Minnesota Grown
Farmers markets take root in Lake Country

WRITTEN AND PHOTOGRAPHED By KATHY SELL

THERE’S JUST SOMETHING ABOUT FOOD THAT’S FRESH FROM THE FARM. The Brainerd lakes area is rich with local growers, bakers, and artisans who showcase their fare from spring through fall at a variety of farmers markets.

Buying fresh produce in season provides for a flavorful treat — and it’s not just at its peak in flavor, but in nutrition as well as local food often retains more nutrients.

Alan Cunningham from Natural Spring Farm in Brainerd shares a smile and a variety of produce with customers at his booth last summer.

Unsure what an item is or how to cook it? Strike up a conversation with the vendor. They’re rich with advice and recipe ideas to help you expand your palate. Let the kids pick an item and help them prepare it proudly for the whole family.

Local support helps keep the markets strong. The Cuyuna Range Farmers Market received grant funding to expand their offerings through Crow Wing Energized, a local grassroots health and wellness movement. Future plans for the Crosby market include adding an EBT reader, allowing SNAP funds to be used to make purchases.

The newest farmers market in the area is located in downtown Brainerd. Preparing for its second year, the market is located in the public parking lot next to Sage on Laurel. The market is one more way to showcase the revitalization work underway in downtown Brainerd.

Fresh produce comes to mind naturally, but you’ll find a variety of offerings at any of the markets. Baked goods, chicken, beef, pork, fresh eggs, honey and honey products, artisan crafts, flowers, jams and jellies are all on display most days. If you’re lucky, you may even hear an acoustic musician as you shop.

Hanson’s Honey in Aitkin has been a local farmers market staple. They’ve been selling their local honey for forty years.

Alan Cunningham from Natural Spring Farm is one of many local farmers market regular vendors. Alan has been farming for thirty years, full time for the last ten years. His farm is located seven miles east of Brainerd. He can often be found smiling behind the display of goods from his farm at many of the local markets. His offerings vary with the seasons. Find him in the spring and you’ll see bedding plants and kohlrabi among the mix, and as the growing season progresses, he’ll move into displaying cucumbers, zucchinis, beans, pears, sweet corn, and tomatoes. As fall draws near, favorites include peppers, squash, gourds, and Brussels sprouts. What advice does a seasoned farmer offer to farmers market shoppers? “Buy Brussels sprouts late in the season. To me, Brussels sprouts taste best after they’ve had a frost on them.”

Thorson’s Farm Fresh Produce is a staple at many of the Central Minnesota farmers markets, running stands at eleven farmers markets a week. It’s not just about selling their produce. Eloise Thorson shares, “The Nisswa market is fun; people are visiting from all over.”

Enjoying locally grown food when it’s in season provides fresh flavors that will please your palate. But don’t just stick to the foods you know; try something new, and you may just be surprised. And be sure to bring your family with so you can each discover perfectly ripe, flavorful, and nutritious offerings from local farmers.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture provides resources to help you find locally grown food throughout the state. Order a free Minnesota Grown directory to seek out local produce, meat, berry farms, even Christmas trees. Learn more at minnesotagrown.com.

Find Farmers Markets in your area!