2012 Best Farmer’s Market: St. Paul Farmer’s Market

The farmer’s market: Among the oldest forms of direct-to-consumer sales, these truly urban agoras bring the rural to the city, and exist all around the world in some form or another. They bridge the gap between city and country with commerce, and thus, it was inevitable we at streets.mn would ask readers where their favorite farmer’s market is.

The result was also likely inevitable: The St. Paul Farmer’s Market won, by a handy margin:

2012 Best Farmer's Market

Certainly, we can theorize as to the reasons:
St. Paul Farmer's Market

  • It’s one of the few markets in the Twin Cities that runs year-round, including Saturday Winter Markets and special events during the chill, dark months, ranging from the Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving Turkey Distribution Event, to the Beer Dabbler beer event during the St. Paul Winter Carnival. While Mill City also runs in winter, they run only one Saturday a month during winter, and retreat into the Mill City Museum next door. Not St. Paul! There, you can get your eggs, cheese, meats and other agricultural items not relying on sun and tillable soil every Saturday.
  • The St. Paul Farmer’s Market has strict requirements as to merchandise origin. They are, in fact, quite strict about vendors also being the producers — no middlemen allowed. Products must be local, as well — which relates, obviously, to the ban on middlemen.
  • The number of things you can buy and eat while browsing. Some go for the doughnuts and the bagel sandwiches, but you can also find fried rice, cheddar brats, corn roast (seasonal), soup and a number of other brunchable items to power your shopping experience. (Pro tip: Don’t miss the fresh spring rolls. They’re fantastic.)
  • It’s everywhere. The St. Paul Grower’s Association runs 20 different sites on different days of the week, all over the metro. While most satellite locations are smaller than the main site for the Saturday/Sunday markets in St. Paul, they are also considerably closer to many buyers — Savage to St. Paul is a bit of a hike, for instance. So they bring rural bounty to many neighborhoods, and provide a place for neighbors to shop together.

Now, sure, the main market in St. Paul has its challenges as a market. Between light-rail construction and general St. Paul hijinks, parking and crossing streets to get to the market can be an adventure. Lost suburbanites in large minivans and SUVs (and with double-wide strollers in a market not suited to much more than single-wide anything) create peril to innocents, strolling and munching on their fresh spring rolls. However, it is truly a melting pot, ranging from hippies selling sheep cheese made in caves (really) to Hmong flower farmers growing on rented plots throughout the metro as side jobs, all selling to people across a full range — urban dwellers, SNAP recipients using farmer’s market vouchers, and folks of various ethnicities. The market even offers access to University of Minnesota Master Gardeners, and activities for young children to teach them about farming and nutrition. (Another pro tip: St. Paul, in high season, is terrifying for young children in strollers or wagons, due to the crowd and the amazing view they’ll have primarily of people’s butts.)

In the survey, we also saw a good write-in run for another urban market — the Midtown Farmer’s Market. This weekend market, near the Midtown light-rail stop, is a recent addition to the local farmer’s market scene, but also boasts a strong ethnic ingredient selection and a true slice of the urban Twin Cities.

In summary: Vegetables. Eat ’em. Get them from your local farmer’s market. And tell us: Where is your favorite market, and why?

About Julie Kosbab

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005, and is no longer lonely in that calling. A past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association, she has 2 children and a garage full of bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations, or read her (seldom updated) blog at Ride Boldly!