Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Webb City Sentinel market column - 6-21-17

Fue Yang, who will soon to complete his Agriculture Business degree from Crowder College, is the manager of our Education Center located on the Yang Farm, as well as one of the market’s growers. When he needed an internship project for his studies, the center provided an excellent venue and the market served as his supervisor. His final report on the project, written in early May, is a wonderful peek into his experience. Since our monthly Tunnel Twilight Walk at the Center is tomorrow, I thought today would be the perfect time to share it. I have reprinted it, with Fue’s permission, below after the current market news.

Tomorrow, the fabulous Geriatric 5 play. The Free Kids Meal is chicken with rice, market produce and milk. Both the music and the kids meal runs from 11 to 1. The market is open from 11 to 2.

The Market Lady, Carolyn Smith, will demonstrate a recipe tomorrow featuring Braker Berry Farm blackberry jam.

Stewart’s Bakery is serving Mexican casserole for $6. Ana’s Bananas has fresh cut fruit salad and grilled chicken salad for $5 each.

On Saturday, Scott Eastman plays. Cooking for a Cause benefits the Webb City High School Band Boosters. The Free Kids Meal is egg casserole and a biscuit. All three runs from 9 to 11, while the market is open until noon.

Stewart’s Bakery is serving spaghetti and meat balls and Ana’s Bananas will have their fruit salad and grilled chicken salad.

Fresh Ground Seed Library, a project of the Master Gardeners, will be at the market Saturday, with information on seed saving. Look for them north of the pavilion.

The June Twilight Tunnel Walk is set for tomorrow starting at 7 pm at the market’s Year-Round Education Center located on the Yang Farm, 1213 Route U, Rocky Comfort (1.77 miles south of the intersection of State Highway 76 & Route U).

Walk through the Center’s two high tunnels with Extension experts and experienced farmers. The walk is free and open to growers and the general public. No reservations are needed and it';s free. The Twilight Tunnel Walk takes place on the fourth Thursday through September. 

Planning the Education Center planting schedule in 2016

Fue’s Report - Agriculture has always been familiar to me. My childhood pretty much revolved around agriculture. My parents had various agricultural jobs throughout my childhood. I remember my mom and dad working as cucumber pickers in Wisconsin during the summers. There were rows after rows of pickling cucumbers growing in what seemed like an endless field. When we lived in Massachusetts my mom would pick us up after school and go straight to the apple orchards where my dad worked as an apple picker. I can remember sitting in between the rows of apple trees doing homework and watching my dad work while chewing on a freshly picked apple and enjoying the light breeze blowing.

From what I can remember we had always grown our own vegetables throughout my childhood. From mustard greens to cucumbers to corn, we had it growing in our garden. I remember being taught how to use a garden hoe to weed and dig holes to plant seeds. That little vegetable garden that we had would eventually grow into a small business we called Yang Family Vegetables, which we started in Massachusetts around 2003-2004.

In 2006 my dad started making preparations to retire. We came to Southwest Missouri to look for, and ultimately purchase, a small 43-acre cattle farm. In February of 2007 my wife and I, along with our two young daughters, moved here to live on the farm. My parents retired in 2010, relocated here, and wanted to continue vegetable farming. In late 2011 I quit my job at La-Z-Boy in Neosho, Missouri, and picked up farming again in the spring of 2012. During this time I debated whether or not I wanted to do this for a living. If I did then I wanted to go back to school because I thought that by going back to school I could learn new ways to farm. I wanted learn some of today’s technology and utilize it on the farm and try to make it more efficient. I finally made the decision to go back to school in the fall of 2015 and enrolled as a business ag major at Crowder College. Well, I say I made the decision but it was actually my wife who enrolled me, so I couldn’t exactly turn back now.

A couple of weeks after I received my acceptance letter from Crowder, I got a phone call from Eileen Nichols (Webb City Farmers Market Master and supervisor for this internship). That one phone call would completely change the way Yang Family Vegetables operates today. She was working on a grant to establish an education center that consisted of two high tunnels and a seed starting greenhouse. The education center was going to be focused on season extension and winter production. There would also be monthly walkthroughs and various workshops throughout the year.

