Martha+Tom

Midtown Farmers Market: Week 13—Great Produce

The Midtown Farmers Market has so many great prepared food vendors this year: some old stalwarts, some newcomers, but always enough to offer a lively and interesting blend of ready to eat food for at market consumption. Local media have taken notice too; it seems every week there’s a new story on a vendor who sells at Midtown: The Magic Bus Cafe in Minnesota Monthly, Dandelion Kitchen in the City Pages, or the Heavy Table’s roundup of five flavors of Midtown.

While the latter piece was interesting in its own right, what really got my attention was the comments; particularly, those by Brian Ames of Ames Farm questioning how big a role non-producer vendors should play in a market. Or rather answering, “a heavy ratio of immediately consumable foods (ICF’s) to growers/producers at farmers markets is detrimental to farmers and growers in my view.” He goes on to argue that sales made to ICFs take dollars that could be going to farmers/producers.

Two years ago, when I started shopping at Midtown — the first farmers market I’ve regularly shopped at — I would have been on the same page with Mr. Ames when it comes to non-grower vendors; let the yuppies get their coffee and tamales, I was there to buy produce. Over the course of the past couple of years, though, I’ve come to appreciate — and befriend — sellers of ICFs. As some of the comments in response to Ames point out, they are part of a symbiotic relationship with the growers that helps to produce a farmers market experience that is unique — not just another grocery store.

In spite of the important role played by the food trucks, tents and taxis, I agree with Ames in as much as whatever other amenities they offer, a farmers market should be primarily about the farmers. Last year I made a serious effort to highlight the farmers — or at least their fruits — on this blog with weekly posts featuring the farmers market haul. I’ve cut back on those this year since it got a little boring for me (and perhaps for you?). But don’t take my silence to mean the farmers of Midtown aren’t weekly providing delicious produce; they continue to keep my basket and eventually my belly full of locally grown vegetables.

One producer I’ve been especially happy with is new this year: Gardens of Eagan. My love affair started when, on the first market day when all I was expecting was opening festivities and canned goods, they had a table full of strawberries. Not just any strawberries, either, but strawberries that were the sweetest I had ever tasted: ideal strawberries. I rode that wave for the month or so it lasted, and have also enjoyed various interesting lettuces and kale from the Gardens. Then last week, as I was in line to buy tomatoes (some of the first of the year), Gardens of Eagan’s Jennifer Nelson insisted I try a sample of their watermelon. Here again, the same experience as with the strawberries; I was tasting a fruit like no other I had tasted before, but that tasted like the fruit should taste. I hadn’t planned to buy a watermelon this week, and didn’t really have a solid plan for carrying it home on my bike, but after that one bite of perfect watermelon I didn’t have much choice but to buy one.

Midtown vendors have also been quick to supply the season’s first sweet corn: I bought half a dozen ears from Pflaum Farms two weeks ago, and last week tried the corn grown by Carmen of Peter’s Pumpkins and Carmen’s Corn. It’s still a little early for sweet corn — the flavor is not quite at its peak – but after enduring a whole winter with nothing but the frozen stuff, all these ears were welcome relief.

And of course beyond the sexy fruit, tomatoes and corn there is the regular mid-summer stuff like potatoes, summer squash, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, lettuces, greens, onions; basically any vegetable that grows in this climate is growing now. This is the best time to shop at the farmers market: no mania or cult-like commitment required — the vegetables sell themselves. And, what’s more, you can also get a great breakfast from one of the many sellers of immediately consumable foods!

4 comments | , , , , , ,

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4 comments on “Midtown Farmers Market: Week 13—Great Produce”

  1. Amy P. 30 July, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Great post, Tom, it gives you something to think about. I’m a bit on the fence about this myself. I think that the food vendors can draw you to a market and do make it a fuller experience. Plus I like to support those local small businesses. But they may also draw dollars away from the produce vendors. Case in point – I stopped at the new St. Anthony Village farmer’s market on Monday night partly to get something to eat for dinner plus pick up produce. I only brought about $20 with me, and by the time I was done buying gazpacho and a salad from Chef Shack, then a hot dog for my husband at Magic Bus Cafe, then a jar of pickles for my daughter I’d spent all my money and didn’t have any left for fresh food. How ironic. Next time I’m going to think more strategically about how I spend my dollars.

  2. Brian Ames 30 July, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I wanted to add that while many of these food vendors like Chef Shack totally support local I do feel its important to note how small of a window growers have to unload their produce at top price.

    Produce loses value every day its picked and also as each season for that produce progresses to saturation prices also move downward.

    Food Vendors are an important part of the experience but my original comment on Heavy Table targeted the RATIO of food vendors to growers and also suggested markets should give FIRST priority to those producers or growers who have ICF to sell at markets.

    We already have a plethora or festivals, fairs and events for vending ICF’s. Farmers Markets should serve the interests of growers and producers first in my view.

    Glad to see there is some open discussion on this topic.

  3. Tom 30 July, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    Amy- You make a good point about what happens when you go to the market with limited funds; going to Midtown is a pretty big weekly event for me (as regular readers probably gathered) so I’m usually prepared with money to spend on produce and ICFs. But if I didn’t have the money or I didn’t bring it with me, this could be an issue. Personally, I’d probably go for the produce.

    Brian- Thanks for your comment; you are right to bring the question back to the ratio of produce vendors to ICF vendors. At Midtown, though, I think they are getting this right: the ICF vendors don’t crowd out the growers. This is just my impression — I haven’t talked to any farmers. Some day I’d like to explore more deeply the economics of farmers markets, especially from the growers’ perspectives. Then again, if the primary benefit of participating in the market is not day-of sales but, for example, marketing, having prominent ICF vendors that pull people to the market is a more straightforward benefit.

  4. Linda 31 July, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    The photo of the carrots is one of my favorites of yours. It is a bouquet of carrots.

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