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Farmers market a community-driven tradition in Charles City

  • Paul Jepsen (left) and husband Tom Rodman sell their fresh produce at the Charles City Farmers Market on Saturday morning. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Paul Jepsen sells fresh produce at the Charles City Farmers Market on Saturday morning. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Fresh produce for sale at the Charles City Farmers Market on Saturday. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Leanne and Matthew Martin run their family's produce stand at the Charles City Farmers Market on Saturday. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Leanne and Matthew Martin run their family's produce stand at the Charles City Farmers Market on Saturday. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Leanne Martin helps customers at the Charles City Farmers Market on Saturday. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

By Kelly Terpstra, kterpstra@charelscitypress.com

Saturday mornings in downtown Charles City are for fresh produce — and more.

Red, ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and doggy biscuits were just some of the fresh food vendors were selling on a rainy morning at the Charles City Farmers Market.

Matthew and Leanne Martin stood under a tent on the north side of the square overlooking Central Park in downtown Charles City like they do every Saturday morning.

Their family’s trailer is a backdrop to their produce stand and is located on the northeast corner of Blunt Street. The familiar, fresh faces of the Mennonite family that has set up shop at their traditional spot signal the start of the line of vendors peddling their goods for pedestrians walking east toward North Jackson.

Mattthew, 12, said green beans were a hot-selling item on Saturday, even after intermittent showers kept some customers inside and away from the rain.

Matthew and Leanne, 15, were running the stand by themselves. Their father, Dana, would help them pack everything up and back into the van when the market closed at noon. In the meantime, Matthew still had some more tomatoes to sell.

He said his family has been coming to the Charles City Farmers Market for almost 20 years.

Leanne has an older sister who just turned 20 and that’s how she knows how long her family has had the stand.

“My mom and dad have been doing it ever since she was a baby,” she said.

The Martins live just south of Colwell and also sell their fresh produce at the Cedar Valley Auction and local food businesses in northern Iowa like North Iowa Fresh out of Clear Lake.

Matthew said his family also raises more than 800 chicks for Hoover’s Hatchery, a business in Rudd.

Matthew and Leanne attend a private country school called Jackson Woods. Sometimes, Matthew said, they’ll ride their ponies to school, which is located 2 miles from their home north of Charles City. Often they’ll just ride bikes or hop into the van, he chuckled.

Matthew is quite the veteran at the local farmers market as well.

“We have a picture at home where you could just see my head above the table,” he said, smiling.

While the Martin family has been a mainstay at the Charles City’s Farmers Market for two decades, Tom Rodman and his husband, Paul Jepsen, are rookies to the sidewalk sales.

The newbies to Blunt Street first came to the market in June and grow their fresh produce on Two Eagles Farm in Bristow. They moved to Iowa less than two years ago after living in Houston.

“We know how the food’s been grown and it’s fresh,” said Rodman. “When you go to the grocery store you don’t know where the food comes from.”

Rodman, who is retired after working for 30 years in marketing, also wanted to make sure one thing was clear when describing fresh fruit or vegetables.

“To say you’re organic, you have to be certified. It doesn’t mean your food’s not organic, it just means you can’t say it,” said Rodman, who said his food was not certified organic.

Rodman and Jepsen attend the farmers market in Charles City on Wednesdays as well. They also have a stand at farmers markets in Greene and Sheffield.

Rodman said their regular customers still showed up Saturday despite the occasional rain.

“A lot of the people that come to farmers markets are pretty committed to wanting fresh food, so they’ll come out no matter what the weather is,” Rodman said. “We’ve made friends with some of our customers. We see them every week.”

Jepsen, who was born and raised in Greene, moved back to his hometown to help out his parents on the farm. Jepsen and Rodman built a greenhouse in March and they said another greenhouse could be in the works.

“This has kind of been a learning experience this year,” said Jepsen. “We’re trying to find the niche of the right products to sell.”

The Charles City Farmers Market runs from May 4 until October 19. Hours are Wednesday 3:30-6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon.

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