I was very excited about the project but kind of nervous at the same time. It would provide the technology that I had wanted to learn about. I would be working with the Webb City Farmers Market, Lincoln University Extension, and University of Missouri Extension, as well as having a farmer mentor to learn from. But I would also be going to school at the same time and was afraid I that had chewed off more than I could handle. My dad also was very hesitant about the project because of the added workload and he was skeptical as how it would improve our farming practices. Most importantly, he didn’t want to let everyone down if things didn’t go the way it should. I am happy to say that the Education Center is in its second year of operation and accomplishing its goals.

This year has been tough out in the field. In fact, in all the years that we have been farming here I have never seen it as bad as this year. My Troybilt tiller died and had to be resurrected and my tractor was down for a little while as well. Our well pump also died for a bit. Then we got hit with rain, wind, and hail that pretty much destroyed everything out in the field. My green onions, sweet onions, and snap peas that were in the field looked like someone had laid a 2 by 6 on top of them and pushed them down flat onto the ground. My lettuce, spinach, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash were ripped to shreds by the hail. We had to replant most of the plants and what we didn’t replant are still trying to recover. The plastic on tunnels on one side are full of little welts, divots, and holes but it did protect the tomatoes and other plants I had in there. Not a single plant in the tunnels was affected by the storms.

My internship revolved around working in the high tunnels as well as out in the fields. My daily activities included watering the seedlings in the seed starting greenhouse and monitoring for pests and diseases, planting, transplanting, weeding, irrigation, fertilization, tilling, etc. Over the course of my internship, I acquired a lot of information that I will use on my farm. One of the things I learned is the importance of planning. We had always guess-timated everything. My mentor, Karen Scott of Oakwood Farms in Granby, showed me her planning schedule. I was absolutely amazed at all the information she had. She had her whole year planned out in weeks. Each week consisted of different things she had to get done in that week. She also had her planting schedule, including the specific cultivar, mapped out for the year. Since she practiced succession planting, her plan consisted of plantings every three weeks. She has specific dates on when to plant, what to plant and how much to plant whereas for us it was “I think this is enough,” or “the plants are fruiting so it’s time to replant.”  The result of that is sometimes we plant enough and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we replant too early and most of the time we replant too late. I will continue to write in my journal as suggested by Eileen after my internship is over and use it as a starting template.

Last year we planted two rows of tomatoes and one double row with each plant being 18 inches apart in the heated tunnel. We had pesticide damage last year so the leaves and branches were stunted. This year we decided to do three double rows to save space since last year’s double row worked well. That would leave us two rows to plant zucchini and cucumbers. We transplanted the tomatoes at 18 inches apart like last year but this year the tomatoes are growing to be bigger than we had anticipated because we grew a different cultivar of tomatoes in hopes of decreasing the chances of pesticide damage. Even with all the pruning, the plants are still a pretty good size and the leaves from different plants are overlapping and seem to be a little over crowded. Next year I am going to plant them about two feet apart to help with the crowding. I will get fewer plants but there will be better air circulation, which should keep down diseases and plant stress. As of right now the tomato plants are a good four and a half feet tall and have on average three to four cluster of tomatoes on each plant.

One of the things I wanted to include in this report was the education part of this project. One of project’s main goals is to teach other farmers and the community about season extension and winter production through the use of the high tunnels and the seed starting greenhouse. Every fourth Thursday beginning in April and ending in October, Lincoln, MU Extension, and the Webb City Farmers Market hold a Twilight Tunnel Walk that’s open to the public. This walk-through is designed as an introduction into the usage and benefits of the tunnels and the greenhouse. It also shows the progress of our produce as it is growing, the problems and pests that we might have.

