This is the season of bountiful harvests here in the Northern Wilds. Our short growing season can be challenging, but when September arrives, gardens, farms and kitchens are often overflowing with fresh, local produce. For those of us that don’t seem to have that green thumb, look no farther than these farmers markets and other local food sources for fresh, delicious, and, dare I say, healthy food to enjoy before the seasons change. Buying local produce and products is not only great for taste, it also supports the local economy with food dollars staying within the community.
Farmers markets are likely the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about where to buy local food. Markets have sprung up across the region, from the year-round Thunder Bay Country Market to seasonal markets in Two Harbors, Finland, Ely, Grand Marais, Duluth, Superior, Nipigon and many other communities. The Thunder Bay Country Market is the largest market in the area, with over 80 vendors throughout the year and a second market day during harvest season. Whether you are looking for just-picked produce, a handmade gift or lunch, the Country Market is likely to have what you need.
The Two Harbors Farmers Market made a move this season to Spokengear/Cedar Coffee Company. Now you can get your Saturday morning latte and locally grown vegetables, sweet treats and handmade soaps, among many other items. In Finland and Grand Marais, the Thursday markets have been going on for four and three years, respectively, starting at 5 p.m. each week. The items available each week varies, but fresh produce and breads are mainstays.
“Each year we strive to increase the number of attendees to help supplement the livelihood of local residents,” said Finland Farmers Market coordinator, Stefan Meyer.
All three of these markets include farmers that also operate CSAs, offering surplus vegetables for sale at the markets.
CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is another option for sourcing local produce. This model allows customers to purchase a share of the farm’s production up front in the spring and then receive weekly deliveries during the growing season. Unlike a farmers market, this provides the farmer a predictable income and the customer a cooler or box of produce each week, even if they miss their local farmers market or don’t have access to a market. Each CSA is run a little differently, which I’ve found after being a member of CSAs in California, Illinois/Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Do your research and talk with the farmer to ensure it is a good fit for you. I have discovered many new vegetables that I was not familiar with before (hello, kohlrabi!) and have experienced both the joys of bumper crop seasons and the disappointment of some crop failures (cut worms are nobody’s best friend). While I dread the end of each CSA season when my fridge is no longer full of locally grown and harvested vegetables, I do look forward to the annual visit to our farm, Round River Farm in Finland, to pick up the last of the harvest, greet our farmers, and see the ground that fed my family for the season. Farming is a labor of love. Most small farms in the U.S. lose money on the business each year, so be sure to thank your farmer for their commitment.
Whether you aren’t quite ready for a CSA share or are interested in buying from a farmers market but can’t get to one, a new model has been started north of the border: an online farmers market. The Superior Seasons Food Market is an online market with twice-weekly delivery services, with fresh produce and products from dozens of local producers. Choose from either two pickup locations (Thunder Bay Country Market in Thunder Bay or Belluz Farm Store in Slate River, ON). If you live or work within the city limits of Thunder Bay, there is delivery (free to businesses with $25+ order or $5 delivery fee to homes with no minimum required).
“We thought it would be…helpful to new or smaller farms needing to scale up more without having to put in the long hours standing at a market or driving around doing deliveries. In other words, growers focus on growing and less time on sales/marketing,” said Kevin Belluz, manager of Superior Seasons Food Market.
If you plan to head north to pick up pumpkins on a Saturday this fall, be sure to check out the Superior Seasons website Tuesday through Thursday that week to put in an order for Saturday pickup at the farm. For Americans, most items can be brought back across the border for personal consumption (note: potatoes and tomatoes are not allowed). The September online market will highlight a wide variety of produce, including carrots, beets, kohlrabi, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, winter squash, pumpkins, cabbage, onions, garlic, kale, Swiss chard, tomatoes, potatoes and more. One of the best ways to support local agriculture is to eat, preserve, and can local items while they are in season. Stock up now and enjoy the bounty throughout the winter.
Even if you haven’t had the chance yet to make the trip to Thunder Bay, you may have eaten some of Superior Seasons’ products at The Angry Trout in Grand Marais. Regular readers of this column have read that many restaurants are striving to serve more local items. Another way to support your local farmer is to encourage your favorite restaurants to “buy local” as much as they can. As a diner, expect menus to change with the seasons and even what is available that week for harvest. Asparagus may be available year-round if it comes from thousands of miles away, but isn’t it better to enjoy it for that short window each spring when it is at its prime, harvested nearby? As customers, we have influence over what is served, so keep that in mind next time you are ordering. With a quick Google search you can see what is in season for the region or simply ask your server if any menu items include locally sourced products. Your local farmer and taste buds will thank you.
Another source for buying local is a food co-op. This member-owned and governed business model often focuses on offering locally grown food as part of its mission. Both the Cook County Whole Foods Co-op in Grand Marais and the Whole Foods Co-op in two Duluth locations strive to buy local first. For example, the Cook County Co-op carries products from 19 Cook County producers and many others within their 400-mile radius that they define as local. Some fresh products are even available in the winter, such as tomatoes from Bay Produce based in Superior, with an indoor operation that partners with the Challenge Center to employ clients with disabilities. Most food co-ops will note where items were sourced or if they were locally grown, so keep an eye out as you shop. Often, I see there are tomatoes available from Bay Produce and others grown in Mexico at my co-op, so I’m sure to grab the ones grown in the region. Sometimes local produce will cost a bit more, but that money will help support another local family and help sustain local agriculture. In 2013, a survey was done in Cook County that found there was $78 million dollars of economic activity related to food but less than one percent was sourced from local producers. Even an increase of several percent would be a significant increase for local farmers, helping to ensure that local farmers can continue.
We all buy local for different reasons: taste, battling climate change, supporting the local economy, or convenience. No matter the reason, during this season of bounty let’s support our local farmers and producers by buying local and savoring the delicious treats while they last. Each market purchase, CSA membership, or restaurant order can get us one step closer to a long-lasting local food system.
Local Farmers Markets
Ely Farmers Market: at Whiteside Park in Ely. Tuesdays 5-7 p.m., through Sept. 26. facebook.com/pg/elymnfarmersmarket
Finland Farmers Market: at Clair Nelson Center, 6866 Kramer Road, Finland. Thursdays 5-6:30 p.m., through Oct. 5. facebook.com/pg/finlandfarmersmarket
Local Food Market in Grand Marais: at Cook County Community Center, 317 W. 5th Street. Thursdays 5-6 p.m., through Oct. 12. facebook.com/thursdaylocalfoodmarket
Thunder Bay Country Market: at CLE Dove Building, 425 Northern Avenue, Thunder Bay. Saturdays 8 a.m.-1 p.m. year round and Wednesdays 3:30-6:30 p.m., through the harvest season. thunderbaycountrymarket.com
Two Harbors Farmers Market: at Spokengear/Cedar Coffee Company, 1130 11th Street, Two Harbors. Saturdays 9 a.m. to noon, through Sept. 30. facebook.com/twoharborsfarmersmarket
By Maren Webb