The greater Twin Cities boasts a wealth of farmers markets in all shapes and sizes. Some are hip, some suburban, and others sprawl across huge expanses of macadam -- but each one owes a debt to the original upper Midwest growers' venue: the St. Paul Farmers Market.
Established in 1853 at Seventh and Wabasha Streets, the farmers market has moved frequently, but has always been in the downtown area of the city. These days, it's an urban oasis overflowing with flowers, berries, vegetables, meats, treats, honey, jellies, soaps, breads, sauces, salsas, live music, and even a joke-telling balloon animal maker. But don't be fooled by the sheer number of vendors -- all of the produce and related products are homegrown and home-produced by individually owned businesses. There's no reselling of items allowed, making the market a locavore's paradise with just the right amount of St. Paul's signature low-key friendliness.
St. Paul Farmers Market (downtown) Where it is: 290 E. 5th St., St. Paul (Lowertown) Days of the week/hours: Saturday, 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. & Sunday, 8 a.m. to 1p.m. through November 23 Vendors of note: Wolf Honey Farm, The Jerky Lady, Three Rivers Farm Maple Syrup, Birch Creek Forest Products, Lily Bloom's Kitchen, Natasha's Pierogi, Lucky's Sauces, Prairie Pride Farm, Bar 5, Farm on Wheels, White Bear Soap Company, Mhonpaj's Garden, Lorence's Berry Farm
Market features: This is a thoroughly downtown affair, wedged into the city blocks between the brand new light rail and lots of tall buildings. It's big and has just about anything you hunger for. Right now, the stalls are bursting with potatoes, kale, beans, peas, radishes, herbs, strawberries, squash, and kohlrabi. Soon there will be tomatoes, broccoli, and blueberries. Once you've trod the market's many rows, you can relax in the center area where there's live music, as well as a food stand that has brats, bagels, hot dogs, and coffee.
The selection of items is expansive, including cheeses, breads, sauces, pierogies, strudel, maple syrup, and more. The vendors of these varied goods are the growers and producers themselves, or family members or employees of those individuals. There are no multinationals or chains at work here, so the food brought to sell doesn't come from far away.
Market vibe: It's a big-time market with a small-town feel, just like the city it's in. There's a diverse pool of sellers, tons of products to choose from, and if you get there late you may have to find parking in another time zone... in other words: Saturdays can truly bustle. However, there are also niche items, like Birch Creek Forest Product's medicinal mushrooms (chaga tea, anyone?), Natasha's Pierogi (pierogies and dumplings), and Three Rivers Farm's bourbon maple syrup (delish!), that lend the large site a quirky, fun vibe, proving that it hasn't sacrificed fun in the name of size. As a result, all kinds of people hit up this place on the weekends, often towing kids in their wake.
Last thought: The St. Paul Growers Association set out to connect urbanites to local food and farming as early as 1852, when they planned their first market. This isn't about being hip or having the latest trendy food fad on hand -- it's about a plan made to promote the area's farmers and crops as well as educate city folk about where their food is coming from. What's cool about this farmers market is that it continues to make good on that promise today. And, if you need to be of-the-moment -- hop on the brand-spanking-new light rail to make your way over there one of these glorious summer weekends.
Don't forget to check out our farmers market spotlight on Mill City Farmers Market: The Mill City Farmers Market: Strawberries, heirloom plants, Chef Shack donuts, and more
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