This year they decided to do a pilot field day for high school kids. Two week before the field day I was asked to do a presentation. I have never done a presentation before and was pretty nervous about it. Karen and I met and discussed what I was going to talk about and made up a general a list but I still didn’t know what I was going to say. Randy Garrett with LU Extension who organized the field day suggested I talk about my experience with the tunnels and the project. 
When it was my turn to present, I took a deep breath and told myself it’ll be ok, just go slow. As I looked at the kids looking at me, a sense of calmness kind of took over me. I was still pretty nervous but I opened my mouth and the words just started to come out. I talked about where we came from, about how I grew up around agriculture, how my parents farmed during their time in Laos (methods we still use here), about how we started Yang Family Vegetables, and about how I tried to walk away from farming but ended up coming back to it. The farther I tried to get away from it the deeper I became involved. Now I embrace it with arms wide open.

Throughout my time at Crowder and my involvement in the education center, along with this internship, the experience has really opened my eyes. I learned in school that we live in a society where food is readily available. A society where being hungry means a trip to the grocery store, or even easier, a trip to McDonald’s. I realized with the education center that there is useful technology out there, but it takes farmers like my parents longer to see the need for change because their set ways have been passed down from generation to generation. I’m starting to notice that there are big differences when working in the tunnels vs. the fields. The tunnels are a lot easier, they are less labor intensive, and the growth and production so far has been better than the field. This internship helped me start collecting data via a journal that will be useful later on. I have seed starting dates, transplanting dates, and now harvesting dates that I will always have on hand and available when I need them for reference.

My goal is to pass on the knowledge of what I have and will learn in the coming years. The world is changing and we need to change with it. The average farmer today is at or near the age of retirement. Farmlands all over the world are being developed and the population is ever growing. The decisions we make today will impact the lives of our children, their children and their children’s children. I am choosing to go backwards to move forward. Backwards in the sense of small local farmers growing for their families and their surrounding community. Forward in a sense that one day with enough small local farmers we might just feed the world, at least our part of it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Webb City Sentinel market column - 6=14-17

You know I’ve said before the market leads a charmed life. It didn’t feel very charming last Sunday night when I got an alert from the monitor on our walk-in cooler in the kitchen that the temperature was above 41 degrees. I hurried over and found it continuing to rise. After fitting about half of the perishable items in our reach-in cooler there were still two full racks of product worth hundreds of dollars still at risk. Sunday night at 9:30 I called Mike Wiggins and he came to the rescue. 

Together we hauled it all over to his restaurant, Granny Shaffers, and put it safely away in his walk-in. Mike commented that it wasn’t very lucky to have a cooler go down. My response – I couldn’t be luckier to have a friend who could and would come to my rescue. I think Mike would look just fine in a cape. He was certainly my hero.

Charlie Davis also stepped up in a big way last week. He invited a colleague in the Missouri State House to join him at the market Thursday to learn about what we do. Then we went over to the University of Missouri Research Station in Mount Vernon to learn about their efforts and see our blackberry demonstration plot and finally over to the Year-Round Education Center on the Yang Farm. My goal was for them to understand how important Extension is to the success of the market and to our farmers. 

Charlie said it was an eye-opening experience which was music to my ears. So much of what Extension (both University of Missouri and Lincoln University) does may not be evident to the public at large, but their efforts have been critical for the market’s success and for our farmers, too. 

In fact, just yesterday Robert Balek from MU Extension and David Middleton from LU Extension went with me to visit five farms. I go to inspect and document through photos and notes what they are growing to ensure that they are growing what they are selling at the market. The Extension experts go to advise the farmers and find out what issues are affecting production. Yesterday they addressed all sorts of challenges from aphids to fertility to crop choices to planting schedules. As a special treat we got to examine up close and personally two buggies that Enos Hertzler had just completed. Enos who, with his wife Sarah, brings fried pies to the market on Saturdays, is a professional buggy maker. Each one takes about a month to build. One was for a family with seats in the front and a compartment accessed through the back with a bench on either side for the kids to pile onto. The other was fancier and just had seating in the front. Enos said that was a courtin’ buggy.
Farm inspections are always a treat.

