Odd Stuff, Straight From the Farmers Booth

One of the most fun thing to do at a farmer’s market for me is to talk up the vendors. They talk about the flavors of one veggie compared to another on their table. They joke and they have stories. They’ll let you know when the lettuce in front of you was picked. They’ll make sure you know that if they don’t have it, they can get it for you.

But, what I really like about chatting up stall vendors is that they know they best ways to eat what they’re selling. They’ve put the time into testing and retesting then tasting and re-tasting their produce to be able to tell you what way it should be prepared. And, let’s be honest. Who better would know how a veggie should be prepared than the people whose livelihood depends on its delicious conclusion? No one, that’s who.

For the most part, these veggies, fruits, and plants are commonly known. But, once in awhile, there are things sold at markets that just do not fit into what you’d normally find.

I took the time to ask some of my co-workers what they’ve found at their local markets and I was surprised at what they said.


An air plant can survive with just mist.

Campus & Project Support Assistant, Hannah K. talked about what she’s found at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market. “The one thing that I saw that was really neat were air plants.”

I had never heard of this before, but Hannah said they’re really cool. They’re a plant that doesn’t need any soil to survive. In fact, all you really need to do is mist them daily in the summer and only once a week in the winter months.

Hannah continued, “The care I was told to do was actually to submerge the plant in water for 10 minutes and then prop it on a paper towel for 4 hours. With the higher humidity in the summer, I’ve found I don’t need to care for it at all and in the winter, I cheat. My air plant is in a container with a lid, so I take the lid off when I think of it and let it breathe. It’s perfectly happy that way.”

Janis R, our HR Manager, told me about her local farmer’s market down in the Florida panhandle. The market was full of cool stuff, but what she liked the most were a pair of earrings made out of beer bottle caps.

When I took a trip to Greece with my beautiful wife in 2014, we made it to a large bi-


The Pepino Melon tastes like a mix between a cantaloupe and cucumber. Yum.

weekly market. Among the normal things (that you’d find in a marketplace along the ocean) like fish, olives, and clams, I found some things that just were so odd I had to take a few pictures of them. Like this almond-shaped melon. I discovered that it turned out to be something called a Pepino Melon and tasted almost exactly like a cantelope.



The Guyabano is also called the Soursop Fruit.

When my family took a trip to Hawaii, we found something that looked like a giant spiky green heart. We heard you were supposed to squeeze the guyabano and mix the juice with other juices to drink. It had white flesh, but was pretty sour. I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone, especially if there were any of the other normally found fruits, like pineapples or kiwis. However, if you’re adventurous…


But, enough of these far-flung farmer’s markets! What about the local markets? Well, one of the things that I thought was pretty odd that has been showing up at many of the weekly markets, is the bison meat. That’s a pretty neat thing to find, I thought. Another would be the hand-collected bags of wild rice. It takes a bunch of work, but they taste delicious.

Also, at the Pine River Market Square, you can grab a homemade goat’s milk soap with many different colors and fragrances.

So, what would you recommend to the snob of the world? What is something that you’ve found at your local market that is heads and tails the most unique thing that no one else has seen?


Unique Farmer’s Market Finds

Farmers markets are becoming more popular than ever. It’s a combination of knowing where your food is coming from, shopping local, and eating healthier that seems to be the reason. However, there’s a large variety of produce being introduced that the majority of shoppers are not really interested in trying.

We know that August is the best time to harvest all types of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos, and other familiar produce. These are the staples of our summer. But, it’s time to try new things, to venture out of the familiar and into the unknown. Here’s a variety of veggies that are unheralded, but full of options. They only need a chance!


Daikon is a milder form of radish

1) Daikon Radish

Milder than a normal radish, you wouldn’t be alone in thinking a Daikon Radish looks like it belongs in the neighborhood of a carrot. Growing to be about a foot long, the daikon radish is a long root that looks like a white carrot. It is available at markets in peak times from mid July through the end of September.

But, just what can you do with it? Some people choose to eat them like carrots, preferring the mild spicy flavor. However, here’s something that is simple to do, but can increase the flavor.

