cover story

June 9, 2011 |

From farm to market


Don't be the little piggy that stayed home


By Amber Williams


Cheyanne Pfaff, 14, of Indianola, sells hand-made, beaded AZ's Creations jewelry at the Southridge Farmers' Market to raise money so she can go with her class on a trip to Washington D.C. this summer.

America's first farmers' market, surprisingly, was not in the Heartland but rather, in Los Angeles, Calif., during the Great Depression in 1934. Naturally, it was a great way for local producers to get much needed cash - and, in turn, for buyers to get a fair deal on quality items - during bleak economic times that seem all too familiar today.

Although they've never really lost their luster, perhaps our dipping economy can be attributed to the newfound appreciation for local farmers' markets - that and the green and healthy living initiatives that have spawned from the collective waning of both our natural resources and overall health habits.

While some shop local markets for such noble reasons, others may be browsing for new ideas, as many vendors provide a plethora of creative innovations. Regardless of one's personal reasons for attending the farmers' market, none can deny the simple observation that each one offers something for all interests: face paintings and homemade sweets for the kids; jewelry and garments for the ladies; meats, spices and salsas for the chef or master griller; and even some live entertainment in the shade for the weary.

In Des Moines, "the king" of them all offers those things and more at the Downtown Farmers' Market, which everybody knows takes over the historic Court Avenue District every Saturday with live music, amazing food and a variety of vendors. It's been there since the early '70s and gets better and more popular every year, no doubt about it.

And while my straw hat is off to the city's most popular farmers' market event, this story is about others: the newcomers, the quaint and the often forgotten or bypassed markets surrounding the metro. There are lots of them - enough for almost every day of the week. Armed with a camera and a comfortable pair of shoes, I was privileged to be able to visit a few. I don't know what is more awesome at these events, the people or their wares - which are showcased in the following pages.




In the last couple of years, some convenient alternatives have emerged to accommodate those farmers' market goers and vendors who either can't make it downtown or prefer not to. Both West Glen and Uptown Ankeny have unique offerings all their own. On a rainy Saturday morning on May 28, I was able to visit the West Glen Farmers' Market.


West Glen

In West Des Moines, the West Glen Town Center has proven to be a classy alternative to the illustrious downtown king. Still in its infancy, the West Glen neighborhood has seen a lot of growth and a lot of traffic, drawing patrons to its shopping district from all over the western suburbs and rural areas. The district itself is only six years old, and the farmers' market is only three, according to Market Manager Jodi Runge.

" We started this so we could draw public awareness of our location," said Runge. "A lot of people just don't want to drive downtown. We're not trying to compete with downtown - it's a great established market, and I love that market, but this is a nice alternative."

The West Glen Farmers' Market stretches its arms around the Avenue of the Arts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday until Aug. 6, which starts an hour earlier this year in order to finish up before the afternoon heat sets in, Runge said.

" Being a new market, we're still growing and learning," she said.

Runge said the market averages about 40 vendors every week with food offerings ranging from Grass Fed Beef burgers by Morrell Natural Meats, of Adel, to Amish ice cream from Yoder's Restaurant, and other vendors such as art jewelry by Midknight Kat Productions and Aevum Jewelled Creations, as well as landscapers, bread bakers and wine makers galore.

" I want farmer-grown produce. Because farmers' markets are designed to promote locally-grown products, I feel it takes away from the farmers' market if you buy out of state. I think it's important to try to keep funds in Iowa."

West Glen also offers free vendor space for non-profits, and anyone with entertaining talents can perform for free, too, Runge said.


Uptown Ankeny

If you're a real farmers' market connoisseur, you might want to make a stop to the Farmers' Market Jubilee in Ankeny on June 25. I haven't been able to make this one yet, but I'll be sure to check out the Jubilee event, which promises to be quite a party.

The Uptown Ankeny Association will have its last scheduled farmers' market from 8 a.m. to noon on June 11 before finishing up with the big event June 25. The Uptown Ankeny Farmer's Market vendors provide a wide variety of products that hold their own against all others. In the past, the market has seen everything from fresh seasonal produce, homemade baked goods, specialty food items, BBQ cooked on-site, perennial plants, handmade crafts and more.

The market is held at the corner of S.W. Third and Maple Streets in Uptown Ankeny. Each week brings different vendors and products, which change depending on the seasonal produce available and new items.


SUNDAY is a day of rest in the Greater Des Moines area.





Fourteen-year-old Cheyanne Pfaff, of Indianola, spent the entire year making jewelry, covering the living room floor "with little, pokey things that hurt to step on," according to her dad. Now she has more than 5,000 pieces of beaded jewelry - necklaces, anklets, bracelets and earrings - that illuminate with the sun's glow hanging from their racks at the Southridge Farmers' Market.

