Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sentinel column - 9/5

One of my favorite parts of managing the market is visiting our farmers. Marilyn, board president Tim Green and I had scheduled visits to eight farms on Wednesday. It was the only day we all had free this week, so we went despite the forecast of rain.
My, and did it ever rain. It rained and it blew – so much that Marilyn’s umbrella blew inside out and there were a few times that I thought my golf umbrella was going to give me an aerial view of the farms.

(That's a damp Tim Green inspecting Mor Xiong's tomatoes. They're looking good and are putting on their third set for the season.)

We always discover new things, new ideas, and new places on these visits.
At Hector Troyer’s we found the tomato plants edged with tall grass. The cover crop between the rows was mowed short but he had decided not to “weed-eat”, allowing narrow strips of grass to grow high on either side of the tomatoes. His hope was that the grass would shade the fruit from the late summer sun and reduce scalding. Interesting concept, but not one he’ll repeat. The grass is a hassle to harvest through, and almost unbearably itchy, and it didn’t have any effect on scalding. But it just goes to show that Hector is always looking for ways to farm better.

He also has a low spot in a field near the house that he’s tried to drain without much success. He’s thinking it would be a great place for a volleyball lawn next year. Personally, I don’t think I’ll challenge him to a game. He towers over me.

Neng Chang is coming to sell at the market next week. She is Ton Cha’s daughter-in-law. It’s one of those relationships that doesn’t translate. Ton’s children are all young and Neng is clearly older than Ton, obviously she isn’t married to one of his children. It has something to do with generations. Apparently her husband may be the great grandson of Ton’s grandfather. It’s all a little confusing to me, unfamiliar as I am with the complexities of Asian family structures.

In any case, we visited Neng’s garden Wednesday. Upon arriving, she took us to a tiny plot with some green beans, basil and peppers. I told her it was surely not worth driving an hour to sell such a little bit. “Oh, I have another garden.” So she took us to the other side of the house and there was half an acre of squash, cucumber and melons. Then she mentioned she had one other garden. We hopped in her truck and she took us through several fields. She parked and we walked down a steep path into a small valley surrounded by trees and filled with lush vines of squash, a field of rice (below), and other crops. It was a delightful secret garden with fertile soil, sheltered on all sides.

As we left that garden, she said next year she was adding another garden spot over the hill.

During our visit with Neng my list of produce had gone from three types in the first garden to almost twenty-five by the last, proving that persistence pays. As we have become more experienced at farm inspections we have learned that it is important to ask – “Is this everything?” Growers know everything they’ve planted, but unless we see it and note it on the inspection form, it can’t be sold at the market.

Another lovely discovery Wednesday was the Agee Farm. Their large gardens and orchards are filled with innovative plantings that were interesting to learn about and lovely to behold.

I had told them that we’d probably be at their place about noon and Dee said “plan on a light lunch.” When I protested, she said that her mother didn’t raise her to have company at lunchtime without providing a meal. And, to tell you the truth, the offer was welcome because we are often many, many miles from a restaurant when on inspections. What I didn’t expect, but should have, was the spread Dee provided. The Agees grow heirloom produce so we sat down to their Brandywine tomatoes, fresh salsa, smoked salmon from their last trip to Alaska, a French dessert cantaloupe, and cider they had pressed just the night before. These are clearly people who love good food. It was a feast of freshness.

If you’d like to experience your own heirloom feast, stop by the Agee’s stand. They’re at the market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Lunch today is spaghetti & meat balls, garden salad, garlic bread, banana pudding, and drink for $6. Plainsfolk play Irish music between 11 and 1.

On Saturday we celebrate Scout Day at the market. Cub Scout Pack 25 will have a bake sale and host a craft table. The Webb City Girl Scouts will host a game and craft.

The Wild River Band will play from 9:30 to 11:30 and Hazel’s Bakery will cook up breakfast at the market until 11.