MICHIGAN CITY – “Good Food Makes People Happy” is the slogan for Cyrano’s On-The-Go, a French food vendor at the Michigan City Farmers Market.
It’s also a good explanation why more and more people are shopping for fresh fruits and veggies – and other locally-produced goodies – at farmers markets and U-pick farms across the area.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are 180 farmers markets in Indiana. From 2008-14, there was a 76 percent increase in markets across the country.
“The appeal of farmers markets for many shoppers is no mystery,” the Indiana Farm Bureau said in a statement. “Consumers are increasingly interested in obtaining fresh meat and produce, and farmers markets give them easy access to local foods and local growers.”
Deirdre Sullivan of Long Beach is a regular to farmers markets. She especially frequents the Michigan City Farmers Market, open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Oct. 13 at the corner of Eighth and Washington streets.
“I love knowing that it’s fresh and organic and straight from local farms that work so hard to provide this,” she said. “I love the eggs. Eggplant is here, which wasn’t last week.”
She looks for fruit, such as peaches and blueberries, that are in season, and the “beautiful array” of flowers. “And the almond croissants are phenomenal,” she said.
Those croissants are a popular item at Chef Didier Durant’s Cyrano’s On-The-Go. The Master Chef, who grew up in southwest France, has 41 years experience and owned two successful Chicago restaurants. He’s been a regular at the Michigan City Farmers Market since 2006.
In addition to croissants, his other pastries include a double chocolate croissant with two chocolate bars in each, and fruit muffins. Those looking for a heartier meal can try ham and cheese croissants, a breakfast sandwich with Canadian bacon and Gruyere (similar to Swiss) cheese on brioche; a baguette stuffed with Parmesan and plenty of bacon; or Quiche du Jour.
“He’s very generous with his portions,” said Sarah Snyder who helps out the chef at markets. “He’s come up with all of his own recipes which made him famous in Chicago.”
Visitors can also choose freezable homemade soups – split pea, lobster bisque, summer gazpacho, wild mushroom, oxtail, sausage bean kale or butternut squash. There are freezable spreads, as well as pates, breads and sauces.
Durant even makes his own cheese, sausages, dressings and vinaigrettes.
Mike Walsh, a Chicago resident who owns a home in Long Beach, is a big fan of Cyrano’s.
“It’s an amazing taste sensation you can’t get anywhere else. I wish I could take cooking lessons from him. He’s better than PBS,” Walsh said.
Kathy Ansell was part of a group from Illinois and Washington, D.C., who rented an area beach house for a reunion. “We like to come here (to the farmer’s market) when we’re on vacation,” she said. “We rented Friday to Friday so we could come here.”
Her findings for the morning: corn, tomatoes, beets, bread, apples, peaches and blackberries.
Blueberries of Indiana in La Porte was one of the places another group gathered during a reunion get-together.
Latha Panickar, Beena George, Zinus Joseph and Shyella Sabarinathann graduated from nursing school in Bangalore, India, 27 years ago. Coming from Michigan, Chicago, Texas and Dubai, they held their reunion in Northwest Indiana and decided to go blueberry-picking.
“This is the last orchard that had blueberries and this was the last day it was open,” said Joseph, who frequents farmers markets often in Ann Arbor and tries to find ones that offers a variety.
The four women – with two of their husbands – were looking forward to adding blueberries to yogurts and smoothies in addition to freezing some for later.
Larry Couchman, who’s managed Blueberries of Indiana for 20 years, said the farm sees plenty of business, especially on the weekends from Chicago visitors. They are interested in the produce, “being in the fresh air” and the u-pick experience, he said. In addition to u-pick, customers also buy blueberry and honey preserves, handmade blueberry soap and blueberry juice.
Radke Orchards on CR-200N is another specialty farm that draws out-of-towners and locals alike. Dating back to the 1870s, the apple orchard is run by brothers Randy and Denny Radke, the fifth generation to carry on the family tradition.
Over 98 percent of the trees on the farm are dwarf varieties now, which makes picking easier. The farm offers a wide selection such as honeycrisp, Ida red, gala, Jonagold, cameo, suncrisp, Mutsu, Blondee and crispin. On the 40-acre farm, about 2,500 trees take up 12-15 hilly acres.
Radke Orchards is kept busy during weekdays with school, scout, senior and church groups, but weekends draw plenty of locals and out-of-towners. Last year, 50,000 pounds of apples were sold – 95 percent via u-pick.
