Farmers' Markets Spring Forward: Picking and Choosing the Market for You

Midwestern farmers' markets are the stuff of midwinter’s – and really, even midspring’s – dreams.  When we sit down and contemplate the changing weather, the growth potential, and the veritable expansion of our own resources, we tend to imagine gardens. Farms. Food production in a variety of levels – gardener or not. We just can’t help ourselves.

To the delight of the non-green-thumbed foodies amongst us (okay, even for those of us who might actually grow things in a tiny plot or pot out back), we become overjoyed when we see those first green shoots appear out of the dirt. It's intrinsic. Or maybe it’s a function of our long winters. Maybe it’s a function of proper longing for fresh green things. Or perhaps it’s asprirational. Who knows!? But reason aside, we journey to the farmers’ markets all over the metro to see what’s fresh and new, and to try something that makes our hearts – and taste buds – sing.

I’m an urban dweller. I live in a simple loft, not so far above the Lowertown area in St. Paul. And I do so love the St. Paul Farmer’s Market. But my partner in crime is a Minneapolis city boy with many, many markets to choose from. What a beautiful conundrum. We sit around on Saturday mornings – depending on our location – and decide to which market we will give our hard earned dollars. Oh yes, this abundance is painful. Whatever will we do?!

The bounty of the Twin Cities farmers’ markets is much more complex than Minneapolis vs. St. Paul; there are benefits to each and every presence in and out of town. Sometimes it's about proximity – a simple calculation of how many miles vs. how willing we are to travel for fresh food. Sometimes it’s about localness – certain markets focus on locally grown and produced goods that you won’t find everywhere. Sometimes it's about the overall experience – live music, freshly sugared donuts, and a view of the skyline. And sometimes it’s about supporting a homegrown business – even if it’s not necessarily featuring homegrown products. There are literally markets for every cause and every directive. And we're so lucky to have the cornucopia from which to choose.

Instead of trying to compare and contrast (for which we could be here for days), I’m going to take the opportunity to encourage you to think about what really matters to you. Personally. Isn’t that the point of this whole food conversation anyway? Individual choices, actual costs, environmental impacts – all have weight. If proximity rules, you can use the Simple, Good and Tasty directory to find something nearby. If local fruit and veggies are more interesting to you than filling in the blanks with imported bananas and roses, you should consider markets with production, growth, and creation limitations, and week-by-week seasonal selections – like St. Paul (10+ locations). If you want a fun, city experience, you might be more interested in markets with flair, unique vendors, and food producers – a la Mill City (but never on a Sunday!). But if you lean towards unique handcrafted goods from a variety of producers, well then Minneapolis Farmers’ Market may be your place. Also, let’s not forget about Richfield, Minneapolis Midtown or Northeast, Inver Grove Heights, and Bloomington. Plus a plethora of other choices around town. There are nearly as many farmers’ markets as there are consumer personalities and localities, so look around and get smart.

So really, which one are you? What matters most? Figuring out this magical – and highly personal –  question will lead you to the perfect market for you. It's a delicious riddle, indeed. And I challenge you to taste test all that the markets have to offer; honestly, how bad can that be?

Weigh in. What's your favorite market and why?  We'd love to hear from you.

Tracy Morgan is a Twin Cities foodie, cookbook hoarder, and owner of all the right kitchen gadgets. Living in downtown St. Paul, she loves to take her green trolley to the Farmer's Market and see how much weight it can handle. When not spotlighting local goodies for Simple Good and Tasty, Tracy runs Segnavia Creative, a business development and marketing firm that helps small companies create big-picture strategies, understand branding, and navigate social media. She also serves on the board of directors for the Mississippi Market Natural Food Co-op.