Daikon Radish Chips


Daikon Radish, washed, peeled and sliced thinly (almost see-through)
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Turn over broiler on to 400
Mix the daikon slices with the oil, paprika, and salt & pepper. (Make sure the oil is lightly used. Too much will burn the slices)
Lay slices on a cookie sheet
Cooking time will vary, so watch closely


Endive is pronounced On-Deev

2) Endive

If you’ve got a hankering for a slightly bitter leafy green, this is the veggie for you. Endive is available through August and into September. You can read about the very difficult process of growing and harvesting the finicky green, but the taste is worth it. Try this recipe for Endive Salad and let us know how it went.

Endive Salad w/ Walnuts, Pears, and Gorgonzola (from Simply Recipes)


3 Endive heads, sliced lengthwise, then crosswise in 1/2 inch slices
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp crumble gorgonzola
1 bartlett pear, cored and chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Teaspoons cider vinegar
Sprinkle of kosher salt

Place the endive in a large bowl. Toss in the chopped walnuts, gorgonzola, and chopped bartletts. Toss to desired mixture
Lace olive oil on salad. Add cider vinegar over salad, next. Toss to desired mixture.
Serve immediately.


Kohlrabi in bunches.

3) Kohlrabi

Kohlrabis are a tricky food to get around. They can be one of the most delicious veggies you’ll find at the market, but you have to be careful. If you pick one too large, the texture and flavor will be off, (some describe it as a “woody” flavor). The key to choosing a good one is to either get your kohlrabi in the early part of the season, when they’re smaller and more juicy. The other method would be to grab a variation called Gigantar, which is exactly like it sounds. These are giant kohlrabis which maintain the crunch and flavor (like a mix between broccoli and a cabbage heart). The only downside to picking these large ones is deciding what to do with all the deliciousness. Here’s a detailed (but delicious!) recipe to help out:

Vegetarian Spring Rolls w/ Shredded Kohlrabi.


1 3/4 oz thin rice sticks
6 oz marinated tofu, cut in dominoe shape
1 medium carrot (shredded)
1/2 pound kohlrabi, peeled and shredded
1 Tbsp ginger, cut julienne
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons mint leaves
7 8in rice flour spring roll wrappers

Place the rice sticks in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 20 minutes, or until the noodles are pliable, and drain. Transfer the noodles to another bowl. Using kitchen scissors, cut the noodles in half, into roughly 6-inch lengths. Leave the warm water in the bowl for softening the wrappers.
Meanwhile, toss the shredded kohlrabi with salt to taste and let sit in a colander placed in the sink for 20 to 30 minutes. Squeeze out excess liquid and toss with the carrot, ginger, chopped cilantro and slivered Thai basil or mint.
One at a time, place a rice flour wrapper in the bowl of warm water until just softened. Remove from the water and drain briefly on a kitchen towel. Place the softened wrapper on your work surface and put a line of tofu slices in the middle of the wrapper, slightly nearer the edge closest to you, leaving a 1 1/2-inch margin on the sides. Place a small handful of noodles over the tofu, then place a handful of the shredded vegetable mixture over the noodles. Lay a couple of sprigs of cilantro and a Thai basil leaf or a couple of mint leaves on top. Fold the sides of the wrapper over the filling, then roll up tightly. Arrange on a plate and refrigerate until ready to serve. – Thanks to NY Times for the recipe.


Jicama has been described as a “savory pear.”

4) Jicama

You are going to be in for a treat with Jicama (pronounced HICK-a-muh). With a taste that crosses snap peas and water chestnuts with the texture of a fresh pear and juicy apple. These are fantastic to eat right out of the basket (after peeling). You can eat them with hummus, in stir fries, or just eat them fresh. These will please most any palate, but here’s a recipe that will please everyone:

Jicama Salsa Recipe:


2 cups peeled and chopped jicama
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp chili powder to taste
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 medium cucumber, peeeled and chopped
1 medium orange, peeled and chopped

In a large bowl, combine jicama, cilantro, lime juice, chili powder, salt, cucumber, and orange
Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours
Serve with chips

Nature Notes: A Magical Micro-Realm

As you look for ways to get outside this month to enjoy the last days of summer, I challenge you to take a closer look at a world we typically take for granted and tend to ignore.  It’s easy to admire a nest of baby birds, a fawn following its mother, a snake slithering through our garden, or any other larger animals that easily catch our eye. But this month, take a closer look at the micro-realm of insects and spiders.

