While we humans often care a lot about living a healthy lifestyle and taking good care of our bodies, most of us don’t know where our food comes from—and how it gets to us. But learning more about the journey our food takes before it lands on our counters is more important than it may seem.
“You know your dentist and you know your doctor but how come you don’t know your farmer?” asks Michelle Bruhn, White Bear Lake suburban homesteader, local food advocate, garden writer, educator and farmers market manager.
Through an at-home garden and various community outreach initiatives, Bruhn has devoted herself to growing and educating on sustainable food systems within her community. And while Bruhn’s garden produces a plethora of fresh goodies for her family, she often supplements her own homegrown vegetables with a trip to the White Bear Lake Farmers Market.
“I rely on my local farmers because I cannot grow enough in my space to feed my family for the entire year,” Bruhn says. “I look at farmers markets as a way to try something that I can’t grow enough of, to try new varieties or to buy a bunch of one thing to preserve.”
What once was an enjoyable outing for the kids has turned into a necessary errand to support her family’s lifestyle. But Bruhn says it’s still just as fun!
“I think I just fell in love with the farmers,” Bruhn says. “They are just great people that work really hard … and I realize the value that they bring to my family with the food that they grow and the community in general.”
Here are some of Bruhn’s top tips for making the most out of your local farmers market:
Ask questions and get social!
We all know the feeling of wandering aimlessly through the stands, ducking under tents and through narrow walkways before picking up a cucumber at random. But don’t be afraid to learn more! These farmers work and play in your community, so think of them as neighbors who share a passion for fresh foods. By asking questions about soil, what’s in season and growing techniques, you’ll not only get to know these hardworking farmers but also the products you’ll soon be consuming. And after a couple trips, you may make a new friend!
Here are some questions to consider next time you’re at the market:
- Where are the farmers located?
Farmers appreciate this question, as it makes them feel recognized as a valued part of the community. Many take pride in where they are from and the land that they farm and may share more tidbits about their practices and produce.
- What are their organic practices?
Even if they are not certified organic, many local farmers engage in wholesome practices. Inquire about how they tend to the soil. Do they use any pesticides or fertilizers? How do they harvest the food? How these growers treat something as simple as a head of lettuce can have a major impact on the environment and your body after consumption. “If you feed the soil, it feeds you better,” Bruhn says.
- What produce do they have in rotation?
You can find out what products are coming in from a seasonal aspect and which ones are on their way out (which typically means sales!). This can help you plan more purposeful visits to fulfill your meal prepping dreams.
Keep an open mindset
It’s easy, even after asking the questions listed above, to fall into the same buying habits. Try to occasionally purchase some new varieties and products. This step will add life to your kitchen practices and expand your palette and menu. You may even find a new favorite!
Plan out your trips
Farmers markets are not the same as your typical supermarket. While this statement may be obvious, it’s necessary to keep in mind. “Farmers are dealing with Mother Nature, where grocery stores are dealing with global food systems,” Bruhn says.
The produce you see throughout the growing season will change through the weeks and months. Plan out your trip to take advantage of the season’s pickings, what items you’ll need to stock up on, and how you’d like to utilize them at home. By planning out your trip, you’ll only buy what you need, which prevents food waste and makes the shopping experience less overwhelming!
Make sure to acknowledge the presentation of the items. How are the products displayed? What do they look like? Is the table that they sit on clean? What is the vessel the items sit in? Though these may seem like obvious questions, they are essential to consider when purchasing high-quality products.
Bruhn suggests thinking of a trip to the farmers market almost like speed dating. Look around and observe all options before making a purchase. The farmers remain put while you get to browse. So, take advantage of that! While the first vendor you stop by may have gorgeous tomatoes, the next one may have even better ones at a fraction of the price.
May Lee of Mhonpaj's Gardens
White Bear Lake Farmers Market
8 a.m.–noon Fridays from June–October;
4700–4766 Washington Square
Mahtomedi Area Farmers Market
8 a.m.–noon Saturdays from June–September;
93 Mahtomedi Ave., Mahtomedi
Aldrich Arena Farmers Market
8 a.m.–noon Wednesdays from May–October;
1850 White Bear Ave., Maplewood
Downtown St. Paul Farmers Market
7 a.m.–1 p.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m.–
1 p.m. Sundays from April–October;
290 Fifth St. E., St. Paul
Zucchini Cornmeal Fritters
This recipe is gluten-free.
- 3 cups shredded zucchini (any type of zucchini or summer squash will work)
- 1 minced shallot
- 1/3 cup of shredded mozzarella
- 1/3 cup of corn meal
- 1 large egg
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- EVOO for cooking
- Mix all of the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a pan on medium-high heat.
- Separate 1/3 cup of fritter mixture into pan and form it in the shape of small circles.
- When halfway cooked (or after about three minutes), flip the fritters.
- Once crispy on the outside and tender in the middle, remove the fritters from the pan and place them on paper towels to drain.