DES MOINES, Iowa – There was no shortage of Christmas gift ideas at the Winter Farmers’ Market in Downtown Des Moines last Friday and Saturday.
There was an abundance of Iowa-grown produce, even this late into the year. It’s not quite the same as the summer produce, but Melissa Dunham of Grinnell Heritage Farm northeast of Grinnell says it’s by no means any less fresh.
“With the summer produce, you’re going to see a lot more greens,” she explains. “Due to the early frost this year, and the cold temperatures, we don’t have as many of those. Fortunately, we have a walk-in cooler, so we’re able to store a lot of this stuff, so it’s kind of a misnomer, I guess, that you can’t have Iowa grown-produce during the winter months.”
Preservation is the name of the game; Shutt’s Garden Center operator Garon Shutt from St. Marys, south of Des Moines, uses five greenhouses to extend his growing season, beyond what he’s able to grow on four acres of produce in the summer. He’s still picking fresh tomatoes, even in December, and has a tip for keeping produce from earlier in the season fresh.
“I have a cooler, and I keep it at 35 degrees,” he explains. “And that’s the, you know, you need to keep it as close to 32 degrees as you can, so that it won’t deteriorate.”
Attendance at the final winter farmer’s market is in part a testament to the popularity of local produce in Iowan kitchens. Herb farmer Tim Engman with Pickle Creek Herbal in Brighton, says there’s more than one advantage to buying local.
“The advantage, I think , is that for one, you know where it was grown,” Engman says. “And we’re certified organic, and all the herbs we grow are organic. So, you know what is and what has not been added to them. Plus, they’re fairly fresh. I mean, we only sell the stuff that we just raised this year. Because then next year, we raise all new stuff again, where if you go to the grocery store, you really don’t know how long it’s been sitting on the shelf.”
There are so many farmers’ markets across the state that the Iowa Department of Agriculture developed a smartphone app to keep track of them all, but you won’t find any in Des Moines until early May of next year.
To hear more about the winter farmers’ market in Des Moines, click the audio player above this story.