My nose and the calendar were definitely not in sync. Minnesota-raised green onions, in mid-April? The scent was such a jump-the-gun harbinger of spring that I wanted to dab those long-leafed onions ($1 per bunch) behind my ears and on my wrists. Instead I asked farmer Don Heinel if his crop was rushing the season, not that I was complaining.
"This is the earliest I've ever been at the market, by at least four weeks," he said. "Even I'm surprised, but then you never know what Mother Nature is up to."
Heinel, a fourth-generation farmer, is cultivating three 600-foot rows of green onions, all seeded last fall, on his chemical- and pesticide-free Little Canada farm, a 17-acre local-foods oasis surrounded by subdivisions, an office park and a Slumberland warehouse. Heinel was also selling spinach ($2 per bag), each leaf an exercise in tender, curly and deep-dark green.
"It feels so healthy to already be eating Minnesota produce," said customer Katherine Cramer of St. Louis Park, who was back after buying from Heinel the previous weekend.
I drew that same conclusion after converting my purchases into lunch. Following an endless winter of lifeless bagged supermarket greens, Heinel's spinach -- and those ultra-fragrant onions -- were a revelation, producing a salad bursting with such pronounced goodness it was is if an Alice Waters-Michelle Obama tag-team had done the honors.
What a joy to realize that it's only the beginning. Saturday marks the Minneapolis Farmers Market's official opening day, and Heinel plans to mark the occasion by harvesting his farm's first rhubarb. Yep, spring has definitely sprung in Minnesota.
Heinel Farm (www.heinelfarm.com) at the Minneapolis Farmers Market, 312 E. Lyndale Av. N., Mpls., 612-333-1718, www.mplsfarmersmarket.com. Open 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily starting Saturday. For spinach and green onion recipes, go to www.startribune.com/tabletalk.