The Italian peppers are incredibly sweet.
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.