It’s summer in Minnesota and the farmers markets are in full swing.
Living in Minneapolis I have the advantage of choosing from dozens of local markets within an easy 20 mile radius of my home. Farmers Markets in Minnesota dot the landscape in abundance and it seems as if you are never far from a parking lot that provides one.
The market that has my heart is The Mill City Farmers Market (MCFM) which is in, of course, the Mill District of Downtown East. Nestled in-between the Guthrie Theatre and Spoonriver Cafe on 2nd and Chicago, the market borders the beautiful Mississippi River, the iconic Stone Arch Bridge, and is attached to the Mill City Museum where you can get a little history of the district, peruse the gift shop, and use the public restrooms and cash machine if need be.
Now one of the reason this market has my heart is because you’ll never find any bananas here. (I’m being completely serious!) Unlike a few other farmers markets in town, the MCFM only serves up organic and local vendors. Not sure if you’ve noticed but in Minnesota it’s pretty tough to grow tropical fruits with subzero winters. I love knowing that my food comes from a place where it doesn’t have to travel 4000 miles to get inside my basket. Simply put, I can go to a grocery store for that.
The other reason is that it caters to low income families by accepting SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards, FMNP coupons, and WIC vouchers. (Learn more HERE). Fresh, local, and healthy food should be available to ALL people, regardless of their economic background and the MCFM helps to lower the barriers to food access that low-income families and individuals face.
Local. Organic. Sustainable. Social Responsibility. MCFM has it going on.
I signed up to be a volunteer of the market for a few Saturdays this summer — as a Market Greeter and Food Demo Assistant. This is a great way to not only connect with the community and make new friends that share my values of healthy eating, but also get a chance to meet and greet local chefs preparing seasonal recipes and talk with the local farmers.
Knowing where your food comes from is one of the most important things you can do for your health and being healthy, of course, leads to a less chaotic life. Less stress, less disease, less doctors, less financial worries.
I’m going to highlight two very unique vendors I met last weekend and then give you some tips straight out of the MCFM Spring Produce Guide (sponsored by Allina Health and the market intern program Meet Your Vegetables ) to help you have the best farmers market shopping experience.
- Calvit’s Drinking Shrubs: Yep. I said drinking shrubs. Phil The Shrubber started making them after he needed something interesting to drink—after he quit drinking. According to Calvit’s, their Shrubs are made from piles and piles of fresh vegetable and fruits, using no syrups or concentrates, and are sweetened with unrefined cane sugar. Heck. Not only are they delicious, but I love how saying, “I’ll have a Shrubs & Soda please” delightfully rolls off my tongue.
- Stirsby’s: These individually-crafted, modern, “spoons” will have you rethinking the way you cook and serve. They’re not only appropriate for stirring sauces, stir-fry’s, soups, and risottos, but they have the added benefit of a semi-sharp edge for gently cutting and/or separating hamburger and other tender morsels while your cooking. If you’ve ever tried to accomplish that with a silicone spatula, well, I think you get the picture.
12 TIPS ON HOW TO SHOP A FARMERS MARKET.
- MAKE A DAY OF IT: Check out the farmers market website to see what other activities are included. MCFM offers yoga in the park, live music, cooking demo’s and more!
- DO RESEARCH AND MAKE A LIST: Before going to the market, do some research and learn what items are in season. Plan your meals around these items and make a list of what you need to buy.
- BRING CASH. Most vendors don’t accept credit cards, debit cards, or checks. Some markets have an info booth where you can buy tokens to use throughout the market. These can be purchased with a credit or an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card.
- BRING A REUSABLE SHOPPING BAG OR BASKET: Many vendors have bags but supplies are limited. It’s best to bring your own and better for the environment too! I personally love the market baskets that hold your items without crushing them.
- BRING A FRIEND (OR TWO)! Introduce a friend to market shopping. This not only supports the market but also helps to make connections within your community.
- BE AN EARLY BIRD: By getting to the market early, you will have the best selections, avoid the mid-morning crowds, and beat the heat if it’s shaping up to be a warm day!
- TALK TO THE VENDORS: You can learn a lot about how the food was grown or how the products were made. Vendors are there to answer your questions — and you may even get a few tips for preparing, using and storing the items too!
- TRAVELING: When your on the road, it’s more important than ever to stay on track with your health. Farmers markets are located all across the country and help you stick to eating healthy and fresh foods. Punch a zip code into Local Harvest’s online map and find one close to where you’ll be! Or better yet, download the Farmer’s Market app and locate markets right on your smartphone.
- TAKE A LAP BEFORE YOU BUY: It’s incredibly helpful to see what’s available before filling up your bag and you will appreciate not having your hands full while you shop. It’s also a great way to prevent impulse buys and to stick to your shopping list. Remember, items change with the seasons and so that asparagus you purchased last week may not be available again until next year!
- TRY SOMETHING NEW! Some vendors even offer samples for you to taste before buying an unfamiliar food. That’s how I fell in love with Calvit’s Drinking Shrubs!
- SIGN UP: You can always sign up to be on the mailing list (MCFM has the Mill City Beet) if they have one and receive weekly updates for what’s in season, weekly demo’s, recipes and events.
- DON’T FORGET TO SHARE! Take photos as you shop and post them to social media. It will help promote the farmers market and encourage others to attend!
Hope this gets you off to a great start and enjoying your veggies!