To Market, To Market

When the farmer is the middleman, the chicken is a revelation

The Farm in the Market section of the Global Market also has a number of artisanal Minnesota farm offerings, like Pastureland Co-op butter and cheese, and jams, jellies, maple syrups, honeys, and such. But the farm-direct meat counter is what really sends me: Finally, we all have the capability of cooking just like the fancy restaurants do, with farm of origin attached to every cutlet, chop, and liver.

How did we get so lucky? It all started because traditional farming is such a bad deal for farmers, naturally. It was an especially bad deal in the 1990s, when various tragedies beset family farmers, including the way the hog market crashed three times, and so farmers who wanted to be in it for the long haul had to start re-imagining their relationship to farming. "I call our group the graduating class of the Southeast Minnesota Sustainable Farming Association," Lori Callister told me when I interviewed her for this story, recalling a group of farmers and producers, then organized by the Land Stewardship Project, who got together in the 1990s to network, discuss nontraditional farming methods, and figure out how to survive.

Most of the farmers in the group came up with the same idea: selling direct to the consumer, albeit by different routes. The Callisters and Schwakes started at farmers' markets, both eventually ending up at the St. Paul one, whereas the Minars, the folks behind Cedar Summit Dairy, decided to invest in dairy infrastructure and get into stores. Other farmers targeted big consumers, like restaurants. All the farms grew, and the Callisters and Schwakes began to feel that there was a next level they could take their farms to, a level that didn't involve a winter income based on standing outside in the arctic cold at the St. Paul winter farmers' market. (That's when you actually have to keep the engines going to keep fresh chicken from freezing.)

Farm-fresh find: Lori Callister's corn-fed chickens are a gourmand's fantasy
Sean Smuda
Farm-fresh find: Lori Callister's corn-fed chickens are a gourmand's fantasy

Location Info

Map

Midtown Global Market

920 E. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Category: Community Venues

Region: Powderhorn

It turned out that by the time the people who developed the Midtown Global Market, the Neighborhood Development Corporation, came calling, Lori Callister already had a business plan in mind—a business plan that involved, in typical farmer fashion, working an extra thousand hours a week. In addition to growing their own feed, collecting eggs, raising and processing chickens (on Mondays and Wednesdays, so the freshest chickens are available Tuesdays and Thursdays), and selling at the farmers' markets (the Callisters sell both at St. Paul and at the new Mill City Market down by the new Guthrie), Lori Callister and Judy Schwake now also take turns working at the Farm in the Market store until closing time and then driving back to their farms, which they don't reach till 10:00 or 10:30 at night. When I found this out, my glee at fresh chickens was slightly tempered: Farm-fresh food for me means farm-fresh exhaustion for some. But then I remembered how good everything tastes, and I perked up again.

That chicken was food for a king: pale, tender, meadow-wind flesh and skin as delicious as sheets of bacon, dotted at key junctures with the yellow pockets of fat I associate with richer poultry like duck. With these available at $2.47 a pound for a whole bird, I am forevermore going to be a nightmare when it comes to reviewing local chefs' chicken dishes—they are going to have to do back-flips to surpass this.

The chicken came with additional benefits, and I don't just mean the giblets and neck, perfect for making stock or at least enhancing the store-bought kind. I mean the kind of benefits that come from talking to farmers and having your understanding of the world expanded. For instance, Callister told me that while they used to let their Cornish Cross chickens roam freely in pasture day and night, they now keep them in barns at night, because they were losing so many chickens to coyotes, raccoons, possums, dogs, skunks, and owls. Yes, owls.

Get this. Chickens have a "crop," a place where they store their feed and let it pre-digest a bit before it moves into the gizzard, for grinding, and then through the rest of their digestive tract. But owls find the corn-based feed that the Callister Cornish Cross eat so delicious that they would fly into the flock and slice off lots of chicken heads at exactly the right place to get in there and eat the crop. I found this anecdote both terrifying—those poor chickens! those poor Callisters!—and also deeply satisfying. See? City-slicker food obsessives aren't the only ones who think these farm-fresh chickens are fit for sashimi.

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