Fresh apple fritters and donuts made with apple cider are nearly as much a draw as the apples on Saturdays and Sundays. Just like the free trolley at Blueberries of Indiana’s, there’s a free “people mover wagon” that’s kept busy taking visitors around the farm.
“Some are coming out definitely for the apples, but others come for the experience,” said Randy Radke. “Quite a few groups come out for family reunions. I’m seeing more and more of that.”
He often sees grandparents bringing out grandkids for their first visit, and is amazed when he hears comments such as “We’ve been coming here 34 years or 15 years. They know exactly when they started.”
He describes his orchard as “family-friendly” with a “park atmosphere. It’s a day in a park with fruit,” he said with a laugh, adding visitors snapping photos are a common sight.
“People are happy because they are getting the apples they want,” he said.
Beth Kennerk, who moved to the area over the Memorial Day weekend, considers her trips to farmers markets a “family affair.”
At the Michigan City Farmers Market, she said, “I hit this one up religiously. My kids love this one. It seems family friendly.”
With Natasha, 3, and Nathanial, 1, in tow, she and her mother, Jennifer Kennerk, were buying zucchini for bread and muffins; as well as blueberries and watermelon.
“I can spend $20 here and know exactly what the kids are eating. The prices you pay here are definitely worth it,” Beth said.
This was the first year Hebron Farms of Vandalia, Michigan, participated in the market.
“We try to have as many fruits and vegetables as possible,” said Cyrus Hebron.
She and her brother, Niko, were manning the booth for the small family farm run by their father and grandfather.
Customers choose from bacon, ground pork, chicken, eggs, corn, carrots, blueberries, tomatoes, cabbage and more.
For Marybeth Lebo, of La Porte, going to the farmers market on Saturday morning is a tradition with her friend, Kitty Maurer.
“It’s sort of our little getaway,” she said of frequent trips to the South Bend Farmers Market. She also frequents the La Porte Farmers Market, of course.
“There are so many other items that are there besides fruits and vegetables,” she said, mentioning one vendor who made old sweaters into “very cool” gloves and hats. “There are very unusual, one-of-a-kind things you wouldn’t even find in a boutique.”
And, “I think the prices are very reasonable,” Lebo said. “And you can’t get a friendlier place. People love to talk. Everyone is so friendly and everything is so fresh. We’ve made good friends with some of the vendors.”
One of these is Lakeside Lavender and Herbs on Johnson Road in La Porte.
Established in 2013, the niche farm is “dedicated to honoring the tradition of wholesome living.”
Owners Mike and Doreen King not only offer fresh lavender during its relatively short season from mid-June to mid-August, but a host of other herbs and natural products year-round. There’s bath and body products, such as body butter made from rose petals; culinary blends including Rib Rub and Lavender Lemon Salt; and medicinal blends such as Cramp Bark Salve or Healing Honey Salve.
“We love going there because of all the organic products that you can’t find anywhere else,” Lebo said. “My family came from Chicago just for their opening.”
Each year, Lakeside Lavender hosts an open house the weekend before July 4, an event Lebo attends and looks forward to.
Some of her favorites at the small two-acre farm are the lavender lotion and sleep mask, great for reducing eye puffiness at night, she said.
The lavender lotion, “which soaks in well and softens well” is also a favorite of Kathleen, another La Porte resident. When she saw the road sign advertising Lakeside Lavender’s open house, she asked a friend to go. She returns each year to buy fresh lavender for vases across their home.
Kathleen is also a frequent visitor to the La Porte Farmer’s Market, where she looks for “any kind of vegetable” such as cabbage, beets, sweet corn or green beans.
She found out about Burek’s Farms, on CR-400S in La Porte, there and loves the sweet corn, which is their specialty, she said.
Whether it’s for family fun, fresh food or a combination of both, visiting farmers markets and local u-picks is a trend that appear to be growing all the time.
A special section of photos and listings of things to do in and around La Porte County.
– Section D
Lots of options
The La Porte County Convention & Visitors Bureau has created a pamphlet – “La Porte County Orchards, Farms & Gardens” – available at the office at 4073 South Franklin (Marquette Mall) and at area farms and other locations. It outlines which items are available at which location, and gives brief descriptions, and has a map of the farms, fresh food businesses, and farmers markets in the area, including:
• Michigan City Farmers Market
Corner of Washington and Eighth streets
Open Saturdays through October, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• St. Stanislaus of Michigan City Farmers Market
1500 Block of Franklin Street
Saturdays through October, 8 a.m. -1 p.m.
• La Porte Farmers Market
Corner of Lincoln Way and Monroe Street
Saturdays through Oct. 13, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.