Friday, February 22, 2019

Webb City Sentinel market column - 2/20/19

You’ll get to enjoy that fabulous pasta I raved about last week. MaMa JoJo’s will also have soup – creamy chicken noodle, plus a second that Chef JT is keeping under wraps.

Fit Foods is serving breakfast:  scrambled eggs, sausage, hashbrown casserole and a choice of biscuits and gravy or buttermilk blueberry biscuits, and of coffee or OJ for $5.

Max Barnett will be on the market stage.

The Kids Garden Club will plant and decorate egg carton salad gardens. It’s come and go from 9 to noon and free. Master gardener Eric gives adults gardening advice as well as working with the kiddos.
Four farms - Braker, Harmony, Misty Morning, and Oak Woods - will have lots of greens, root crops, and other goodies. We’ll have honey, eggs, pork, beef, chicken and lamb, jams and jellies, smoked seasonings and dip mixes, plus our crafters 2Ts Soap and Stuff, Delightful Gifts (fire starters), Garden ‘n’ Goat soaps, Twice as Sharp knife and blade sharpening, and Joplin Business Women with Rada utensils.

Winter is the season of training for market operators as well as market farmers. Our market assistant Rachael went to her first Missouri Farmers Market Association annual meeting for us last weekend. I want to close with her report to me:

Friday morning’s weather had me wondering if it was wise to attend the conference in Jeff City, especially after fishtailing the entire length of the bridge right before Mt. Vernon on I-70. With white knuckles gripping the steering wheel, I decided to press on. I am happy I did. That evening Adam Mefrakis, a produce safety inspection for the Missouri Department of Agriculture, gave us an overview of the federal Produce Safety Rule. He emphasized the importance of growers following the rule to keep our community safe from food contamination outbreaks, and our farmers and market safe from liability. (note from Eileen – the market has been training our farmers on food safety for over a decade. Our farmers are professionals and work hard to keep our fresh local produce safe.)

Saturday was saturated with good information. It was fun being part of a group who, like me, geek out over locally sourced foods and providing a venue for our small farmers to sell.

Farmers markets exist in small towns, urban neighborhoods, and everywhere in between because individuals like those I met this weekend believe that fresh foods are important for the health of our neighbors and of our farming neighbor.

I want to use what I learned at the conference to give Webb City Farmers Market a great anniversary year, which means I need to hear from you. The market will have clip boards set up by the information table with questions for you to answer – like, what does the market need, what do you love about the market – as well as sheets seeking your suggestions. Our hope is to make sure the vision and mission of the market continues to reflect the values and needs of our community. You can help our 20th year the best ever.

The market recently held its annual members meeting. The members set April 20 as our opening date for the regular season. After that we’ll be open Tuesday from 4 to 7 pm, Thursday from 11 to 2, and of course Saturday from 9 to noon. The applications for 2019 are on the market’s website and at the market information table. Whether you want to sell, volunteer, demonstrate, or play and sing on the market stage, you can now apply to be part of the market’s 20th year. See you Saturday!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Webb City Sentinel market column - 2/13/19

We’re looking forward (I am making air quotes here) to another chilly Saturday so the pavilion will be buttoned up and the heaters going full blast.

We’re expecting five farms with local produce, three ranchers with local meats, and egg ranchers, plus honey, jams and jellies, freshly roasted coffee beans, 2Ts soaps, Joplin Business Women, and our knife sharpener.

MaMa JoJo’s can’t be at the market, but Fit Foods has stepped up and will have scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy, hashbrowns and drink for $5.

The Little Peoples Garden is also scheduled to be at the market with their freshly made egg rolls.
Richard Hugh Roberts will be on the market stage. Our musicians are such troopers. Cold weather?  They just dress for the occasion!

As always, the market will be open unless the roads are made unsafe by ice.

I just finished a major project for the market yesterday. You may remember that the market has held four regional two-day conferences on winter production over the last five years. You reap the benefits of that training every Saturday during winter.

This year, at the suggestion of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, we moved that conference to another part of the state. The “we” I refer to includes Patrick Byers and Robert Balek of MU Extension, Shon Bishop and David Middleton of LU Co-operative Extension and myself.  The photo is of us and our presenters:  Paul and Sandy Arnold, Matt Kleinhenz, Jason Hirtz, and Liz Graznak.  

The market has been a key player because we don’t have all the paperwork and hierarchy of the universities so it is a much simpler proposition for us to apply for and administer a grant. And, frankly, we make a good team. They have the education skills and I’m naive enough to think we can do projects of regional, even national consequence.

The conference was held at the George Washington Carver Farm owned by Lincoln University and it was an ideal setting and incredibly generous of LU to offer it for free. I was also particularly pleased that both the interim dean of the LU department of agriculture and the head of LU Co-operative Extension stopped by. I want them to know what jewels they have in Shon and David. The dean was so impressed that he asked for photos and an article to include in university communications.

