A Tale of Two Markets

Minneapolis Farmers Market
The intersection of Lyndale and Glenwood avenues

St. Paul Farmers' Market
The intersection of Fifth and Wall streets

Third-generation farmer Bonnie Dehn's stall at the Minneapolis Farmers Market is lush with fragrant potted and fresh-cut herbs
Geoffrey P. Kroll
Third-generation farmer Bonnie Dehn's stall at the Minneapolis Farmers Market is lush with fragrant potted and fresh-cut herbs

Location Info


Minneapolis Farmers' Market

312 E. Lyndale Ave. N.
Minneapolis, MN 55405

Category: Retail

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

St. Paul Downtown Farmers' Market

5th St. and Wall St.
St. Paul, MN 55101

Category: Retail

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)


Not too long ago, I led a group of fifth graders through the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Before they got off the bus, I asked, "Do you guys know where peas come from?" Hands shot up, voices shouted out.

"The grocery store?"

"Those bags in the freezer?"


We filed down the narrow aisles of stalls, the kids pointing, pushing. One little girl asked if she could touch the pale green pea tendrils. Two boys with identical orange-streaked crew cuts grabbed fistfuls of shelled peas set out as samples by an indulgent Hmong woman. She smiled and nodded as they gobbled them up: "Eat," she said, "good."

Kids dug all the change from their pockets asking, "How many strawberries can I get for a quarter?" And as they took their seats, I overheard, "That strawberry dude was awesome."

How far removed are we from the source of our food that our kids visit farmers' markets only on field trips? Why would anyone hassle with schlepping from stand to stand for what's easily had at the store, wrapped, weighed, and ready to go? Here shoppers buy their food directly from the folks who grow or make it.

For those who care about fresh food and how it is grown, farmers' markets can be bastions of hope. When I hand my money over to the farmer for potatoes the color of his earth-stained hands, I am getting much more than the makings of tonight's salad. I'm engaging in a transaction as ancient as civilization. No packer, wholesaler, trucker, or store comes between me and the guy who planted, weeded, harvested, and packed the thin-skinned, sweet, firm fingerling potatoes. This is as close as I'll ever be to growing the stuff myself.

Small independent growers are local heroes, preserving and enhancing our landscape, keeping our air and water clean, and bringing us good things to eat. Independent of any boss, they must manage the arbitrary forces of nature and local and international politics. "Ask me about NAFTA, GATT, this whole global plantation," says Gene Thomas Kornder, a fourth-generation farmer at the St. Paul market. "It's not easy, but farming is not a business, it's a way of life."

For the most part, the growers at the St. Paul and Minneapolis markets rely on sustainable growing methods: rotating crops, using pest-eating critters in lieu of pesticides, and planting "green manure" instead of using chemicals that pollute groundwater and are absorbed into the atmosphere. Most lamb, beef, chicken, and egg farmers don't use controversial antibiotics or hormones, and their animals range free. Unlike commercially raised livestock kept in indoor pens, free-range animals roam the farmyard or grasslands. They tend to be stronger and their meat is firmer. Free-range chickens, for example, have bigger thighs and slightly smaller breasts (great for dark-meat lovers).

Yet few of these growers are "certified organic." "To become certified, the farmer must pay an enormous fee to the independent agency that inspects the operation, runs tests, reviews books, and keeps records," explains Bonnie Dehn of Dehn's Gardens, a Minneapolis-market grower whose stall flourishes with lush, fragrant potted and fresh-cut herbs. "We follow organic guidelines but would rather put our money back into the farm, not into agency bureaucracy."

Comparing the farm markets of Minneapolis and St. Paul conjures the differences in the cities themselves. St. Paul's market dates back to the mid-1800s, and it used to be a large indoor market that functioned year round. It has always been the venue where immigrants go to sell the foods of their homeland. Under its current charter, St. Paul's purveyors must come from within a 50-mile radius for two reasons: First, so that the market remains an outlet for growers too small to compete in the retail arena; second, to ensure that the produce is field fresh. Much like the farm markets in California and the green market at Union Square in Manhattan, the St. Paul Farmers' Market's focus is on small local growers who use sustainable methods such as those described above. It is a growers' market, with but a few select cheese, bread, and honey producers. No cappuccino, no brats, no dried-flower wreaths.

To that end, the St. Paul market is governed by a Growers Association, which each vendor must join. This association establishes the guidelines, employs the market manager, and funds the administration of the market. The market also enjoys the support of a nonprofit organization whose goal is to make sure that it is and remains a vital center for sustainable growers. The Friends of The St. Paul Market publishes a newsletter, runs a Web site, and sponsors cooking classes. Local chefs like Lucia Watson (Lucia's Restaurant), Jack Riebel (Goodfellow's), and Zander Dixon (Zander Café) with Nan Bailly (Alexis Bailly Vineyard) donate their time and energy to these free and open events. Personalities and politicians--radio hosts Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Katherine Lanpher, and Sue Zelickson, as well as St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman--also take center stage. There's even a children's book, Families Working Together, that tells the market's story.

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