Insect and spider abundance is at a high this month, as we reach peak temperature and vegetation abundance. There is  an overwhelming diversity of species filling every habitat in Minnesota! Giant swarms of moths, caddisflies, and a myriad of other small insects are attracted to our porch lights, facing the danger of lurking spiders, frogs, and toads eager to catch meal.  Mosquitoes, deer flies, ants, and orb weavers fill our forests. Our meadows are alive with butterflies, grasshoppers, grass spiders, crickets, bees, leafhoppers, cicadas, crab spiders, and beetles. Our ponds, lakes, and wetlands are spotted with dragonflies, damselflies, horse flies, whirligigs, water striders, and fishing spiders.

Many of us think of these “creepy crawlies” as the worst part of summer. Sure, we might enjoy a beautiful butterfly fluttering by, but wasps, mosquitoes, gnats, ants, and flies? No, thank you.  During our time spent despising their annoyance, we are missing out on an opportunity to appreciate an incredible diversity of life, an unimaginable array of adaptations, and most importantly, a fundamental source of energy for much of the Northwoods wildlife we love!

These “pests” provide food for many species of wildlife in Minnesota.  Insects feed an unbelievable array of birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and even mammals! They feed our song birds, shore birds, frogs, toads, turtles, snakes, small fish, bats, and shrews.  Insects make up a massive portion of the lower end of the food chain, providing plenty of food for our smaller animals, which in turn become food for our larger predators, like osprey, eagles, herons, raccoons, otters, and more. Even many of our seed-loving songbirds put their plant diet on hold in favor of a more protein-rich insect diet during nesting season. Raising young requires a lot of protein, and insects are a perfect source of this much-needed nutrient!

I recently took my niece and nephew on a bug hunt near our house. We quickly found well over 30 species of insects and spiders in under an hour.  I made a comment about a particularly beautiful butterfly and my wise-beyond-his-four -years nephew told me, “Auntie, all bugs are beautiful in their own way”.  And he was right. These tiny organisms are amazingly well adapted to their own tiny niches in our environment. It is easy to overlook them, but once you start to notice their remarkable diversity and innovative life strategies, it’s hard not to feel in awe of them.  So take a moment this month and instead of cursing this new wave of mosquitoes, immerse yourself in the micro-world of insects to see what beauty awaits you!  Here are some of the wonders I’ve found. Click on the images for more info and to enlarge them.

Dragonflies & Damselflies


 Grasshoppers, Crickets, & Cicadas

 Butterflies & Moths



What better a way could you spend the last days of summer than taking your family outside to get close to nature? A fascination with bugs is innate in many children, so get outside and search for wonders of your own in the micro-realm of insects and spiders!

Just the FACs, Ma’am.

Happy Dancing Turtle is excited to launch it’s new Family Adventure Club! Once a month we will gather families together for fun-filled, low-cost, local adventures that focus on getting your families outdoors and exposed to nature.  The cost is $5/family/event, unless otherwise noted on the online registration form (we may have to pay a rental/equipment fee for some events).

We’re kicking off Family Adventure Club with a trip up north to Longville! Join us Saturday, August 27th at Camp Olson YMCA for a day of fun in the sun! You can either meet us at Camp Olson at 10:00AM or meet at the Pine River Chamber at 9:00AM to caravan there.  Once there, we’ll have some introductions, get the need-to-know on equipment, and the rest of the day is yours to swim at the beach, roll on the lumberjack log, play in the sand, play a game of beach volleyball or bean bag toss, or even try paddling a canoe, kayak, or stand up paddle board! Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in the shade.  At 2:00PM, you can choose to take an optional tour of the rest of the camp or head on home!

