St. Paul Farmers’ Market: Always Fresh, Always Local
We park in the gravel under the Highway 52 overpass. The road of the trucks echoes in that dark space and the smell of diesel fumes singes our nostrils. This is the landscape of downtown St. Paul. But just a short walk down the city sidewalks is the St. Paul Farmers’ Market, where the sights and sounds transport us to an agricultural bonanza, right in the middle of Lowertown.
Rows of red rhubarb and green lettuce, fresh flowers, vegetables seedlings. Scents of fresh cilantro and basil and rosemary waft through the air, mixed with the aromas of sausage and bison burgers. A jazz band plays at one end of the market. I sample the sweet rhubarb bread, the cheese, and my favorite, the fresh Vietnamese spring rolls, wrapped in rice paper.
I’m in the center of the metro, but my spirit is transported back to my great aunt’s farm generations ago, miles away, years away from the office towers and the warehouses and the Interstate highway. The St. Paul Farmers’ Market is a haven of agricultural tranquility in the shadow of the towers.
Always Local in Lowertown
Ever wonder how long your vegetables rode on the back of a truck, wilting, their nutrients and flavor seeping out? Or what pesticides were used in California, or Mexico, or wherever the food was grown?
Produce at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market is required to be grown within 50 miles, guaranteeing that the truck ride was, at most, an hour. (Shelf-stable products such as wild rice or packaged cheese must be produced within Minnesota or Wisconsin.) It must be sold directly from grower to the consumer, no middlemen allowed.
There is one disadvantage to the local produce rule: You can buy only what is in season. If you want to make fresh salsa in April, for example, you won’t find tomatoes or onions or jalapenos at the St. Paul market. The market’s web site has a wonderful chart showing what is in season.
The compromises? Either buy what’s in season at the farmers’ market and then go to the supermarket for the rest (a method that works well with the smaller, less crowded suburban markets listed below); or try the Minneapolis market, which allows both local growers and resellers. But if you want the freshest locally grown produce, you have to love the St. Paul 50-mile rule. The only way to get fresher produce is to grow is in your own backyard.
Older than Dirt?
Well, not really. But the St. Paul Farmers’ Market is older than the state of Minnesota. Owned and operated by the St. Paul Growers’ Association, the St. Paul Farmers Market has been around since 1853. Although it has moved to various locations as the city has grown up around it, the market has always kept its requirement of local produce in season, and dry goods available year-round.