Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sentinel column - 5-28-10

I started my day off right this morning. My friend Carol Ott called to tell me a “Nickyism”. Her son Nicky is a young man with a huge heart but limited mental abilities. Nicky goes to church with many of the market volunteers and we can always count on an enthusiastic hug whenever we see him. That's Nicky giving a hug to Miss Peggy (Bailey) who was his kindergarten teacher at church.

Carol said she always begins the day by asking Nicky what he’d like to do. Tuesday his immediate response was “I need to go to that market.” Carol wasn’t sure what Nicky meant, so she asked what market. “That friendly market where everyone says hi to me.” Do you mean the farmers market? “Yes, I need to go to the friendly farmers market.”

Bless your heart, Nicky, for reminding us that smiles and kind words are among our most important offerings at the market.

There will be plenty to smile about today. One thing I’m especially looking forward to is the performance of Swing Grass. This local group does a personalized and updated version of bluegrass and I do mean personalized. One member, Jason Brown, has even written a farmers market song after coming to the market to soak up the atmosphere.

More good things we expect today:

There will be a plentiful supply of pie cherries at the Urban Gardeners and at Dale Mermoud’s table. Hector Troyer will be back with some of his wonderful hanging baskets. The Carl Junction FFA will also be at the market. And the produce just keeps pouring in as more crops come into season.

We’ve had a good supply of strawberries this week, which brings up a question from a friend. Why are the strawberries so expensive?

The market strawberries can seem expensive when compared to grocery store strawberries – especially after the store prices we saw in April when there was such a glut of Florida strawberries that they were plowing under bearing plants to reduce the supply.

If you’ve bought market strawberries, you know that they are fragile. They’re packed with flavor, but should be eaten or prepared within a day or two of purchase. The taste is amazing but sturdy they are not. If you tried to ship market berries across the country, you’d end up with jam – really good jam, but jam none the less.

That fragility begins in the field. It is not uncommon for as much as half the crop to be lost in the field from weather conditions like too much rain or late frosts. I have visited farms where the rows between the plants are filled with harvested berries that were damaged and unsaleable. In the case of frost damage, the whole crop can be lost. All of which means that for every basket sold, our farmer has probably lost at least another basket to damage.

So even though the price may seem high, the profits are not. In fact, most of our farmers grow strawberries because our customers love them, not because strawberries are a sure source of income.

At our market, vendors set their own price. When asked, I might suggest a new grower consider what other growers charge at the market, as well as the quality of their product and the cost of growing it when setting the price. But the price is the vendor’s decision.

Please believe me when I say, our vendors are not getting rich from market sales. We visit every vendor and they almost all live modestly and many depend on second jobs to pay the bills. They are farmers, ranchers, and bakers because they love what they do and they work really hard doing it.

Lunch today is barbecued beef sandwich, potato salad, oriental cole slaw, fruit cup and drink for $6. There is also a luncheon salad for $4.

Next week, Cooking for a Cause benefits the Joplin Business Women of Missouri. Rob Pommert plays.

On June 5th, we begin our Saturday market from 9 to noon.

We hope to see you at our friendly farmers market and be sure to say “hi” if you see Nicky.