Sign up is required, and you can do it here! 

The rest of our Fall Schedule is as follows:

Grab your hiking boots on Thursday, September 15 for our Geocaching Extravaganza! We’ll be using GPS units in this modern day treasure hunt as we search environmental-themed caches hidden on campus! How many can you find?


When the fall colors hit, you’ll want to be outside! Join us on Saturday, October 8 for a Fall Colors Walk as we explore the beauty of the season. We’ll meet at the Pine River Chamber and caravan to a nearby park, admire the colors, learn about some of Minnesota’s native trees and the animals that call them home, and play some games.

Can you find the Big Dipper? The North Star? Orion’s Belt? Have you heard the stories behind the stars? Joins us on Friday, November 11th for a Night of Astronomy as we explore the mysteries of the solar system and the night sky above. Be dressed to go outside, weather permitting.

What is a Complete Street

After doing some research on the topic of biking in MN, something came to my attention that I had to write about. This concerns the “Complete Street” movement. But first a succinct (but thorough) definition: Complete Streets is a program designed to make our transportation grid as accessible as possible to all forms of travel; looking at the needs of cars, bikes, autos, baby strollers, skateboarders, unicycles, and pedestrians.

The ultimate goal is to make getting from one place to another as safe as possible with as many choices as possible. Currently, when you look at a road there is one mode of transportation that is considered and valued above all others, and that of course is car traffic. City planners are focused on getting traffic through from point A to point B as quickly as possible.


NE Brainerd

Let’s take a look at this street. (Nice pic, Chuck Marohn. Thanks!) Here you see a wide avenue in northeast Brainerd. It’s wide (for the area) and can easily support four lanes (two for traffic, two for auto parking) of autos. But, one glaring omission would be any designated route for bikes. Since it’s a residential area, there is limited traffic and any danger from car traffic is minimized simply because of the residential nature of the area. However, this street offers one choice, or at least it is structured for one choice, (cars, baby!) If I were riding my bike down this street, I would have to brave one (of four) car lanes.

Now, if we look at this picture, we can see a little more busy street. However, can you see the difference in the street layout? Where there were zero lines to differentiate between car and bike traffic in the last picture, this street has clearly marked lanes for bicycle and car use. There are curb cuts on the sidewalks for pedestrian use and if you look in the distance you can see a roundabout. It also has narrow lanes which keeps traffic moving in a safe (*read slow) manner. These details make the difference and clearly define this street as “complete”. It offers more choices for the residents.


A “Complete Street”

So, here’s my observation. It can be very difficult to actually define what a complete street needs; too difficult, I think, to maximize each dollar needed for renovation. With so many ways to create and maintain a street, how, in other words, can we define the ultimate goal for each street?

Is creating as many choices as possible for the residents the final goal? I think that, ultimately, city planners have an obligation to create neighborhoods that meet as many residents needs as possible. But, at what cost? I had a chance to talk with a Complete Streets representative last year at the Living Green Expo and he offered up this theory: Every street in the state has to meet the needs of its residents. But, that does not necessarily mean that every street must have bike lanes, defined curbs, sidewalks for pedestrians, or other flair. A rural county road serves its purpose as a means for getting cars through and is in a sense “complete” in that they offer a need for the majority of the users. If 95% of the users for this county road choose to use their vehicles there is little need for alternative choices.

This is where my confusion comes in. If a road is designed for the one choice, how can we be sure that other choices are needed? Now, I’m all about offering up every alternative to the gas chugging beasts to other low emission (high fun!) modes of transportation. But there is only so much available tax revenue we can use on transportation. So, how do we decide what a street needs to be defined as a “complete street”?


A Dual Mode Street

I love this picture. First off, it shows how beautifully simple a street can be. But more importantly, it shows that a compromise can be made in terms of modality. On the right side, you can see your basic county road that offers service to all motorized vehicles. Yet, on the left side, snuggled safely on the other side of a boulevard, you can see a bike/walking trail.