We have treats in store for you this week. Tomorrow the Free Kids Meal, served from 11 to 1, will be spaghetti and meatballs with zucchini/squash medley and milk. Stewart’s Bakery is serving hamburgers, potato salad and baked beans for $6. Ana’s Bananas has fresh cut fruit salad and grilled chicken salad for $5 at every market.

The Sours will play from 11 to 1. The fire department is bringing a truck and some coloring books for the kids.

Our Extension nutrition educators will be passing out samples of blueberry smoothies.

On Saturday, the Red Bridge Trio take the market stage. The Free Kids Meal will be Baked French Toast. 

Stewart’s Bakery is serving Tortilla Soup for eat in or take out. 

Cooking for a Cause will be staffed by volunteers from the Webb Chapter #204 Order of the Eastern Star. They will donate their profits to the Little Blue Bookshelf project which provides free books to children. The Chapter buys gently used books which they take to the United Way for cleaning. The Joplin United Way oversees the project. Once returned to the Chapter, the books are delivered to the Little Blue Bookshelves placed at Carterville Elementary School, Franklin Early Childhood Center, Webb City Heritage Y, the CP Center and the Webb City CARES office. Children visiting one of these places are able to choose a book to take home.

On Tuesday, the Pommerts will play and we’ll have more yummy meals and loads of fresh local produce. We expect each market to be better and better as the summer harvest comes in. Savor the season. We’ll see you at the market.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Webb City Sentinel market column - 6/7/17

The blueberries and blackberries are in!  And it looks like we’re going to have a good harvest. They first came in abundance to the market yesterday and the customers flocked to get their first sweet taste. Blueberry season will probably end about July 10 and blackberry about July 15 so don’t miss these first wonderful fruits of summer.
Robertson Family Farm and Braker Berry Farm both had a crowd wanting berries but the biggest crowd was north of the kids’ tent where the Police Department was fingerprinting kids. My, the two officers had a line for three solid hours. Of course, it’s smart to have your child’s fingerprint in case of unthinkable emergency but we hope they end up just being fun scrapbook items. The police give the only card made to the parent. And there were lots of parents and kids taking advantage of the opportunity.

We had almost 170 kids enjoy a supper of beef and cheese nachos with carrots and a tomato and cucumber salad. Tomorrow the kids will have Sloppy Joes. We haven’t decided on the veggie sides yet. That’s the beauty of eating seasonally. Whatever is in abundance is what we’ll serve. I’m thinking cucumber slices for sure. They are so refreshing on a warm summer day and the kids love them. The Free Kids Meal is about as Farm to Table as you can get, but in a casual setting rather than a fancy restaurant. That suits us all just fine.

Kids Play! will be north of the kids’ tent. On Thursdays MU Extension staff and our volunteers lead kids in active play after their healthy meal. 

Tomorrow, Stewart’s Bakery will serve Cheesy Chicken Bake for $6. William Adkins will be on the market stage.

We have two sets of guests coming tomorrow. Joplin’s Early Head Start families are gathering at the market and Charlie Davis is bringing three fellow state legislators to have supper at the market and then visit the market’s blackberry demonstration plot at the Mount Vernon Research Center and our Year-Round Growing Education Center on the Yang Farm. We want them to see the economic and social dividends at the market that are, in part, the result of the training supported by the state and Extension. And to hear the music supported by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency, and see Extension leading Kids Play! The market would not be what it is without all those partnerships.
On Saturday, the Free Kids Meal is breakfast casserole with a biscuit. Cooking for a Cause supports the Webb City Friends of the Library - eggs cooked to order, biscuit and gravy, sausages, and drink for $4.50.

The music Saturday is the fabulous Geriatrics 5. This amazing group has 300 years of professional music experience among them. They play classic country, Western Swing, 50’s and 60’s rock and more. And what a sense of humor! They put their tip jar on one of the member’s walker!