We plan to bring this training back to Webb City in a few years, but after four conferences our growers are pretty well trained, though Karen Scott of Oakwoods made the trip up to Jeff City, as did several other growers from Joplin and Springfield. There were growers from the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, as well as one from Iowa, but most were from central Missouri, which was our hope. We were also pleased that three of the folks we work with at the Missouri Department of Agriculture were able to attend and see what they have been supporting for many years. It was fun to learn that the photos and information I sent them about our Year-Round Education Center had been included as an example of an excellent grant project in the fact sheet provided by the national association of state ag departments lobbying congress on the recent farm bill.

Our presenters were top notch, including a very successful farming couple from up-state New York and an Extension professor from Ohio State. Our presenters also included exceptional Missouri winter farmers Liz Graznack of Jamestown and Jason Hirtz of Mount Vernon, as well as our southwest Missouri Extension team of Shon, David, Patrick, and Robert. Remember when I mentioned projects of national consequence?  The professor from Ohio State had been recommended to me, I called him out of the blue, and his response?  “I’d love to come. I’ve been wanting to attend that conference for years.”  Who knew?  Not me for sure although the professor from New York I’d called earlier apparently did. He had just booked his family vacation for the same week as the conference but said, “Let me know as soon as you set the date for 2020. I want to come.”

I haven’t seen the attendee evaluations yet, but they’ll be a great learning tool for the conference planned for the St. Louis area next year. But I know it was successful for at least one grower. She made an important statement during our last session which was basically a last conversation when attendees and presenters all gathered in a large circle. The farmer commented that she had planned to start winter farming but after learning how challenging winter production is, she decided to continue to use her winters for repairing farm equipment and planning for the spring. 

Now, that may sound like an unsatisfactory conference result to you, but her next statement will give you a clearer understanding:  “And I want to thank you for saving me thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of hard work and tons of stress.”

The purpose of the conference is not just to increase winter production, but rather to give farmers the information to make good choices regarding winter growing. Some farmers left knowing winter production was not for them, at least for now, while others left equipped with the knowledge and networks that would help them begin winter production or, for experienced growers, become more successful.

Winter farming is not for everyone, but aren’t we fortunate that it is right for some of our farmers?  Savor that good fortune when you dig into that spectacular pasta sauce this week, or a luscious green salad you make, or a lovely sweet potato casserole. Life is good in Webb City.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Webb City Sentinel market column - 1/9/19

It’s a wrap – part two.  Last week’s column featured some of 2018 at the market and though I have no hope of covering everything, I’ll share some other highlights of 2018 in this column.
Perhaps the most important event was the decision of the city council to help secure the market’s future.  

Dad with his first great-granchild
About three years ago, it became clear that the market should not rely solely on a volunteer manager. If you know me and my family, you know that date coincides with the death of my father, Bob
Nichols.  Dad was a force for good and a leader in many areas.  Losing him left a big gap, not only for me, but also for the community and it made me realize how unwise it was for the market to rely so heavily on me, a volunteer.  I won’t live forever, and I plan to spend much of my future time with my grandchildren, being a good influence I hope!

Remember the market before paved parking?  The city has been good to us!
I wrote a grant that allowed us to hire a manager and by the end of that grant the market had increased its revenue sufficiently to pay 50% of the payroll.  Thankfully, the city has stepped in to pay the other half.  That should secure the future of the market, regardless of my efforts.  With a paid position, the market can be sure of a manager.  Of course, the market continues to work towards more self sufficiency.  Getting the market kitchen fully in use is a big piece of that, so send food businesses our way.  We have a great kitchen, inspected by the health department, with reasonable rates.  It’s just the place for a start up or small business.

We continue to depend on volunteers.  At every market you will see one, or two or more volunteers helping at the market.  During the summer you’ll often see even more.  We have a software consultant that keeps our data in order, a CPA that handles our bookkeeping, folks who drive the market cart, who help with the kids’ meals and kids’ activities and many others.  Plus our vendors pitch in, whether it’s setting up umbrellas or cleaning the bathrooms.  We are, as a consultant once said, labor-intensive, but that’s how we like it because that means we’re keeping all the “T”s crossed and the “I”s dotted.  I’m a big fan of clean bathrooms and safe comfortable facilities, happy, well fed kids, and a welcoming community.
The fire & police department brought in lots to show the kids
So hats off to the city that helps us be that welcoming safe community.  And to the parks workers who are such wonderful market partners, and to the police and fire departments who interact with the kids at the market. And while we’re talking about local government, let’s not forget the Jasper County Health Department who helps us make sure the market kitchen puts out safe food, whether for the market customers or the customers of our renters, and that the market vendors are handling food safely.

At the state level, we can’t forget the Missouri Arts Council which has helped with our music program for 16 years.

The nutrition educators at MU Extension shared recipes and tips with our customers almost every week last summer.  And of course our terrific MU Extension and Lincoln Co-operative Extension horticulture educators are a constant source of information and guidance for farmers that sell at the market and at other markets throughout the region. 