Up here in central MN, we have the Paul Bunyan trail, which has the same basic layout as you see in this picture. A recommissioned railroad trail was paved over and now runs parallel to Highway 371 for about half of its 112 mile length. Now, it took loads of money and backing to get this trail in the condition it is now (wonderful!). And before the trail was made, there was very little bike traffic along the highway. But! Now that the trail is in place and offers that alternative to car, Highway 371 is bustling with bike traffic. The small towns (trail towns, they’re called) along the trail are using this increase in choice as a way to supplement their vitality. Repair shops, restaurants, recreation areas, and lots more attractions are making the choice to bike an attractive one.

Now this is just a single case study, but I think the conclusion holds true. If you build choices into your streets, these choices will be used. Or as my ghostly voice says, “Build it and they will come.” So, it comes down to what you want to include in your community. Do you want increased bike usage? Do you want to limit car fumes or traffic related injuries? Do you want a healthier community? These are things that you must consider when designing a complete street. Because once these streets have attractive choices, people who crave these attractions will come and use them.

What’s Goin’ On 06/24-0626

Weekly Events!
Friday – Farmers’ Market (Pine River Market Square – Farmers’ & Crafters’ Market), 2:30-5:30pm, Downtown Pine River. See Facebook for updates.
Friday – Duck Races!, 2pm, @ the Dam

Saturday – Ideal Green Market Farmers’ Market – Ideal Corners next to the Old Milwaukee Club; 9am-1pm. Facebook for info.

Special Events!
Friday – 371 Flea Market, 9am-3pm, Near the Depot and Chamber Info. Center, off 371

Thursday – Sunday – Cass Co. Fair!, LOTS of family fun! Check out the schedule here.

See you at the Market! OR Fair.:)

Farmers Markets All Around

Interest in local foods is more than a trend, and certainly from a historic perspective – it’s a return to the “way things used to be”.

The number of Farmers’ Markets has grown dramatically in the past few years, this echoes the increased interest by consumers to procure tasty, fresh, unique, and ripe food.

prmspicsmallThere are diverse reasons shoppers appreciate Farm Markets. Many site the interaction with farmers, growers, and crafters to be a highlight. The opportunity to talk with people about their products is powerful. When purchasing relish at the supermarket, for example, it’s not possible to ask when it was made, how it was canned, and if there is a secret recipe, maybe even one that can be shared. A conversation with a grower can be much more than “how much are the tomatoes”; it may inform every tomato purchase that you have after that. Things like fertilizer use, pest prevention tactics, heirloom and open pollinated seed, how to avoid blight, recipe suggestions, and much more may transpire between consumer and grower. This is just one of many thousands of conversations that happen at a typical market. At the least, Farmers’ Markets are a place to find seasonal products; but there is much more to the equation, they are an opportunity to build community, support smaller growers, circulate dollars within the local economy, and boost health and diversity within diets.


You’ll find all sorts of fresh foods at your farmers market.

Many Markets take place outdoors offering a neat environment for children and adults alike. Some also have kid-focused activities and amenities. Shopping with children at Farmers’ Markets is a neat experience to share. Opportunities to show that food isn’t made in a supermarket but is grown and that the growers are “real” people. Also, depending on the Market, shopping may be a cultural diversity adventure for kids. Different cultures have different vegetables that are common in their recipes and may be present at a Market.

Often referenced rationale for shopping at Farmers’ Markets might be familiar, though it bears repeating. People love that produce is allowed to ripen on the plant versus in the shipping crate or on the shelf.

Almost always, the produce is picked day of the Market, offering freshness that is only rivaled by backyard gardening. In addition, the varieties that are grown by Market vendors can be focused on attributes like flavor, and color versus shelf life and transportation tolerance. Some customers purchase in larger quantities in order to put-by for off-season eating through canning, freezing, and dehydrating.

Take every possible opportunity to stop by Farmers’ Markets, each experience is bound to be different and rewarding. Unique foods, neat ideas, and great people abound. Whether trendy or not, they are dang tasty!

