The great agricultural state of Iowa is the country’s top producer of corn and soybeans, but a growing number of small farmers are adding color to the cornfields by raising fruit and vegetable crops, and their efforts are on glorious display at the 37-year-old Saturday farmer’s market in downtown Des Moines. Oh, and if you want a pulled pork sandwich to go with your fresh produce, they’ve got that, too.
Coming from New York City to Des Moines for a friend’s wedding, I was excited to check out the local food scene, but I never dreamed that their farmer’s market would be much larger than our biggest market, and with a diverse array of ready-to-eat delicacies. My short jaunt to the market became an odyssey of several hours where I tried everything from fresh raspberries to locally brewed root beer to black walnuts.
Carolyn Wallace of Thill Produce sells shelled black walnuts that she collects, shells, and washes herself. When she told me that this may be her last year selling them, I had to buy a bag. At $12.50 for just over a pound it was a good buy, and these nuts are sweeter than any others that I’ve tasted, maybe because of the extra step of washing.
I saw lots of vegetables I didn’t recognize, especially at the stalls of the Hmong, a people from Southeast Asia who settled in the Midwest after fleeing persecution in their home countries. The Hmong sell bright orange “bitter eggplant,” along with gourds, loofah, and bitter melons, which all look to be in the cucumber family, and okra leaves, which are cooked just like spinach. I love discovering new vegetables!
After exploring the market for a while, I had worked up an appetite. I opted for grilled pupusas from Pupusas El Salvador, full of cheese and beans, and a choice of spinach, zucchini, or squash blossoms. Court Avenue Brewing Co.’s local root beer quenched my thirst, and beloved French bakery La Mie satisfied my carb cravings with a chocolate chip scone.
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This being meat country, I had enjoyed steak the night before, so it was easy to walk by Three Blind Pigs’ slow smoked pulled pork sandwiches, StrudlHaus German sausage, and Master Griller’s smoked ribs. Just as I was wondering how Iowans could put away food this rich before noon, I found the awesome medical students from Des Moines University who run Food Is Medicine, a stand where shoppers can ask med students about nutrition, fitness, and healthy eating. Here are three tips from Food is Medicine on preventing disease:
1) Control portions
2) Eat more fruits and vegetables
3) Eat more fish than red meat
On the day I visited the market, there was a football game between the Iowa State Cyclones and the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowans are proud football fans, and the market was a catwalk of football fashion. Here’s a sampling of some of the best looks:
Saturday Des Moines Farmer’s Market
Des Moines Historic Court District
May 5-October 27, 7 am-noon
Louisa Shafia is a cook with a passion for healthy eating. She recently penned Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, a collection of seasonal recipes and eco-friendly advice on food. To watch her cooking videos, see her recipes, and find out about her cooking classes, go to lucidfood.com.