After spending several years working for and learning from others, farmer Sarah Woutat is loving her first summer as her own boss.
There was plenty of vegetable goodness to eyeball at her Uproot Farm stand at last Saturday's Fulton Farmers Market, but the biggest attention-getters were the bins filled with round -- and portable -- cantaloupe-sized watermelon.
The crop -- both red and yellow varieties -- is a small-scale experiment. Woutat observed watermelon's refusal to thrive at the northern Minnesota farm where she was employed last year, and she wasn't sure what kind of results she would see at her own 10-acre spread, located 40 miles to the south, near Princeton, Minn. "But I figured I'd try," she said. "If it worked out, great, and if it didn't, it's not the end of the world."
The recent balmy weather has made all the difference. "I'm swimming in watermelon," Woutat said with a laugh, which is a good thing, because she's observing all kinds of pent-up demand. "People get excited about Minnesota-grown fruit, because there's not a lot of fruit that we can grow here," she said.
So far, Woutat funnels her hard work into three sales venues: her busy Fulton Farmers Market stand, a small community supported agriculture crop-share program (an autumn share -- including beets, carrots, parsnips, celariac and other storage crops -- remains available), and a wholesale arrangement with City Center Market natural foods co-op in nearby Cambridge, Minn. "It's a really nice relationship," said Woutat. "I get to sell to people in my neighborhood, and they get very fresh local produce."
Her favorite way to enjoy watermelon? In the field, using her pocket knife to cut through the rind; forget the niceties of a fork and a plate. "We spend 20 minutes eating before we start picking," Woutat said. "It's one of the many benefits of being a farmer."
Watermelon ($3 to $6) from Uproot Farm (www.uprootfarm.com) at the Fulton Farmers Market, 49th St. and Chowen Av. S., Mpls., www.fultonfarmersmarket.org. Open 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. For a map of Twin Cities metro area farmers markets, go to startribune.com/taste.