When farmers John Middleton and Lidia Dungue aren't working for Gardens of Eagan in Farmington, they're cultivating nearby land rented from their employer. "Our full-time jobs weren't keeping us busy enough, so we thought we'd take on a little bit more," Middleton said with a laugh.

They call their farm Fazenda Boa Terra, which is Portuguese -- Dungue is Brazilian -- for Good Earth Farm. "That's 'earth' as in 'soil,'" said Middleton, a reference to their nutrient-rich, chemical-free land. Last Saturday morning at the Bloomington Farmers Market, the farm's stand was brimming with a healthy assortment of vegetables and herbs, but the real looker was a basket of horn-shaped, fire-engine-red Carmen peppers, an Italian variety that is as versatile as it is delicious.

"It's incredibly sweet, which makes it a good raw pepper," said Middleton. "It's phenomenal in salads, although it's also a wonderful pepper for grilling. And because it has a very thin, tender flesh, it can make for a good stuffing pepper. I like bell peppers, but the Carmen pepper really can't be beat."

Middleton and Dungue also offer a crop-share plan, but with a twist. Instead of a receiving a pre-packed box each week, the farm's CSA customers stop by the farm or the farm's market stands and select from a range of available items. I watched, with jealousy, as a customer stuffed her shopping bag, mulling over cherry tomatoes vs. slicers, head lettuce over arugula.

"Logistically, this way is much more difficult," said Middleton. "But I don't like packing boxes -- it's not very much fun -- and there's lots of waste if members don't like things. With this method, there's more value, because people get what they want."

Still, the occasional surprise vegetable -- bok choy, or an unusual squash, for example -- becomes mandatory. "People have to try new things," said Middleton. "Broadening the palate is a big part of the CSA experience."

The farmers market experience, too. After tasting Carmens, my bell pepper days are a thing of the past. Think of it in terms of apples: Why settle for a Red Delicious when you can have a Honeycrisp?


Carmen peppers ($3 per pound) at Fazenda Boa Terra (www. fazendaboaterra.com) at the Bloomington Farmers Market, 1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd., Bloomington. Open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. For a map of Twin Cities metro area farmers markets, go to startribune.com/taste.