John Bennett and Eileen Johnson, the husband-and-wife duo that run Bennett’s Farm, consider the farm not only the place where they work, but also the place they fell in love — all because of a particular insect.
As Eileen was researching the control of the Colorado potato beetle for the United States Department of Agriculture nearly 10 years ago, she ended up on John’s farm because it was a test site. Needless to say, the flowers weren’t the only thing budding that spring. As they’ve been farming together since then, John’s vegetable farm welcomed flowers when Eileen joined the farm.
John’s family has a long history at the farmers’ market as his parents brought their own produce there in the early ’60s, when the market was less retail-oriented and the farmers sold mostly to wholesalers. When the market demand changed, so did John’s farm. As people have more disposable income throughout the years, they don’t mind spending money for what they call “pretty things.” In response to this trend, John and Eileen are looking to grow less to consume, and to grow more to look at. “When you sell flowers, 99 percent people leave with a smile, and they’re usually happier after the transaction,” said Eileen.
Eileen notes the most satisfying part of farming is seeing the fruits of one’s labor in the different seasons. She admits it can be just as frustrating as it is enjoyable, but concludes, “It’s good for your psyche, the pace is much different than any other paid job.”
The Bennetts grow mostly tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and flowers at their Lake Pepin farm. Their emphasis is specialty vegetables, such as heirloom tomatoes and spaghetti squash.
Eileen explained the main differences between an heirloom tomato and a hybrid tomato (which is the unnaturally round and red one you find at a supermarket). One thing you get with heirloom tomatoes that you don’t with supermarket tomatoes is diversity in both color and taste. The Bennett’s tomato variety spans from Black Krim to Yellow Pear. The Bennetts also specialize in the tomato’s spaghetti-sauce companions, basil and parsley. The varieties of basil include sweet, spicy, lemon, Thai and holy.
The future has many exciting things in store for Bennett’s Farm, including more woody ornamentals — a trend which Eileen noted there is an increased demand for. Being situated only a few miles from Lake Pepin, the farm is in a unique area in order to grow wooded ornamentals.
The Bennetts are encouraged by the increased traffic at the farmers markets in recent years. “I’m encouraged by that, but it’s really small,” she said. “I see it growing, but very slowly.”
These next few weeks you’ll be able to find mostly flowers at the Bennett’s booth at the market, especially near mid-June. (Don’t forget to stop by Bennett’s Farm to get your garden growing — a large variety of herbs and garden plants are available.)
Zoie Glass owns the Mill City Farmers Market vendor Lucille’s Kitchen Garden — www.lucilleskitchengarden.com.
FYI: Mill City Farmers Market
The Mill City Farmers Market, which specializes in local, sustainable and organic foods, opens for its fourth season on Saturday, May 9.
Opening day activities include a chef demonstration featuring a special Breakfast for Mom menu. There will be special sale of the Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook for $25, too.
Other events include green travel information from Renewing the Countryside, music by Karen Thomas and Steve Haskin and skits by Spark Theater. There will also be kids’ planting activities and a canvas bag give-away from Target, among other activities.
The market features a variety of baked goods, meats, dairy products, artisan crafts and plants. New vendors for the 2009 season include:
Aunt Else’s Aebleskiver (made to order Danish pastries)
Dragonfly Gardens (native garden plants)
French Nugget (all-natural dark chocolate snacks)
Gold Finch Flower Farm (uniquely cut flowers)
Gardens of Eagan (kale, melons and sweet corn)
Local D’Lish (North Loop local foods retailer)
Love Tree Farm (artisan sheep’s, cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses)
Sweet Cheeks Baby Food (organic baby food)
Sweet Orchard (apples)
The market is open Saturdays, 8 a.m.–1 p.m. at Chicago and 2nd Street South (between the Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum.)
For more information, visit www.millcityfarmersmarket.org