The people (and pets) you meet at the Des Moines Farmers' Market
On any given Saturday, you might walk past 20,000 to 40,000 people as you buy kale and mini-doughnuts at the Downtown Farmers' Market. But who are those people? Juice spent a Saturday morning walking around Court District, meeting the people of the farmers market.
The wall of burritos
If you've ever attempted to enter the farmers' market via Fourth St. after 9 p.m., you've had to attempt to bypass the hungry wall of humanity that is the line for Farm Boys burritos. Farm Boys has been the gatekeeper of the Downtown Farmers' Market for the last 13 years.
If you arrive closer to 7 a.m., the line isn't quite as insane. You might even have your burrito served by owner Sharon Walter, 74.
"My youngest daughter started the stand and I have my daughter, Anita, helping today along with a few grandkids and a niece," Walter said. "It's nice, just kind of a family thing."
As many as 40,000 people are at the Downtown Farmers' Market on a Saturday, but there are seemingly 80,000 dogs. Everywhere you look, there are butts being sniffed and territory being marked.
Kip and Gayle Mcmillen were keeping Spencer, their 14-year-old shih tzu, above the fray in a "Poochie Pouch," basically a baby bjorn, but for dogs.
"We got it when he was a puppy, we went on a vacation and he didn't want to walk," Gayle said. "He'll lay in bed all week, but when we said 'farmers' market,' boom, he runs right for it."
Stephanie Krois and Michelle Frank were walking their bear at the farmers' market. Wait, correct that, not a bear, just a 150-pound Anatolian Shepherd named Jack.
"Big dogs seem to get a lot of attention," Krois said, noting that Jack belongs to a relative. She's just walking him. "Some people are afraid, some people want to pet him."
It's a dog's world at the farmers' market, which makes Zoom stand-out. That and the fact that owner Candy Haney was walking him on a leash.
"When I got him, I didn't want him to run off, so I said 'I'm going to put a leash on you,' " Haney said. "He's deaf, so I can't chase after him saying 'Here kitty, kitty.' "
Walking a cat isn't quite as easy as walking a dog at the farmers' market. Haney has to walk at Zoom's pace, which was not so zoomy. Also, lots of people stop to pet him, take pictures and give him treats. It took about two hours for Haney and Zoom to cover a few blocks.
"I walk him every day, but this was my first time walking him at the farmers' market," Haney said. "We'll be back."
A recipe for dinner
If you talk to only one person at the Downtown Farmers' Market, make it Larry Cleverly of Cleverly Farms. Cleverly has opinions on food, music, the world in general, what you're wearing. You can just let him riff.
Asked what's fresh this week, he ended up providing a good dinner option. He pulled a handful of arugula from one of the baskets at the front of his stand.
"Do you like wasabi? Check this out, it's wasabi arugula," Cleverly said, inviting a sampling of a veggie that's much hotter than the normally peppery arugula. "Cook up a nice tuna steak on the grill, lay it on a bed of that and let it wilt down a little. It's amazing. That's going to be dinner at the farm tonight."
Come for the fresh vegetables, stay for the culinary advice.
An international market
"I'm on my last legs. Over one million sold," said Salloo Sadiq, a little one-woman show cooking cutlets over a large skillet at Salloo's India on Court Ave.
Sadiq has been making her Indian food for decades. She used to sell her naan to 19 stores, but now she limits herself to just the downtown and Valley Junction farmers' markets. She wants to do it all herself, cooking away over her hot stove, though her daughter does help with some of the side work.
"My thing is, if I need help, I quit," Sadiq said of her determination. "It's a lot of work, but I love it."
Next to the Cleverly Farms stand, Des Moines jazz legend Julius Brooks, 86, is playing saxophone. He has toured with Ray Charles, Little Richard and many others. There was a tip jar out.
So do people tip well at the farmers' market?
"Mmm hmm, when they got it," Brooks answered.
What kind of songs go over well with the crowds?
"I can't tell, I just go from song to song," Brooks said, before starting up a soulful "Amazing Grace."
A block west, at Fourth and Court, the folk duo Ira Grace & The Bible Belt Prophets were playing a mix of original songs and covers. They had arrived at 7 a.m. and would play until noon.
"It's definitely a battle, as far as getting up to play at 7 a.m. and playing until noon," said co-vocalist Marc Bailey. "Even if you wake up at 5 a.m., your body and vocal chords aren't warmed up the way they would be at 7 p.m."
The duo tries to draw in crowds with a cover song, then hold them in place with one of their more upbeat songs.
"It's a pretty big money-maker as far as individual tips," Bailey said. "We sell some merchandise as well, but we are really fortunate on the tips."
A job that blows
Sydney Storm is a certified hypnotist, but at the farmers' market he's generally in the sword and giraffe trade. Storm spends his Saturday mornings making balloon animals for tips. A massive pump could inflate each balloon in about a second. He would quickly bend them into different shapes, stuffing them into barrels so that when a kid asks, he's got the creation handy.
"I usually save the more complicated designs for birthday parties so the lines are shorter," Storm said. "My tip bucket is a little bigger when the parents aren't left waiting."
Beverages on bikes
Near Fourth and Court, Rick Wisecp and Jerry Bachler stood next to bikes, wearing gray Army shirts. Wisecp's bike towed a cooler, advertising beverages, noting that it's "Veteran Owned & Operated."
"I started this thing out last week," Wisecp said. "All I had was a dream."
"I'm so alive right now."
When you hear someone in the crowd say something like that, you have to stop.
The statement was made by Daeante Neely, 22. The reason? He and his friends, Daniel Brown, 25 and Taylor Spartz, 25, haven't really been to bed yet.
"Day drinking, that's what's happening," Spartz said.
Neely grasped a sweaty bottle of wine that he purchased at the market. For the record, it was still sealed.
Bars open early
Bars like Fong's, The Royal Mile, Legend's and others do a brisk business on Saturday mornings during the farmers' market. It makes sense; would you want to be closed when there are 25,000 people outside your business?
The patio at Mickey's Irish Pub, at Third and Court, is the epicenter for early-morning boozing. Every booth and bar stool is likely to be full on Saturday mornings.
K.C. Reed, 23, Brenna Giusti, 21, and Meredith Anderson, 22, were sitting in a booth at Mickey's, enjoying mimosas and Bloody Marys.
"It's a great place to people watch," Giusti said. "I love to check out the food and the dogs."
Des Moines Farmers' Market
When: 7 a.m.-noon Saturdays through Sept. 26, 8 a.m.-noon Oct. 3-31
Where: Court District, downtown