Des Moines’ weekly food fair
By Dave DeValois
Farm News staff writer
DES MOINES – The Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market is a feast for the eyes every bit as much as it for one’s palate.
Each Saturday morning from May through October, thousands of people turn out to browse, shop and sample from nearly 200 vendors offering everything imaginable that is farm fresh, local and delicious.
Here there will be found fruits and vegetables, maple-cured bacon and breakfast burritos that attract a line nearly a block long.
There are also vendors selling non-food items like cutlery, blankets, flowers, artwork and handcrafted silver.
But make no mistake, fresh vegetables are the stars of the show, with vendors offering fresh-picked produce in every size, shape and color imaginable.
These offerings change slightly each week as a new seasonal crop is harvested, cleaned and trucked into the downtown market, which stretches over four city blocks and attracts up to 20,000 people between 7 a.m. and noon.
Jessica and Johanna Yang, of Pella, are fixtures at the farmers market, working at their parents’ fresh vegetable stand – Yang’s Homemade Produce.
The sisters, who are both Iowa State University students, have been selling the produce that their parents pick, clean and load since their early teen years. Their parents, Bla and Vang Yang, pick and clean vegetables all day Friday.
The whole family leaves Pella at 4 a.m. each Saturday to prepare for the Des Moines market.
Growing and selling produce brings the family back to its agrarian roots.
“When my parents lived in Thailand and Laos, their passion was farming,” Johanna Yang said.
A few blocks down the road, Mike Pettit, owner of Mike’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Co., garners attention not only for his ice cream, but also how he produces it.
Pettit, of Norwalk, makes his ice cream the old-fashioned way, by cranking the ice cream freezer. But he relies on an old-fashioned machine to provide the horsepower.
Pettit uses a freestanding, 3 horepower John Deere “hit and miss” that came from his grandfather’s farm. The John Deere engine was used starting in the late 1920s to pump water, shell corn and power the grain elevator.
Pettit explained that the engine is called a hit and miss, because it cranks for three cycles and then misses, emitting a small plume of white smoke.
Pettit started his sideline business six years ago. “I thoroughly enjoy doing this. A lot of people have forgotten what homemade ice cream really is,” he said. “This cream is the real deal.”
Pettit sets up the ice cream shop about half of the season in downtown Des Moines, to coincide with the warmest weather, and also works the Clay County Fair each year. He makes all of the ice cream he sells on the spot and can crank out 10 gallons at a time.
On a good Saturday, he’ll sell about 20 gallons of ice cream. While he’s more than willing to share the story of his ice-cream machine and a friendly smile, he’s not about to share his ice cream recipe. (A reporter’s request for the recipe elicited a hearty laugh.)
Honey people, it turns out, are a little bit sweeter on the notion of sharing recipes. Jennifer and Lawrence Soder, of St. Charles, in Warren County, operate Soder Apiaries. They sell honey products, as well as fresh produce. Lawrence Soder compares the experience of getting ready for the downtown market to a band preparing for a rock concert.
“You get all geared up through the week. You get set up. Then, the people come and it’s over,” he said. The day begins at 3 a.m. for Lawrence each Saturday of the farmers market and it takes 15 to 18 hours during the week to get the honey products ready.
Jennifer Soder agrees with her husband’s comparison. “This is an event. There are lots of people. There are lots of things to do. There are lots of things to eat. This is great,” she said.
In spite of all of the work involved, the Soders enjoy the farmers markets enough that they hope to make it a full-time business someday for both of them.
Jennifer Soder works full time with the apiary and growing two acres of produce, which she also sells at the downtown market.
Larry Soder works as a truck driver for his main job, but he hopes that will change within six to seven years. “I hope to retire doing this,” he said.
Jennifer Soder said her favorite honey recipe is for honey whole wheat bread.
“You basically just substitute honey for sugar,” she said. While she’s had many customers request the bread at the market, Soder said she doesn’t have time in the growing season to bake bread.
Larry Soder’s favorite recipe is a bit simpler. He likes honey lemonade, which is available at the farmers market.
Honey wheat bread
2 cups milk
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup oil
2 packages dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
5 to 7 cups whole wheat flour
Warm milk. Add honey, salt and oil. Dissolve yeast in warm water and add to milk mixture. Stir until smooth.
Add flour in three parts, beating well after each addition until a stiff dough is formed. Turn onto lightly floured board.
Knead until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning once to coat. Cover and let rise about 30 minutes.
Bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.
8 cups water
1 cup honey
1 cup lemon juice or 4 medium lemons
Add water to lemon juice and honey. Mix thoroughly.
Honey peanut brittle
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups roasted peanuts
Put sugar, honey, salt and water in saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Cook to 300 degrees on candy thermometer. Remove from heat.
Add butter and peanuts and stir just enough to mix thoroughly. Pour onto a well-buttered marble slab or baking sheet. Spread into a thin layer. Allow to cool completely and break into pieces.
For more information on the downtown farmers’ market, log on to desmoinesfarmersmarket.com
Contact Dave DeValois at email@example.com.