Meet the market // To hail and back

Being city slickers, those of us who aren’t gardeners obsess about Mother Nature when planning a picnic or — welcome addition this year! — we have Twins tickets.

But when you run a Farmers Market, you see how much weather’s vagaries affect your hopes, dreams and financial well being.

One early July morning, I hit the market site to help for set-up, making my usual rounds of the vendors as they unloaded their produce from their trucks and vans. I headed toward the back corner of our site, where our garlic specialists, Scott and Deanna from Swede Lake Farms, unaload heaping baskets of garlic bulbs that still fly their long, woody stalks.

Both were as white as a sheet — and that’s saying something, because these farmers are deeply tanned. Scott said quietly that their Watertown farm in western Hennepin County been hit by a monster hailstorm. “It busted out the windows in my truck,” he reported, before getting to the item that could not be repaired: “It exploded our tomato plants.”

Garlic may be Swede Lake’s calling card, but tomatoes represent big money at the back end of the season. Shell-shocked, the couple was talking about having to ditch the rest of the market season: even the garlic was in danger, as it had to be harvested from waterlogged fields or it would rot.

One of the lures of a farmers market is you get to know the grower, and when you run a farmers market, vendors become members of your once-a-week family. That hailstorm felt like a gut punch to us all, like one of our number had been diagnosed with a serious illness. Word rippled through our little village, and the conversation quickly shifted from “I’m sorry” to “What can we do?”

As it turned out, instead of bringing hot dish to the hospital, they needed hands on the farm, to help haul in the threatened garlic and weed the surviving plots that would otherwise be neglected due to hail triage. Soon, a garlic mission was being organized; Erica from Foxy Falafel offered to set up her stand for volunteers willing to pick on a Tuesday night, word went out to our followers on Twitter, Facebook and our email lists, and the online food journal The Heavy Table broadcast the call for action.

Two of our board members who already work for nothing so many hours on the market, Lee and Natalie, reported to Watertown for duty with other volunteers. They spent a few hot hours in the field, helping weed and get the garlic from field to curing barn. As a board, we decided to return the stall fee Swede Lake had already paid this year; because we weren’t sure Scott and Deanna would accept that particular largesse, we labeled the check “Hail Relief Fund.” There were mutual tears when our market manager John handed Deanna the check, and hearing the story later, there were almost more.

Even our sincerest efforts won’t bring those high-value tomatoes back, and Scott and Deanna must still deal with the ice storm’s financial fallout. But where they once thought they’d be gone from the market, they’ve come back each week, bearing baskets of their fiery Armenian garlic, and the huge roasting varieties, some of which were lovingly plucked from Mother Nature’s battleground by customers turned friends.

Kingfield Farmers Market
The market runs every Sunday through October, 8:30 a.m.–1 p.m. at 43rd & Nicollet. It features locally grown food, music and more. For more information, visit or e-mail John at [email protected]