" I'm trying to raise money for a class trip to Washington, D.C." Smart sales pitch.

She's not the only local artist at this market, though. Elizabeth May pedals her acrylic paintings as well as journals she makes out of recycled cake mix boxes along with her friend Miriam Eiskant, of Mommy's Girlie Girl Boutique, who makes hair accessories.

Of course, this market has more than just local art. Lee Garden and Scavo Market are on hand with fresh produce, Grandma Mary challenges guests to try her "Fire in the Hole" salsa, and Tim Nelson, with the Kiowa House of Herbs of Searsboro, offers a host of herbal knowledge.





Naima Nicholson, of Granger, and Nilsa Knievel, of Iowa City, offered free tastings from 2 Saints Winery at the West Glen Farmers' Market.

The Johnston Farmers' Market keeps true to its locals. Most of its shoppers and its vendors are local to Johnston, and nearly all of them are from the Greater Des Moines Area. But just because they're local, doesn't mean they're not authentic. The range of wares found at the City Hall parking lot location is astounding. Nowhere else will you find miniature couches that are actually door stops in disguise and "weldamajigs," art made from recycled metals.

" Half the fun is the hunt," said Weldamajigs by Ree artist Marie Doyle to two visitors from Webster City.

And for local quilters Donna Bristow and Christy Comwell, of 2 of a Kind Quilts and More, half the fun is the work and the reactions they get from browsers. I know I was a tad taken aback when I first spotted the tiny sofa door stops.

" We spent the entire winter making lap quilts, table runners, basket liners and door stops… and the corn cob jelly," said Bristow holding up a small mason jar.

Kathy Gocke, of Foggy Bottoms Farm from Bondurant, was also under a tent selling a variety of homemade jams and jellies. And across the aisle, Ben Stensrud and Alex Ewing promoted the best smelling (and probably best tasting) dog treats a farmers' market has to offer at the Three Dog Bakery stand. It's a little discouraging to know that some people's dogs eat better than I do!

" This market is special because it's sponsored by the Lions Club, and it's considered a service project," said market manager Judy Anderson. "All of the proceeds benefit the Residential Tree Program, which has led to thousands of trees being planted throughout the city - good, quality trees."




Wednesday offers a farmers' market for eastsiders, westsiders and inner city dwellers alike. Each market is unique, so venturing off to visit a different one every week throughout the summer could be fun and enlightening.



One of Des Moines' longest running farmers' markets has been taking over an old church parking lot in the Drake neighborhood for years, bringing the heart of the country to Dawg Town with fresh Iowa-grown fruits and vegetables, handmade crafts, jellies and jams, eggs, plants, baked goods and prepared foods to take home or enjoy at the market.

This one offers more for the kids to do than most with a Veggie Toss game, balloon animals and face painting. Among the 20 vendors, there's bound to be something of interest to everyone in the family, though.

For example, Skip Brookshire boasts an interesting craft that no other farmers' market offers. She makes incents and thermal gel beads from her Des Moines home. She's been doing it for years, and, no, she will not tell you how she does it. But the incents come in a variety of classic and original aromas including weed, butterfly kisses and monkey fart. Get a wiff.

Entertainment is provided weekly, as well as educational and informational offerings from local non-profit organizations. The market also has a health tent, where free blood pressure and blood sugar tests will be available every week.

Four Mile

With only three years in operation, this east side market has had its challenges. Between the major road construction that's been going on throughout last year and the flooding the year before, the market is resilient… and perhaps even too stubborn to quit. Some years have drawn 18-25 vendors and as many as 500 guests, while other times it brings about a dozen vendors, according to supervisor of programming for Des Moines Parks and Recreation Barb Baker.

However, this summer is a new opportunity for the east side market, as the road construction is slated for completion prior to the market's opening day Wednesday, July 6. It will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday till Aug. 10. Stop by and check out the assortment of organic food, crafts, fruits, vegetables and local specialties.



Located on the town triangle, the Waukee Farmers' Market offers an alternative to vendors who are kept out of other markets with a "homegrown only" policy. That's why Tupperware touters Krista Tolley, of Indianola, and Bethany Hines, of Mitchellville, set up their stand in Waukee.

" A lot of the farmers' markets won't let us in, because we're not homegrown, but the cool thing is, Tupperware is what keeps all those fruits and veggies fresh longer," Tolley said.

The Tupperware table was in familiar company with Jennifer Lynch and Kati Anderson at the Avon booth.

But Waukee offers plenty of original and organic options, as well, from Raccoon Forks Farm, of Redfield, which offers farm fresh eggs, spinach and more, Pete's two-bite pies made with fresh ingredients by Janet Nelson and Frank Marsh's handmade traditional wooden toys.

If the food and beverage vendors aren't appetizing enough, there are also two local bars and a couple eateries located at the triangle, as well.




