Thursday, October 7, 2010

Webb City Sentinel column - 10/8/10

This is our first week of Friday-only markets. That means we'll have the abundance of three markets packed into one.

It’s a bit of a shock going from three markets a week to one a week and next year we’re planning to ease that transition a bit by staying open two markets a week in October – weather permitting.

Weather is the major challenge in making long-term plans for the market. In the market’s early years, we had a hard freeze in the very first week of October. Back then we had no meats or baked goods, that left the market pretty sparse and we shut down within a week.

Now we would remain open regardless of the temperature, but most of the farmers would still be out of business so I always hope for a mild fall. One year the fields were still in production in December. That would be wonderful for Shoal Creek Gardens and for Fairview Gardens. They both have big beautiful green tomatoes on the vine. If the freeze can just hold off long enough for them to ripen, we should have tomatoes at the market again. And wouldn’t that be a treat after such a long dry spell, tomato-wise?(photo - Nhao Hang prepares her table at last week's market.)

As we had feared, the excessively hot temperatures this summer stopped most tomato production in early August, even though several of our farmers had planted heat tolerant varieties. Loss of their tomato crop is a major financial blow for the growers and it also affects every other vendor because tomatoes are a primary reason for coming to the market. Without tomatoes, we lose about 25% of our customers.

With the increase in markets in the area, I’m often asked if there are enough customers for all the markets to prosper. I’m convinced there are plenty of customers, it’s produce that we can be short on. Last year we had a good supply of the big three – tomatoes, green beans and sweet corn. This year the weather and some changes in growers left us short of all three during parts of the growing season. We’re back in clover on the green beans, but the sweet corn is done for the season and the tomatoes are iffy.

The other newer markets like Joplin and Neosho have had the same problems, only multiplied because they do not have the strong vendor base that Webb City has. Give them time. We started out with only four vendors, two growers, a honey man and a baker (yes, I’m talking about you, Jeanne).

People will come out if you have quality local produce. That’s why our market does so much training. We don’t have space to add many more farmers, so we work to make the farmers we have more productive. You can bet we’ll be looking at ways to beat hot weather next year. Then we’ll probably have a cool wet summer like last year when the tomato plants just sat in the cold damp ground and refused to grow. One thing I learned from my farmers early – and adopted – is that you can always complain about the weather!

So enough whining, because the weather we’re enjoying now if fabulous and there’s plenty of good produce at the market today – eggplant, peppers, lettuce, greens, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, radishes, green beans, Swiss chard, boc choy, green onions, baby spinach, green tomatoes – that’s just what I remember. Add the meats, jams and jellies, milk, freshly ground coffee, baked goods, beautiful mums, pumpkins, lunch and music and there are surely plenty of reasons to come to the market today.

Lunch is barbecued chicken, scalloped potatoes, green beans, cake and drink for $6. A luncheon salad is also available. Webb City’s own Gospel Strings play.

Next Friday Webb City native Bill Gosch returns to the market with SwingGrass and lunch is spaghetti red, side salad, garlic bread, brownies & drink – and maybe those tomatoes will finally be ripe!