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Finally, It's Farmers Market Season in Iowa

After a chilly spring and a few April snowflakes, it’s hard to believe that the Des Moines Farmers Market opens this year on May 3.

Iowa farmers and food vendors will set up their booths — snow, rain or shine — on Saturday morning in downtown Des Moines to greet Iowans hungry for a first taste of summer.

While the Des Moines Farmers Market is known as one of the biggest and most vibrant in the nation, Iowa is also home to more than 200 farmers markets throughout the summer, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS). You can find these farmers markets on main streets, in parking lots and on town squares in communities large and small.

Indeed, Iowans are such enthusiastic local foodies that our state ranks fourth nationally in the number of farmers market and second in the number of farmers markets per capita, according to IDALS. That’s quite an accomplishment, considering our relatively small population.

Whenever I see a farmers market on my travels for work, I like to stop and meet the farmers and vendors who are selling their fresh produce, baked goods and jams.
In northwest Iowa, Le Mars hosts a farmers market twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the open-air Olson Cultural Events Center, just a few blocks away from the Blue Bunny Visitors Center, a must-stop for an ice cream lover like me.

In east-central Iowa, Toledo turns its town square into a mini summer festival on Friday afternoons, with a farmers market, local musicians and activities for the kids. I learned its best to arrive early before the kolaches, a local-favorite Czech pastry, sell out.

In southern Iowa, the Clarke County farmers market in Osceola, located on the courthouse square on Tuesdays and Saturdays, offers some of the best tomatoes grown in Iowa. It’s there that I discovered an heirloom tomato variety, known simply “mom’s tomato,” that the locals can’t get enough of.

Last summer, there was even a farmers market here at the Iowa Farm Bureau and FBL Financial headquarters in West Des Moines. Most nearby farmers markets close before I get home from work, so it was nice to buy local veggies, meats and honey just steps away from the office.

I could go on and on about the wonderful farmers markets across Iowa: some with just a couple growers, their garden veggies stacked up on card tables, or the big-city markets with dozens of vendors, working under custom-made canopies displaying their farm logos. Yet all are unique in how they cater to the tastes and culture of their local customers.

As one foodie to another, I challenge you to discover a new-to-you farmers market this summer in Iowa. For example, if you’re a regular at the Ames farmers markets (a town that boasts three farmers markets on Saturday mornings), then drive east on Highway 30 and check out the Colo farmers market at Reed’s Station/Niland’s Café on Thursdays.
 
It’s also worth a drive to the state capital this summer to see the spectacle that is the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market.

A fellow Iowan once told me that she tries to visit the Des Moines market at least three times a year — once in the spring, once in the summer and again the fall — so she can see how the garden bounty changes with the seasons. After all, sweet corn tastes better when you buy it straight from the Iowa farmer who grew it.

SHOP LIKE A FARMERS MARKET PRO
When you visit a farmers market this summer, the Des Moines Farmers Market offers the following tips on its website (www.desmoinesfarmersmarket.com):
  • It pays to get up early. Get to the market when it opens and find the best selection and the freshest produce.
  • Try something new. Buy something you haven't tried before. The farmers market is the perfect place to get educated about food, if you make the effort.
  • Bring a cooler. Put a cooler in your car to keep food items cool when you buy at the market but won't be going home.
  • Ask questions. Make sure to ask questions of the vendors when you see unfamiliar produce. Vendors and farmers love to share their knowledge and can even give you recipes and cooking tips.
  • Dress comfortably. Wear walking shoes and dress appropriately for the weather. The Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market is open rain or shine, so dress accordingly.