Thursdays bring two of Des Moines' oldest and favorite farmers' market traditions to the Highland Park and Valley Junction neighborhoods, but they are contrastingly different.


Highland Park

Picture the first farmers' market of 1934, with simple folks trading and bartering and enjoying a quiet afternoon. The Highland Park Farmers' Market is perhaps the closest thing to it in Des Moines.

Three members of the Highland Park Business Club started the Highland Park Farmers' Market in 1999, and it started with nine vendors on opening day. Like many of the products sold there, the market has grown and prospered ever since.
Now with an average of 40 vendors a week, the Highland Park Farmers' Market is located in the parking lot of the Highland Park Lutheran Church after a city street project put the market on a three-year hiatus in 2002. The market has bounced back auspiciously.

I didn't get to visit this one yet, but you can be sure it's on my to-do list as a former Highland Park resident. (I lived there during its hiatus period.)


Valley Junction

On the other hand, if you like a lot of activity and excitement that is comparative to the famous Downtown Farmers' Market with live music at every block, a concert series, food, crafts, beer and more, then head to Valley Junction. I did, as it's only blocks away from the Cityview office, making it a tantalizing Happy Hour alternative.

These market goers might first be discouraged by the tricky parking, because this is a well-attended event. That's why organizers offer free parking and a free shuttle service from 4 to 9 p.m. at Hillside Elementary School, 713 8th St., in West Des Moines. The first 200 vehicles each night receive a $5 voucher that can be cashed in during the event at street vendors and participating district merchants. A monthly drawing is held for a merchant donated prize and a season-ending $500 Valley Junction gift certificate. Who doesn't like free stuff?

And when it comes to stuff, this market has a surplus with more than 100 weekly vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods, plants and flowers, arts and crafts and prepared foods from 4 to 8 p.m., including several Iowa wineries offering free tastings, numerous grills filling the air with the aroma of a hearty supper and craft vendors that catch the eye and often your dollar.

But maybe you're not there to shop? Valley Junction Farmers' Market is a great place just to mingle and people-watch with some of the friendliest people in central Iowa.

Or if music is your lure, you'll be satisfied at every corner on Fifth Street - literally. I talked to a barber who plays a mean fiddle and two guys - both named Kyle - rockin' the acoustic guitar and banjo, among other performers. But the big event starts just before 6 p.m. with a local headliner on stage at Railroad Park, playing till 8:30 p.m. in the beer garden.

My only advice: get there early, bring some cash and wear comfortable shoes.


FRIDAY is a day of rest… or rather, a time to digest. After a week of grazing the metro farmers' markets, I'm almost relieved to take Friday off and let my tummy settle. At least I can rest assured nearly every ounce of food I consumed was organically grown by the farmers and gardeners I proudly call my friends and neighbors. It's never been more clear to me why our state's motto is, "A Place to Grow."

Life is good. CV



Area farmers' market times and locations


West Glen

Dates: May 21-Aug. 6

Time: Every Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (rain or shine)

Location: Between Ginos and Caribou Coffee.

Contact: Jodi Runge at 564-7508.

Uptown Ankeny

Dates: June 11 and 25

Time: 8 a.m. to noon

Location: S.W. Third St. and Maple St.

Contact: http://www.uptownankeny.org



Dates: May 30-July 25

Time: Mondays from 4-7 p.m.

Location: Southridge mall parking lot (S.E. 14th St. and Army Post Road)

Contact: Teresa Holland at 287-3881



Dates: May-September

Time: Every Tuesday from 3-7 p.m.

Location: City Hall parking lot (N.W. 62nd St. and Merle Hay Road)

Contact: Judy Anderson at 278-0939 or andrsnjudy@mchsi.com


Drake Neighborhood

Dates: June 1-September

Time: Every Wednesday from 4-7 p.m.

Location: First Christian Church parking lot (25th St. and University Ave.)

Contact: Rose Scott at rosescott66@yahoo.com


Four Mile

Dates: July 1-Sept. 16

Time: Every Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m.

Location: Community Center (3711 Easton Boulevard)

Contact: Barb Baker at 248-1480



Dates: June 1-Sept. 28

Time: Every Wednesday from 4-7 p.m.

Location: Town triangle district

Contact: Lyn Schafer at 987-1552


Highland Park

Dates: June 2-Oct. 9

Time: Every Thursday from 4-7 p.m.

Location: Along sidewalk at 6th and Euclid Avenues

Contact: Norm Gilber at 288-1735 or 991-5267


Valley Junction

Dates: May-Sept. 29

Time: Every Thursday from 4-8 p.m. with a concert at Railroad Park from 5:30 - 8:30 p.m.

Location: Along 5th Street

Contact: http://www.valleyjunction.com