greets me as I turn into the main lot in the underpass. Cars parked willy-nilly, double inner rows down the middle of the standard rows, cars driving over the sidewalks…
Luckily a lady signals to me that she’s leaving, and I undoubtedly annoy the car waiting behind me by backing up to within inches of it so that the lady can pull out of her spot and give it to me.
Sorry, suckas, I’ve got this spot, better luck next time.
I’m only planning to go through one aisle, since I feel that’s all I can mentally handle; it’s sensory overload for me being at this enormous market.
As I stroll over to the first row of sheds, the market is in full swing. Rainbow Chinese restaurant chef Tammy Wong is talking about buying local chicken.
I run into Sandy Hill, the Communications Director for the market, who tells me that the EBT program started on July 1, and over 100 vendors have signed on to allow low-income shoppers to use their government food credits to buy fresh produce. A cool development!
Sandy hands me the brochure and I see that EBT cards are now being accepted at Midtown Farmers Market and Northeast Farmers Market in addition to the Lyndale market.
Today, I’m on a specific mission to procure a series of ingredients for some mad canning experiments I’m conducting at home. I need to pick up corn, tomatoes, green and red bell peppers, cabbage, onions, garlic and cilantro, and I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to find everything on my list.
It’s easy to see which vendors are local; they either display the Minnesota Grown logo or have their farm location listed on the stand’s sign.
There are a plethora of Asian vendors at the market, most of whom are Hmong, I think. I buy some tomatoes and chile peppers from the Chiu Xio stand at the end of the aisle, yellow onions from Blia Kue, and cabbage from Yaoson Gardens, all Minnesota vendors.
I stop and buy green bell peppers at the Dave Nelson Grower stand (Corcoran, MN).
When I ask when red bell peppers will be available, he says he thinks it’ll be another couple of weeks. (Sigh. I love red bell peppers.)
At the Rich Valley Farms stand (Inver Grove Heights, MN), a plethora of hot peppers awaits future incorporation into a spicy salsa. These peppers look better than the ones I just bought, so I pick up some here too.
This stand’s display is cool because all of the different types of peppers are labeled. Of course, I don’t think to take a photo of this at the time, but after the market, I laid the assorted peppers out on my cutting board at home to show you the varieties:
From left to right they are:
Jalapeno, Hungarian Wax (or is this one a banana pepper, I’m not quite sure), Cherry Bomb, Purple, Serrano, Purple peppers, Garden salsa, Hungarian (plus another at top), Poblano, Anaheim, Super Hungarian.
For more info about the heat levels of these peppers, check out the Cook’s Thesaurus visual reference.
The vendor tells me:
-The red one is a cherry bomb pepper, similar to jalapeno, but more sweet.
-Garden salsa peppers look similar to Anaheim but they’re more round, while the Anaheim is flattened.
-The Hungarian and Super Hungarian are the same flavor, it’s just that the Super is larger.
-The tiny purple peppers are the hottest ones of the bunch.
Filled with pepper facts, I move on down the aisle.
Oh, man, there are those bitter balls again. Unless a fantastic Liberian stew recipe lands in my lap, I’m gonna steer clear of those. Quick, avoid eye contact….
I stop by the Nao Tou Yang stand (Rosemount, MN) because they always seem to have the best garlic (see last year’s photo here); both fresh and cured heads of garlic are available. I ask how long cured garlic lasts, and the vendor tells me that it can last for several months.
It makes me wonder about the garlic with the moldy bits that I often see at supermarkets; how old must they be?
Still, no cilantro. Why doesn’t anyone have cilantro?? I head over to aisle 2 because Dehn’s Garden is sure to have some.
It’s easy to get distracted by all of the visual splendor in the abundant displays of fruits and vegetables all around.
Local watermelons lay sprawled on a tarp; of course I have to check out the prices.
Plums! For one day only! I veer off to the Plum Crazy Orchard (Buffalo, MN) stand.
The local plum scene is brief, as I learned last year. The young guy working the Plum Crazy orchard stand tells me that these plums will only be around maybe another day or two; it’s unlikely they’ll even have them next week.
I don’t know much about selecting plums, so this visual was helpful. Not to mention the free samples. I hadn’t planned on buying plums, but hey, carpe diem!
As I’m walking up to the Dehn’s Garden herb and vegetable stand (Andover, MN), I overhear the vendor share a tip with a little old lady about storing tender fresh herbs like basil, cilantro and mint – store them in the door of your refrigerator, since it’s the warmest spot in your fridge. If these herbs get too cold, they’ll shrivel and turn black.
When it’s my turn, I grab a bunch of cilantro, then I ask, why doesn’t anyone have cilantro today? He replies that cilantro tends to bolt (go to seed) in hot weather like we’ve been experiencing, so it’s difficult to properly grow right now. Mystery solved.
I leave the sweet corn for last, since I didn’t want to have to lug it around. So I hit the Untiedt’s Vegetable Farm stand (Waverly, MN) on my way back to the car.
There lay fat cobs of corn, awaiting their date night with Hope Creamery butter tonight.
Arms about to fall off from carrying the heavy vegetables, I head back to my car feeling satisfied. I’m glad I came here today!
More often than not, I learn a thing or two when I visit a farmer’s market. You can see which local vegetables and fruits are at their peak, and hear directly from growers what local growing conditions are like, plus get answers to questions you have.
You don’t get this at a typical supermarket.