Here I am, out of room again, but we’ll leave 2018 here because this year, 2019, deserves all our attention.  The market is 20 years old this year!

The forecast is snowy this Saturday, but as long as the roads are not icy we should be open.  You can call the market manager (and that would not be me!) for an update at 417 499-4831 or the market’s facebook page.  Right now the forecast is calling for temperatures above freezing, so we should be good.

I hope so because we expect a lovely market.  The Kids Garden Club starts up Saturday with the ever popular Face-on-a-Pot.  Kids get to make a face on a flower pot and plant wheat grass which then sprouts into green “hair”.  Its free, courtesy of our wonderful master gardener volunteer Eric.
Mama JoJo’s will serve their hearty breakfast and their artisan pasta with sauce and a bread stick for eat-in or take-away.  Little People’s Garden will sell their fresh egg rolls.  Richard Roberts is on the market stage.

In addition to fresh, local produce, we expect freshly roasted coffee beans, baked goods, lots of eggs – chicken, quail and duck! – honey, meats, smoked salts and spices, soaps and more.  After our brief spring this week, bundle up and come back to the winter market.  Hurray for 2019!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Webb City Sentinel market column - 1/2/19

It’s a wrap! 2018 is in the record books, (and what fun to see we made the Sentinel's annual review - above) though we haven’t run the numbers yet to see if we made any records. Given the hit the peach crop took this year, probably not. Peaches are a major crop for us so when they are damaged by a late freeze we always see sales goes down even if sales went up in other areas – like artisan pasta. We welcomed Chef Amos and his crew to the market this year and have enjoyed his fresh pasta and sauces and wonderful breakfasts. 

MaMa JoJo’s Pasta is truly a moveable feast. They pull up with their long trailer and set up almost 20 feet of professional equipment in the pavilion. And they have also placed equipment in the kitchen allowing all of us access to professional meat slicing and hopefully later this year, to commercial steaming. 

Another wrap this year was the market’s Year-Round Education Center located on the Yang Farm. (Above - One of 2 high tunnels at the Center as a group takes a tour.)  This three-year project trained many area farmers and want-to-be farmers in managing high tunnels and seed houses. It also gave our Extension team deep hands on experience with year-round growing. Even I learned a few things! Like how important air circulation is for plants and the symptoms and treatment for the dreaded Southern Blight, which a decade ago was unheard of in Missouri but has lately been appearing at several south Missouri farms.

One of our most important accomplishments at the Education Center was a person – Fue Yang. Fue agreed to serve as manager for the center which was located on his parents’ farm. He was the unanimous choice of our board and of the Hmong community. He was young, committed to a career in farming, spoke Hmong and English fluently, centrally located for the Hmong farming community and had embarked on an Ag Business degree from Crowder College. Three years later, our hopes were exceeded. He has his degree and just completed his second year as an advisor to Lincoln University’s Cooperative Extension, visiting Hmong farms with their team.  He is well skilled in protected growing and in record-keeping.  (Below, mentor Karen Scott works with Center manager Fue Yang)

From the beginning, though, our goal was to assist all area farmers interested in expanding their growing seasons and more than 75% of the farmers who participated in workshops and training at the farm were native born farmers. It was a success on all areas. 

Even when we hit road blocks like the appearance of Southern Blight in the heated tunnel, we learned from loss by focusing on hygiene issues (providing booties to visitors so soil born disease would not spread) and on alternatives. After consulting with the nationally-recognized experts that we work with in our Tomato School, Fue implemented a bag method in the heated tunnel to isolate the blight under heavy weed barrier. Our Extension team will analyze the data to see if production was affected by this change in growing technology.

We can do this because Fue has weighed and tracked all the harvests and sales by date and crop from the two high tunnels at the center, providing the first solid data on high tunnel growing in our region.
With that data farmers can better determine the cost benefit ratio of high tunnel production by crop in Southwest Missouri.

Goodness, I’m out of room and haven’t nearly covered the year.  More historical review will wait for next week because I need the rest of this column for actual news.

First of all, come buy eggs! We should have lots. And egg rolls! The Little People’s Garden draws raves for their made-at-the market egg rolls. And greens! ‘Tis the season of greens and you’ll find plenty of all kinds – lettuce, lettuce mixes, kale, spinach, wheat grass, microgreens. 

And come to eat! Mama JoJo’s Pasta will have their bountiful hot breakfast, as well as pasta with sauces for lunch to eat at the market or take out. Start the year out right with Ghetto Taco’s award-winning street tacos. They’re doing a market special of three tacos, rice and beans for $7.

Scott Eastman will be on the market stage setting all this activity to music. 

Now that Christkindlmarket is over, we’ll cozy up in the center and north sections of the pavilion. We’ll be full of food, local produce, baked goods, honey, eggs, smoked seasonings, freshly roasted coffee beans, meats, pastas, plus our knife sharpener and both our soap makers. 2019 is off to a great start!  See you there.