Alicia Morhart

Alicia Morhart has been the zucchini bake-off champion two years running. Sample the wares of Market Bakers Aug. 10 and vote for the 2019 champion.

The first full week of August marks both state and national

proclamations celebrating the bounty of small local growers and producers

Once again it has leap-frogged from early spring to mid-summer in a blink of an eye. Three months ago, some of us were still making a fire at night to take the edge off the cold; the hardwoods were bare and the hayfields just beginning to green up.

Now the forests are lush and the fields are full of the finest produce the Northwoods has to offer… which means it’s that time again – National Farmers’ Market Week.

In addition to celebrating the bounty of local farms, the Grand Rapids Farmers’ Market will also be holding its third annual zucchini bake-off on Saturday, Aug. 10 and giving away a loaded gift basket of locally produced goodies.

The gal to beat is Alicia Morhart – she has won the last two years running. Customers will get to taste-test 200 plus samples from market vendors and make the final vote to see who will be champion.

It’s also Minnesota Farmers’ Market Week, officially proclaimed by Governor Tim Walz at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market this Sunday. As a state rated as the No. 5 biggest producer of agricultural products in the country, Ag is both big business and small business in Minnesota.

Crop failure, weeds, crazy weather, keeping animals safe and healthy, equipment that breaks down, buildings constantly in need of upkeep... so much can go wrong (and it does). Regardless of hardship, though, you’ll still find smiling faces every Wednesday and Saturday morning at the Grand Rapids Farmers’ Market.

So how does an overworked, underpaid Market vendor, up since 3 or 4 in the morning do it?

Pride. They harness a tenacious dedication to home-grown, home-baked, hand-planted, hand-cut and hand-crafted food and goods. They know that their products are something worth working hard for, and they know that come hell or high water (most seasons are usually a combination of both), they’ll be striving to make next year even bigger and better.

Customers can see it as well. Whether it’s the beautiful blooms of gladiolus or sunflowers, delicious home-baked bread, pies, pastries and cookies, ripe juicy tomatoes of every color and size or rich free-range eggs, you too would feel proud standing behind products knowing you helped bring them to life.

Bringing the market itself to life is yet another challenge. Coordinating promotions, printing signs, organizing set-up and break-down, making sure credit card and EBT sales work smoothly, lining up sampling, demonstrations and kids activities – in short, the creation of a vibrant marketplace - takes a collaboration of vendors, volunteers, staff and community partners.

A farmers’ market is a challenging business model: You’re out in the elements, open for five hours twice a week, exclusively selling goods grown or made within 50 miles of town. In a world where we’ve come to expect anything we want at any time we want it, the seasonality and unpredictability of local food doesn’t always fit into our habits as consumers.

Perhaps that challenge is what makes farmers’ markets so endearing. You can get strawberries any time you want at the store, but you can only get local berries, so tender that you couldn’t ship them more than 50 miles if you wanted to, for a limited time. You have to wait for local sweet corn, and every year after that first juicy bite you remember why it’s worth the wait.

Of course, there are the tomatoes. Do I even need to expound?

There’s also that great sense of community that comes when families interact with the folks that grow and produce their food. That interaction will be pretty fun at the zucchini bake-off.

“It’s that time of year that zucchini are just going crazy,” explains grower and maker Dawn Molaison (the gal behind all those beautiful photos on the Market’s Facebook page, @GRFarmersMarketMN). “You leave one unpicked for two days, and you’ve got a baseball bat!”

With our arsenal of talented bakers, the Market will be offering samples of multiple zucchini breads, bars, cookies and more to be judged by our customer audience from 10 a.m. to noon – or until they run out.

“The baker with the most votes will be given a hand-painted apron proclaiming them master baker of the market... until next year,” Dawn continues.

Market basket drawings will also be held both on Wednesday, Aug. 7 and Saturday the 10th where market-goers can enter to win a basket of goodies from our many vendors the following week.

National Farmers’ Market Week is the gateway to the most abundant time of produce in the Northwoods. Despite the cool early summer weather that slowed the first anticipated fruits and veggies of the growing season, the game is on now!

Local food is something we get to share with our community, our family, our friends and our neighbors. If it’s not coming from your backyard, it’s coming from the Farmers’ Market.

So next Wednesday or Saturday when you’re at the Market, take a moment to tell a vendor how much you appreciate their dedication to local food. You’ll take the edge off our exhaustion, and the smiles will let you know just how much the Market appreciates you, too.

They’ll be waiting for you starting at 8 a.m. right next to Grand Rapids State Bank at the intersection of Pokegama Avenue and Golf Course Road.

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