Exploring the many Farmers’ Markets and their distinct personalities


A warm April made the opening of the area’s farmers’ markets almost anti-climactic for even though the weather has been warmer than usual, planting still had to wait for the final frost in midMay. So the early markets initially were still filled with potted herbs, flowering plants, fresh-baked bread, and other springtime offerings. 

Even now, homegrown produce is just beginning to come in, but it is well worth the wait.

With more than 110 farmers’ markets throughout the state, there is no lack of opportunities to find fresh-from-the-farm products. With two dozen markets in the Twin Cities alone, choosing the right market is like deciding where to dine, for each market has its own personality. The Minneapolis market open every morning at Lyndale near Olsen Highway is most like the State Fair featuring crowds of people strolling through the booths offering local produce, imported items, fast-food (grilled corn-on-the-cob, grilled brats, coffee, etc.), live music, outdoor furniture, even clothing items

The downtown St. Paul market on 5th Street, open Saturday and Sunday mornings, is more like a country roadside stand where the farmer comes in from the field with freshly picked food. In fact, this market does not allow any imported food

And, then there are the small markets throughout the area with their own approaches to food and fun

Mill City Market is one of the newest and the first in Minneapolis to focus on locally grown, seasonal foods from local sustainable and organic farmers and small businesses

The brainchild of restaurateur Brenda Langton whose Spoonriver restaurant is on a nearby corner, Mill City is in the heart of the city across from the Guthrie Theater on the banks of the Mississippi River. Partially sheltered by the Mill City Museum train shed, the market spills out onto the street and offers some very interesting items. The season opened on a cold, rainy day but the live music kept everyone smiling and looking for those spring treats such as fresh morel mushrooms and early asparagus. Momos were part of the fast-food possibilities along with grilled bratwurst and hot coffee. There are also special programs throughout the summer with Hmong Cultural Day on June 26

Open Saturday mornings, Mill City offers a new experience this year, live farm animals and birds

Gale Woods Farm of Minnetrista is bringing in part of their animal farm family each week to meet and greet children and adults alike. Baby lambs, chickens, and other small farm animals are on hand along with their keepers to answer questions and occasionally get a petting or two. Gale Woods Farm is also a community supported agriculture farm growing plants and animals without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Just a short drive from the Twin Cities, it is also a family friendly farm with programs for children and adults. Visit as a family, or ask about the Lil’ Farmhands program for children ages 4-5. Then there are Farmyard Fun Days with special programs for farming, cooking, crafts, and just plain fun. Visit them each Saturday at the Mill City market, at www.threeriversparks.org or call 763-559-6700

About 50 blocks south the Kingfield Farmers’ Market at 43rd and Nicollet Avenue South in Minneapolis is something like a Sunday morning neighborhood block party with more crafts and canned pickles and preserves, than fresh produce this early in the season. It is also home to the Chef Shack where classic-trained chefs Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson have them lining up for snacks such as bulging bratwurst sandwiches (meat or vegetarian) with homemade relishes, softshelled crab sandwiches, goat’s milk ice cream, amazing French fries, and more. They also feature hot-out-of-the-fryer minidoughnuts seasoned with Indian spices. Interesting what a little cardamom and fennel can add to the usual sugar topping

If you think you need a big kitchen to be creative, check out these two in their tiny truck kitchen

Opening this month is another neighborhood treasure, the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers’ Market at University Avenue and 7th Street NE where fresh produce is the main feature. It is like walking into a co-op garden in the middle of the city and picking out the best-looking food. There is also live music and a variety of crafts, but the farmers here focus on bringing in freshly picked produce that is absolutely beautiful and flavorful

This market has adjoining parking for easy access and plenty of variety to choose from including fresh-baked goods, specialty breads, and freshly cut flowers every Saturday morning until October

For additional farmers’ market locations and hours, pick up a free copy of the 2010 Minnesota Grown Directory at many farmers’ markets or from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Call 651-201-6539 or go to www.minnesotagrown.com. Filled with 840 farms, markets and garden centers, it is your best guide to an amazing amount of food and fun available throughout the state

Phyllis Louise Harris is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher specializing in Asian foods. She is founder of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes Ltd. dedicated to the preservation, understanding and enjoyment of the culinary arts of the Asia Pacific Rim. For information about ACAI’s programs call 612-813-1757 or visit the website at www.asianculinaryarts.com