Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sentinel column - 5/29/09

Last year we were tickled when a couple who once sold at the market stopped by to visit. They had taken the day off for their anniversary and the market was one of their treats for the day.

So we weren’t surprised at another anniversary visit Tuesday, but we were surprised by who it was – the market manager of the Sedalia farmers market and her husband, Brenda and Mark Raetz. The Sedalia market just organized this year and we shared some of our experience and documents like rules and bylaws with them. They visited with our vendors, enjoyed lunch and music, loaded up with purchases and declared they would be back. Brenda wants to bring her whole market board to visit on a Friday (during peach season).

Sometimes we hear negative comments about new markets opening locally. Folks seem to think it might hurt our market. But we take a different approach. Our theory is the more markets there are, the more opportunity for people to make markets a regular part of their shopping. And that means more market customers, which is good for all of us. Over the winter, the Webb City market worked with new markets starting in MacDonald County, Monett, Joplin, Sedalia, Foristell, St. Louis, Battlefield and about five other Missouri communities, plus a few in Kansas.

What I hear nationwide is that markets are competing for growers, not customers. If you have good products, friendly vendors and a pleasant gathering place, customers will come. But farmers do not just appear. They have to be developed and they have to be able to make a living.

Webb City is very lucky because we have lots of growers interested in selling here. So many in fact, that we no longer accept new growers for the Friday market unless they have a product that we need. Otherwise, we’re directing new vendors to the Tuesday and Saturday markets. (The Saturday markets start in June.) We also give them a list of other area markets to try. Call me Polly Anna but I truly believe that the more successful our farmers and Missouri markets are, the more successful our own market will be.

I said we’re lucky to have a lot of growers, but it’s not really luck. We attract lots of vendors because the market appears to be successful. We’ve done a lot of grower education to help our new and experienced growers become more successful.

Speaking of success, Marilyn and I have been making farm visits this week and we’ve seen some significant improvements in agricultural practices. Our Hmong farmers are incorporating many locally appropriate techniques and our new growers are learning. A case in point is the Lone Star Farm, operated by Howard and Tracy Nutting in Anderson. They gave farming a try last year but didn’t have much production. In fact, they only made it to the market a couple of times late in the season. Over the winter, they took advantage of every learning opportunity provided by our market and the state and it really shows. They expect to be at market on Tuesday with cabbage, scallions, Yukon Gold new potatoes and maybe some beets.

The Agees from Fairview will be at the market for the first time today. Regular customers will remember them for their wonderful selection of heirloom fruits and vegetables last year.

Lunch today is barbeque beef sandwich, potato salad, 4-bean salad, cake and drink for $6. The Wild River Band plays from 11 to 1.

On Tuesday, Cooking for a Cause benefits Webb City Senior Scout troop 6438 and Rob Pommert plays from 11 to 1.

And a week from tomorrow, our Saturday markets begin from 9 to noon when you’ll find fresh local fruits and vegetables and a terrific breakfast cooked right at the market.