MINNEAPOLIS - The Twin Cities has witnessed an explosion of Farmers' Markets across the Metro area. It seems like the suburbs are in a race to catch up to the city markets as they prove popular to the freshness and price conscious.
New farmers' markets, open at least once a week, are appearing in suburbs like Plymouth. At least one vendor told Kare 11 News, she fears there may soon be too many markets, too many for the available local suppliers and vendors to service. Nonetheless, economic realities have re-popularized the old concept of direct-market buying of food.
A simple price comparison of the Minneapolis Farmers' Market with area supermarkets showed the direct vendors cheaper for almost all produce (some fresh fruit like raspberries were exceptions). Cauliflower heads, for example, selling at the Nicollet Mall Farmers' Market for $2.00 were $2.99 at supermarkets. Vine-on tomatoes cost up to $2.99 a pound at the big retail outlets, but only about $1.40 a pound at the Farmers' Market.
Most dramatic was the differential in the pricing of cucumbers. Priced at up to $.99 each at supermarkets, the small vendors offered a "tray" of slightly smaller cukes (about a dozen in a tray) for $2.00. Also, for $5.00, the vendor offered three trays of the home grown cucumbers.
Fresh flowers, grown locally, were another remarkable buy. It was five dollars at the Farmers' Market for a large bouquet of colorful blooms that would have cost two and three times that much at a supermarket.
"Yes, you can save money at the Minneapolis Farmers' Market," said Sandy Hill, Communications Director for the Lyndale Avenue Market behind the Basilica of Saint Mary. "Consumable produce that comes in is priced to sell. They (the vendors) do not want to hold onto it. They want it out to the consumer because it was just picked."
Even professional chefs, like Raul Gutierrez of Big Bowl Restaurants, shops the Farmers' Market two or three times a week. "Well, the freshness and you got a very good deal, pricewise. Sometimes you pay less here and the quality, the freshness, it is a lot better than what we get at other retails."
Regular shopper Randy Egan of Minneapolis likes both the prices and the freshness, but there is something else he finds attractive. "All of the ethnic diversity. I enjoy that very much."
In fact, like the foods and flowers, the vendors and the customers come in all colors. "You know, there's the Caucasian who looks more for the carrots, broccoli or the potatoes," says vendor Kazoua Yang. "Then, we have our African-American customers who look more for greens and they store them for the winter. So, they go home and cook big batches and then they freeze 'em."
Catering to their diverse clientele has resulted in a range of vegetables from the familiar to the exotic at very low price points. Most of the vendors manning the booths are the growers themselves. It is a major plus, according to Hill.
"You know you can talk to the grower who produced this vegetable or fruit you are buying to find out how they grew it. You have a one-on-one. You start a relationship with these growers and that is what the customers love about coming here," said Hill.
Most transactions are in cash, but the Lyndale location recently added the capability to accept debit cards for electronic purchases.
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