“It’s smoky!…and kind of sweet!”
“Got a nice kick to it, huh?”
These were some of the exclamations of friends and family during an impromptu tasting of Peter’s Pumpkins and Carmen’s Corn “Medium Angel” salsa. Carmen gave me a jar of her highly sought-after, perennially sold-out salsa after I interviewed her at Kingfield Farmers Market. It comes in three varieties: Mild Ruby, Medium Angel, and Hot Carmen–named after Carmen’s mother, her best friend, and herself, respectively. “We can only homegrown produce,” asserts Carmen, so that she and Peter have the most control over taste and quality.
Carmen met Peter in his pumpkin patch almost a decade ago, and hasn’t looked back. While Peter “has been farming since he was a little guy,”–his grandparents owned one of the first greenhouses in the Cities and, says Carmen, he “is in glory when he farms”–Carmen at first did not have much farming experience. Working together, they’ve expanded their operation, growing on 35 acres in two different plots outside of Shakopee, Minnesota. Carmen and Peter have diversified it as well, ecologically, from the level of soil microbes–they don’t use any sprays–to polycultural plots. “We don’t like to spray. We hoe, everything is hand-hoed. And hand-picked,” says Carmen. This year they are establishing perennials, including black and red raspberries, blueberries, and apples trees. Carmen and Peter also plant many heirloom varieties of beets, tomatoes, watermelons, and other species, to preserve endangered varieties and, simply, to “buy the best.”
It may seem logical that some feel that they can buy the best at Peter and Carmen’s market stall. Sweet corn is a top seller as soon as it becomes available, usually around mid-July (in 2009 it will be available July 19th). Minneapolis mayor RT Rybak often stops by early in the day to pick some up–Peter has a snapshot posing with Mayor Rybak–while with the construction on I-35, customers have been calling Carmen frantically to ask how to get to the market, and her sweet corn. Many people buy bushels and freeze it for the winter. “Honestly, you will love it,” Carmen tells me.
In addition to salsa and fresh produce, Carmen also makes jam. People–they go nuts,” laughs Carmen, for her jam. Her special recipe calls for jam made with more fruit than sugar, “so people can taste the fruit.” Raspberry Cinnamon jam is one of her specialties. Peruvian desserts have a lot of cinnamon, and Carmen incorporates her Peruvian heritage into her work.
She also does that through education. Carmen teaches Spanish at a Montessori school in Shakopee, helping young children become multilingual. Before that, she produced and starred in a local TV show for children. She also runs a farm visit program, bringing local schoolchildren to experience firsthand where food comes from, and how it is grown. Known as “Carmen Corn” to the kids, she leads them through science experiments, arts and crafts, and picking pumpkins. “I tell them the story of how we grow the pumpkins,” says Carmen, “and I always make sure every child gets to pick a pumpkin, to have their own experience of picking.” Showing kids (and the parent chaperones, some of whom Carmen finds equally in the dark about where food comes from) how fruits and vegetables grow is vitally important to Carmen in a world where children easily recognize more brand names than animal or plant species. Carmen delights in showing children an eggplant, watching kids hold the dark purple beauty, “because they never know what it is and they think it is so beautiful.”
Anyone can go on a farm visit out at Peter’s Pumpkins and Carmen’s Corn. In English or Spanish, Peter and Carmen will show you the mysteries of tomatoes, the lure of eggplant, the excitement of pumpkins, and crunch of sweet corn.
© Hannah Rivenburgh for Kingfield Farmers Market