Sunscreen Salad

I just checked the weather forecast for this weekend. It’s expected to be hot and very sunny. Instead of spending your weekend in the air conditioned climate controlled environments, I’ve got a little home grown recommendation that will help with the sun.
It’s called “Sunscreen Salad” and it’s supposed to help your body fight UV harm.

There are studies that show eating foods (or tablets, yuck) that have high Vitamin C & E can help your body in “photoprotection” (which means protects against sun damage). So, instead of throwing down tablets of vitamins, you can get your vitamins the old fashioned delicious way. And it’s really simple:
1) Grab a bunch of spinach leaves high in vitamin C (and E)
2) Throw some cherry tomatoes on them. – high in vitamin E
3) Sprinkle sunflower seeds (or almonds or hazelnuts, or peanuts) – all high in vitamin E
4) Eat em all.cheesetomatoesbasil

With your belly full of these important nutrients (and delicious food), your body will be able to better fight against UV damage (which can lessen the damage from sunburn). My wife loves to make little spinach, cherry tomato, and mozzarella cracker towers. They’re awesome and can help fight the sun as well. (Avocados are a great source of Vitamin E, but I would never suggest you eat that awful tasting fruit!)
If you want variations on the salad, produce high in vitamin C are: peppers, broccoli, and of course citrus fruit. Other produce that are high in Vitamin E are: olives, apricots, kale, and papayas. Experiment and enjoy your weekend!

Nature Notes: Spring Ephemerals

May is a month of treasure hunts.. I like to explore the outdoors with a specific treasure in mind. How many butterflies can I find today? How many turtles and frogs can I count down at the pond? How many bird nests can I see in our yard? My favorite treasures to find are the ephemerals – the earliest of our spring wildflowers. So where do you look to find these blossoms? First you have to know a couple of things about our flowers.

Our native trees typically bear the first flowers that we see in the spring. This is because most of our native trees are wind pollinated, so their flowers must emerge before their leaves, otherwise the leaves would get in the way of the wind moving the pollen around. Tree flowers  don’t always look like your “typical” flowers, so take a peek because their flowering period is coming to a close!


Quaking Aspen flowers – not  a “typical” flower. 5/4/16

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Can the Planet Power Pals Save the Earth?

We’re happy to be hosting four weeks of earth-saving, planet-protecting, veggie-eating


Eco Camp is truly a hands on experience.

fun this summer. But, we need your help! We’ve been hosting our Eco Camps for the last decade and have countless adventures, but this year we’re introducing a fun way to participate.

Coming to this year’s Eco Camps are the Planet Power Pals. This earth-saving team is taking new recruits for the summer. You can be a part of the newest planet-protecting team if you fall under the following requirements:

Super Hero Team          Training Dates           Age

Raccoon Rascals           June 13-17               Grades 1-2

Bear Brigade                 June 27-July 1         Grades 3-4

Bat Battalion                July 11-15                  Grades 5-6

Rabbit Rangers            Aug 8-12                   Pre-K (Ages 4&5)


The Planet Power Pals are here to save the day!

Program Manager, Quinn Swanson, said about the upcoming summer camps, “I love the enthusiasm of the campers. Even if it’s their first time, they’re eager to get their hands dirty.”

There are a tons of “training” activities and field trips for the recruits planned each week.


Planet Power Pals are all smiles!

Program Specialist Nora Woodworth said, “My favorite activities are the nature walks. We have tons of trails winding through the forest and by water. We spend a lot of time outside. It’s the best.”

Even though we always need fresh recruits into the Plant Power Pals academy, we love seeing our returning super heroes. Program Assistant, Michelle Hoefs said, “I look forward to Eco Camp every year. I love seeing the new and returning faces of the campers. When we have campers return, it shows to me that we’re doing something right, that others think we’re doing something well.”

We require at least five cadets for each training session. (We’ll make the call two weeks before each session.) Registration will continue through to the first day of each training session of each week if we get enough cadets (providing there is space). So, get your registrations in!

Your planet needs your help! We’re all counting on you!