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Spice up your summer

The sixth annual Church Street Farmers Market is in full swing

By Susan Wiese

2010 Farmers Market 165
July 7 market goers and vendors

July 13, 2010

The heat of the summer is here and the University of Minnesota Farmers Market has arrived, delivering the ingredients needed to add flavor and zest to the season. For the sixth consecutive year, the Farmers Market is open every Wednesday along Church Street on the East Bank of the Twin Cities campus. Rain or shine, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., students, faculty, and staff can purchase berries, fresh flowers, savory herbs, and vegetables grown locally by vendors whose gardens and fields are located near the Twin Cities.

Locavore's delight
"I really like to be able to support local farmers," says School of Pharmacy study coordinator Liz Reich. During last week's opening day of the market, Reich was stocking up on freshly picked snap peas, mint, cucumbers, kohlrabi, and new potatoes—items she says she'd much rather buy from local market vendors than at a grocery store. For Reich and many consumers, what's becoming increasingly important is whether or not foods are "locally grown." From Church Street to Main street to the White House garden, people are cultivating a strong "need to know" about the origin of their edibles. The Church Street market supports vendors with farms near the Twin Cities. In most cases that means within 50 miles or less, with the exception of fresh berries from a Wisconsin supplier about 150 miles away.

Expanding the definition of local
The appetite for better, more accurate information about the source of one's food and food ingredients has resulted in government-sponsored research into food distribution systems, tracing products from field to fork and from dirt to dinner. As part of a federal study, University of Minnesota professor Robert King and colleagues across the country examined food supply chains in five metro areas, including the Twin Cities. Their research cites a clear and concise definition (from the 2008 Farm Bill) of what consumers should consider to be local: "Any agricultural food product that is raised, produced, and that the total distance the product is transported is less than 400 miles from its origin."

In sharing his findings with an audience at a Café Scientifique lecture at Bryant Lake Bowl in May, King said, "People may also care about how the product is produced, and about the size of the farm or the market garden. They may want to know the cultural values of the producer, and how far the product has traveled before it reaches the market."

Satisfying demand for better tasting food 

If people are hungry for what's locally grown, they are also eager to eat better. This summer, berries are bountiful at the market. Half-pints of mouthwatering blueberries caught the eye of visiting professor Nelly Mateeva. As a temporary summertime resident of the Dinkytown area, the researcher from Florida A&M University was delighted to discover such a wide variety of fresh produce within walking distance. She says she'll be stopping by weekly to add "fresh" and "flavorful" to her summertime eats.

Ready to eat
Again this season, University Dining Services (UDS) is grilling sweet corn and serving UMTC market goers veggie kabobs, as well as burgers, brats, chicken sandwiches, and more.

Depending upon what vegetable is plentiful and in season, some of the ingredients included in UDS’ food-on-a-stick items originate from the student organic farm, Cornercopia, located on the St. Paul campus.

The University Campus Club, meanwhile, has had a long-standing relationship with supplier Cornercopia. "Four years ago the Campus Club redefined its menu to accommodate more locally grown produce," says Campus Club executive director Ann Holt. As a University market partner, the Campus Club is offering market visitors an opportunity to taste organic mint tea made with leaves harvested from Cornercopia's St. Paul campus fields. To ensure a steady supply of fresh, locally grown ingredients on their menu all summer long, the Campus Club supplements Cornercopia-grown produce with fruits and vegetables sourced through the Southeastern Minnesota Food Network, a food distribution network representing dozens of southeastern Minnesota farmers and growers.

What’s hot this summer?

Farmers Market, Church Street
, runs through October 6.

Duluth campus

St. Paul Campus 

A farmers market near you: Minnesota Grown Directory

What’s in season, when?
Produce possibilities PDF

Campus Club’s August 19 Locavore Buffet.

Make the market a place to connect


If you are not quite ready to jump on the locavore bandwagon, consider a trip to the market simply as a chance to connect with friends and colleagues.

"Talking to others keeps us from getting lost in our own heads," says U psychiatrist Jacqueline Olds, who delivered the annual Ruth Stricker Mind-Body Lecture this May, sponsored by the Center for Spirituality & Healing.

Olds says that a trip to an open-air market can help us overcome feelings of isolation. When we feel included, she says, we are less self-critical and more likely to engage in healthful behaviors.

As Olds reminds us, "We are all, really, social beings. We need to see people regularly and doing so helps ourselves and helps the community as a whole." Social obligations, she says, are the glue that keep things together during tough times.

Whether you are looking to expand your circle of friends, satisfy your locavore tendencies, or simply want to bite into a better-tasting strawberry, make the Church Street Farmers Market your new summertime "must do".