Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Webb City Sentinel column - 8/14/09

Resa Amos and I drove about 250 miles on Wednesday making this season’s second visit to our northern farms. Farm inspections are challenging from a time perspective. It’s hard to come up with the five full days needed to visit every grower, but it has its perks (in addition to the very necessary purpose of verifying that all our farmers are selling only what they grow).

For example, Frank Runyon’s place west of Sheldon is always a pleasure to visit. It’s located on a small lake surrounded by beautifully manicured lawns, as well as his fields of melons, garden produce, blackberries and young fruit trees. It’s lovely enough to be a resort.

Jeff Koehn welcomed us to Countryside View Greenhouse in Walker which is northeast of Nevada. He has 900 hardy mums well underway for fall, in addition to many perennials and fruit trees. In fact, Resa’s eye was caught by a Red Haven peach tree which she bought and we hauled back in my little car. When we went in to make the purchase (I bought some cinnamon candies) Resa remarked that it looked just like a little Mennonite country store. Jeff replied that was understandable since he’s Mennonite.

Hospitality is the key word at Fairhaven Berry and Vegetable Farm. Carrole has been under the weather for the past few weeks and we’ve really missed her at the market. Sitting a spell on their front porch is always part of the ritual of our visits there, but this visit was extra special because of the time we were able to spend with Carrole.

And it’s always so satifying to walk the farm with Joe. He and Carrole, like many of our vendors, are committed to making the market the best it can be. That’s why Joe still has six plantings of sweet corn that should ripen all the way to the end of September. That’s why they’ve ordered an additional 1,000 strawberry plants and a load of raspberry brambles. That’s why they planted three times the number of sweet potatoes this year as they did last year. They put in the extra effort so the market can be well stocked with local produce through the whole season, and in the case of sweet potatoes into the winter market. Speaking of sweet potatoes, the first harvest will be at the market on Friday and Saturday.

Our next stop was Pate’s Orchard where the China Pearls are ready for harvest. The China Pearl is a white peach with a taste and scent that, to be redundant, is fruity – but fruity in an almost tropical way. It’s delicious and I’d recommend you give it a try if they’re not sold out by the time you get to market.

At Broken Wire Ranch, south of Stockton, we were in for a treat. Tom Lewis specializes in peppers – hot and sweet – and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many peppers in my life. Row after row, each 450 feet long, just loaded with bright yellow, orange and red peppers of every shape and size. Tom is definitely the pepper king of the market, made more so by his pepper roaster. You can pick out the peppers of your choice and he’ll fire them up right at the market.

Sunny Lane Farms was our next stop. We got to meet their market herd of one and two year old herefords. The pastured poultry were out in the field in their new huge cages. The cages are new because in the last wind storm the old cages blew into the pond, though not before owner Nancy got all the chickens out. We also met Nancy’s new flock of sheep which later in the year will enable her to add lamb to the choices at her market stand. She’s taking pre-orders now.

Our last stop was the Vang Farm. We hadn’t planned to stop there but a road detour took us within a hundred feet of their farm, so I called and asked if they’d mind a spur of the moment visit. Geena Vang and her mother – who is the chief farmer – took us through their very extensive plantings. They have an amazing quantity of green beans. They’re also loaded with okra, egg plant, potatoes, onions, Thai peppers and lots of other vegetables. It is impressive that Mrs. Vang, with the help of her husband, manage such large plantings, mainly with hand labor. She’s sure not afraid of hard work.

During the next two weeks, we’ll be heading south, west and east finishing the inspections. We take our grower-only rule very seriously, so much so that a violation results in eviction from the market. That’s the one rule violation that we do not forgive. Intrigity is too important to the market’s success to allow any one vendor to tarnish it – which, of course, doesn’t make it any easier for me to tell farmers they have been banned. That is, for sure, my least favorite job as manager. But the up side is that, thanks to the market’s success, some 30 family businesses continue to thrive at the market. That’s one of our reasons for being and, like bread upon the water, it has spread as other communities, seeing Webb City’s success, have begun their own markets, providing venues for success for many more growers. So here’s to local markets supporting local growers, while boosting the local economy and providing local fresh food to local communities.

Lunch today is Chicken Perlu', mixed vegetables, rolls, fruit cup & drink for $6. Lee Ann & Jack Sours play from 11 to 1.

There’s lots happening on Saturday. Cub Scout Pack 29 hosts a bake sale and serves breakfast. The Granny Chicks perform. It’s also be our monthly Art Market. And, finally, it’s our Market Roots Celebration. Bring the kids to see where their food originated, see where the families of our vendors and volunteers can from and place a pin where your own roots were planted on the Historical Society’s map.