Nathan Schrecengost might have the Midtown Farmers Market's greenest sales pitch.
"This is as local as it gets for this market," he said. "Everything was picked this morning and driven 5 miles."
Such are the virtues of his Pig's Eye Urban Farm, which bucks the stereotypical rural acreage in favor of a series of converted yards and empty lots in and around the home Schrecengost shares with his wife, Amy, in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood.
"Frogtown, in general, is a food wasteland," he said. "There's not much access to locally grown food, and we want to change that."
So far that passion has translated into a 20-share CSA program, along with the Midtown market stand. In mid-July, the couple's collaboration with other nearby microfarmers will result in the launch of North End Farmers Market, a Monday evening fresh-foods fest at Maryland and Western Avenues in St. Paul. "The neighbors will be able to walk down their street to buy their vegetables," said Schrecengost.
Although it's far too early in the growing season to get a sense for the farm's impressive-sounding selection of heirloom tomatoes and peppers, shoppers last Saturday encountered a pretty array of greens, including collards, a mesclun mix, wild garlic mustard, pea shoots and kale.
"Kale is such a multipurpose vegetable," said Schrecengost, noting that a favorite use is brushing the broad, pale green leaves with olive oil, dusting with salt and pepper and baking in a single layer in a 450-degree oven for 10 minutes.
"Kale chips," he said. "They're super-healthy, and people love them."
Expansion is in the works. This fall, Schrecengost is going to enlist his neighbor's apple press for cider, using fruit supplied by Amy's southern Minnesota family. Hops are being cultivated for local home brewers. When their chickens arrive, eggs will follow. And next year, Schrecengost is going to pump up this past spring's project of tapping boulevard maple trees for syrup production.
Pig's Eye follows organic practices, although it's not certified as such. "It's difficult to get organic certification if you're farming in the city, for all kinds of reasons," said Schrecengost, adding that each plot's soil is tested for chemicals before planting. "But it makes sense to grow food in the city, because we live here."
Pig's Eye Urban Farm at the Midtown Farmers Market, Lake St. and 22nd Av. S., Mpls., www.midtownfarmersmarket.org. Open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday. For kale recipes, go to Startribune.com/tabletalk. For a map of Twin Cities metro-area farmers markets, go to Startribune.com/taste.