During the period recognized as Farmers Market Week in the state of Minnesota, the Monticello market was bustling Aug. 9 as it is most early Thursday evenings.
The event in the Monticello Library parking lot draws patrons from many different communities. Pauline Wallin, of Albertville, walked among the vendor stands last week with friend Liz Brandt, of Otsego.
Wallin said she has started a garden on her deck at home, growing tomatoes, tomatillos, cilantro and bell peppers of many colors, among other plants and vegetables. She can take just a few steps outside to pick the ingredients for salsa for her husband, Gary. “He doesn’t like much Mexican food, but he loves salsa on anything,” she said, adding that more than fresh produce, this summer she has looked more for jams and knit scarves at farmers markets.
“You can almost find her deck,” Brandt joked about her friend’s densely planted produce.
“You ought to see her garden,” Wallin quickly replied.
Brandt grows tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, peppers, carrots and eggplant among other veggies, but visits Monticello on Thursdays or other markets during the week to find items that will complement what she is growing, or take a place on her table when the same item has not yet ripened in her garden. “I come here to get what I like and what I want,” Brandt said. “I haven’t had any cucumbers yet, but I’ve been picking tomatoes four weeks already.”
The Monticello vendors display a variety of goods. Adam Kehn represents the Lacey J Ranch, of Zimmerman, at six different farmers markets Tuesday through Saturday. “This is by far our best market, with repeat sales and customer traffic,” he said of Monticello. “You see a lot of the same faces, but you see some new every week. It’s always nice to see new faces, because it means word’s getting out.
“People want to be looking for local produce, and they want to meet the farmer that grew it,” added Kehn, who lives adjacent to the produce ranch owned by Jim Lacey. Kehn works on the farm for several weeks before and after each market season to assist in spring preparations and fall cleanup. He said Lacey J has become known for its potatoes, radishes and other root vegetables. What grows the best depends on a certain season’s weather conditions. “Some things work, and some things don’t,” Kehn said. “It just depends on the moisture, too much or not enough rain.”
Jeff Gardner, of Monticello, displays beans, beets, eggplant and okra from the gardens he tends with his wife, Sally, but he also offers canned items such as pickled vegetables, jellies, sauerkraut, salsas, chili and eight varieties of mustard. Some of the mustard ingredients come from the Gardner gardens, such as garlic, basil and pepper in different jars, but he noted their mustard seed is shipped, often from New Jersey. Minnesota soils are not conducive to certain plants. “You can’t grow it here,” Gardner said of mustard seed.
A walk or two around the library lot can build up hunger in shoppers around the dinner hour, and Gardner also attracts patrons with baked, ready-to-eat, German-style pretzels. His full-time career in manufacturing brought him over to Germany four years ago. “I kind of learned to like pretzels,” he said.
Across the lot, Tamara Hanson, from Grandma’s Garden in Big Lake, displays several varieties of fresh herbs among other produce. “I get excited about what I grow,” she said. “It’s something I was meant to do.”
Hanson said she picked sweet corn and other vegetables, “from birth to 17,” at her grandmother’s 200-acre farm near Forest Lake, and then sold corn and tomatoes at a roadside stand. “Some of my earliest memories are picking melons from a field of melons when I could hardly walk,” she said.
Serving on the Monticello market steering committee in addition to bringing her own produce to the lot, Hanson said the committee limits the number of vendors who can bring vegetables and other items each week, but there is particular room open for vendors with honey, eggs, cheese and meat.
“We’re really particular on who we let in,” Hanson said. “The committee has to approve everything people want to sell.”
The committee runs an informational stand each week. The Monticello Farmers Market is open 3:30-7 p.m. Thursdays, rain or shine, into mid-October.
By Paul Rignell