Meals and music run from 9 to 11.

Next Tuesday’s meals aren’t set yet. They’ll be on the market’s web site Sunday. Remember, it’s I got a call from a lady yesterday telling me our web site had the wrong days. “Are you sure it’s our web site?” “Oh, yes, it says” That, of course, is not our web site but rather one of the dozens of web sites that never update their information. There are a few that still list our hours and days from our first year, 2000. Our requests that they update the information just disappears into the vast internet cosmos. Oh, well, just plug in our actual web site and you’ll get the latest info. 

The Granny Chicks will play on Tuesday and they are always fun. 

We’re getting into that time of year when every market has a new crop and every market just gets better and better. Oh, we’re going to have a good time this summer!  See you at the market.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Webb City Sentinel market column - 5-31-17

We’re looking at another week of rain which is just one more reason to be thankful for our pavilion – originally built by the Mining Days Committee and refitted by the Parks Department and the Perry Family Foundation. And for our big tent for the Kids Meals given to us by the Joplin Area Food Action Network.

And for all the high tunnels supplying our market – 27 at last count. This dreary weather can really wreck havoc on the field crops but while the protected crops may be slowed down a bit but they still produce.  And as you can see from photos of this week's markets, our farmers are bringing beautiful produce.

I finished up the final report for our Winter Production Conference grant yesterday and the results were impressive – at least to me.  We used our market to examine project results because that’s the market we have data on. So the results don’t include the farmers who serve other communities and who made up 75% of the conference attendees.

When we began the conferences in 2013 our market was served by seven farms with a total of nine high tunnels. Now we have 13 farms with a total of 27 tunnels. Total sales during the winter market season of 2012 -2013 were $36,640. Total sales during the 2016 -2017 winter season were $130,860. Those figures tell us that the project funded by the grant resulted in more successful farms and more fresh local produce for our community.

Like most effective projects, the conferences did not operate in a vacuum. During the same time, the federal government had a program in place to help farmers secure high tunnels and the market worked with its partners to improve the winter facility and winter activities (we would be remiss if we didn’t say here “Thank you, Santa!”).

And here we are in June still benefitting from what started out as a winter production project because our farmers learned very quickly that high tunnels have value year-round.

On Thursday, as you delight in buying high tunnel tomatoes, you can also enjoy lunch with Stewart’s Bakery – hamburger stuffed shells in sauce with green salad for $6. 

The Free Kids Meal will be beef nachos. Eden Stewart with MU Extension will be near the tent with activities for the kids to get them moving after a good meal. 

The Sours & Teen Foggies will take the market stage. 

Extension experts from both MU and Lincoln University will be on hand to provide advice on landscaping and garden questions. The Fresh Ground Seed Library will hand out free seeds.
On Saturday, the Free Kids Meal is biscuits and gravy with farm fresh tomato slices. Cooking for a Cause benefits the local chapter of the Bereaved Parents of the USA. Your meal will be prepared and served by people who have faced the worst life has to offer and now use that devastating experience to help others dealing with the loss of a child.

The fabulous Granny Chicks will be on the market stage Saturday. 

Braker Farms sold out of their hanging baskets last week and Owen tells me he’ll probably be out after Saturday, so if you want a basket be sure to come on Saturday. (Owen doesn’t come right now on Thursdays.) 

Just a note to remind parents of children enjoying the Free Kids Meal. Our funder, the USDA, requires that we be able to monitor meals which means the kids have to eat in or near the tent. They also require that only the children eat their meal so parents can’t sample, even the leftovers.

I had a very proud little fellow at the information desk Thursday who informed me that he tried all the vegetables on his plate at the free meal. That’s what volunteer Marilyn calls a “No thank you bite.”  The little guy asked me “Did you know there are PEAS inside that shell?”  I said, yes, did you just eat the peas?  “No, I ate the whole thing. It was good!  And the carrot was even better!”  And that, friends, is what we’re trying to do – build healthier kids one bite at a time.

See you at the market!