Come fresh and early

Every Saturday since the last week in June until, hopefully, the end of October if weather permits, North Dakota farmers gather in a parking lot downtown across South Broadway from Planet Pizza and Sports on Tap to market their wares. They all have one piece of advice, though, for people intending to shop at the North Prairie Farmers Market, which is officially open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Get there early.

“Especially this season because … things are coming off so late,” said Betsy Trumbauer, who, with her husband, Nick, has sold produce at the market for the last two years. “There’s not a lot of stuff so you have to get here early to get what you want.”

“At the start there were probably 40 people around our booth, about five people deep,” said Kent Opdahl, of Harvey, who has sold at the market for three years.

Customers arrive there before 11 a.m. and stand and wait to get what they want. Within an hour most of all the offerings have been sold.

“I’d say 80 percent of the business is the first hour well, maybe 70 percent. The second hour can still be pretty busy. And then about now we get another breeze through because people are finished eating lunch,” said Nick Trumbauer just before 1 p.m. Nick Trumbauer is manager for the market, taking the reins over from Ilene Baker, who was one of the co-founders.

The Trumbauers moved to North Dakota from Lancaster, Penn., and run a farm “all summer long” in Foxholm. Nick says that the farm doesn’t specialize in any sort of produce, but Betsy disagrees.

“Our specialty is diversity,” she said.

“We grow a lot of heirloom stuff. Basically, heirloom, I think the legal definition is anything older than 20 years, but it basically is that they’re all non-hybrid seeds so it’s all open-pollinated seeds, and they’re typically older breeds, like this is over 100 years old,” Nick said, motioning to a basket full of heirloom red onions.

“It provides a couple different things,” he said. “I think one of the major benefits is that you can get stuff the store doesn’t have and then you can also get it a little bit fresher because it is going to come right from the farm. You know, we pulled those onions on Thursday. We dug our potatoes last night. … And then there’s the economic benefits that the money is staying within your community. The customers who come here really enjoy getting to know the different vendors, too. It gives you that personal contact.”

The North Prairie Farmers Market differs from the one held a few times a week in Minot’s Oak Park in that it doesn’t have the same geographic limits. The boundary for this market is the entire state of North Dakota, whereas the Oak Park market likes to keep it hyperlocal, which prevents people from slightly farther away, like the Opdahls, from selling there.

By the time the Opdahls were interviewed, their popular stand, which has operated for about three years, was nearly empty. Some remaining customers purchased their last squash, which Levi, the son, enthusiastically sold and placed in a bag. Levi also had a lot to say about the family’s 100 chickens and how protective of them their rooster is.

Despite the 100 chickens, though, the market didn’t have fresh eggs up for sale that week, or at least not any for sale after the first hour. This was a sad fact for one customer who went to each booth to ask about their eggs.

“We do a lot of, like, cabbages, broccoli, kale, potatoes. We’ve done lettuce so far this year. We’ll have a lot of zucchini and cucumbers, picklers, carrots, beets,” said Peggy Walter, who has sold her produce, grown in Upham, for five years at the market. She had sold out for the day in just over an hour and was buying lip balm from Richard Rich, who had taken over his wife’s stand at noon.

“She sells fresh, baked, artisan breads. She does San Francisco sourdough, honeywheat sunflower, … cinnamon swirl,” Rich said of his wife’s bread, which had already sold out for the day. He still had candles.

“All of our candles are handmade. She makes them at home,” Rich said of his wife. “This is dye-free, soy wax. So, it’s all organic, everything.”

Rich didn’t have anything of his own for sale that day but says that he makes lamps, pendants, and jewelry out of colored glass that he intends to start selling whenever he’s not working in the oil field. Neither he nor his wife are new to markets.

“She used to do a farmers market out in Sheridan, Wyo., and then we moved out to Bellingham, Wash., and then we moved out here about three years ago,” he said.

And by all accounts the market is growing.

“It’s getting busier every week,” Kent Opdahl said, adding that when he began at the market three years ago it was “half of what it is now.”

“We’re trying to get a little bit of diversity. We did have a musician here earlier. We’re trying to let in a few different things to make it more of an experience,” Nick Trumbauer said. “We’re trying to also keep the ratio of actual farmers to other things as even as we can.”

Dr. Michael Mack of Devils Lake and his fiancee, Dr. Jadian Kirschemann of Mott, are opening their Healthsource Chiropractic clinic on Sept. 9 and used the farmers market as an opportunity to gain a customer base through offering free massages.

Another woman was quietly playing her guitar while sitting in the trunk of her SUV behind her stand.

And the market can continue to get bigger and more diverse as more people learn of it.