Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sentinel column 6-2-12

In 2000, I was chairing the Chamber’s downtown committee and looking for a project. A farmers market sounded like a good idea to bring a few more people to the downtown area so we held an organizational meeting at the Chamber office, which at the time was in the streetcar depot at King Jack Park. The farmers looked east in the park rather than north to downtown. Unlike me, they knew that protection from sun and rain was essential and the sheds put up for the Mining Days craft show were just the ticket. We had about 4 farmers at that first meeting. Of those, Frederickson Farms is still with us. Carl Carnahan, a long time bee keeper, was also there and offered valuable advice. Carl sold at the market for several years before becoming ill, at which point his partner Jann Amos and wife Resa took over honey sales at the market. So 13 years later we still have two of those original vendors, plus some 30 more. And 13 years later, the market has finally come to the very center of downtown at Broadway and Main Street, symbolically anyway. That’s where the market mural is taking shape.

That location may seem suspiciously familiar to those who know me. The mural is on the north side of the building where I live with my family and where my husband Phil has his law office. And you may think I pulled strings to secure the mural for my building, but not so! We identified three downtown locations for the lead artist and he made the selection. He chose the Middlewest Building for its visibility, large “canvas” and its pristine painting surface. And it’s that later quality that gives me true deniability. Many years ago I spent three very hot, very hard weeks removing every bit of paint off that wall. It was downright painful for me to watch the artists prime over my pretty clean brick with white paint last week.

But that evening I watched as the lines of the mural were projected against the wall and the artists moved in to transfer the drawing onto the wall. And the magic began. The artists were all dressed in black, and as they worked, they seemed to be part of the mural itself, moving among the farmers and tables of the market.

Over the weekend about 150 members of the community dropped by to paint a section of the mural and the white primer began to take on brilliant colors. This week the artists, led by lead artist and native Webb Citian Kyle McKenzie, have begun the refining process. By this time next week, the mural will be essentially completed. The official “unveiling” will take place in early July, but of course, it is actually on view right now as we certainly don’t have a tarp big enough to cover it.

Meanwhile, there's a lot happening at the actual market this weekend. On Friday, we have Patrick Byers and Shon Bishop with University of Missouri and Lincoln University Extension respectively, advising our customers and farmers on growing issues. If you have a plant, tree or shrub with a problem, they can probably point you in the right direction. Just bring the bug or a sample of a damaged plant in a clear plastic (& sealed) bag for them to examine. Or if you just want some good tips on growing, they can help you with that, too. On Friday, Granny Shaffers at the Market serves home-style chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, bread, drink and dessert for $6. They’ll also have chef salads. The Plainsfolk will play Irish music.

We begin our nutrition education on Saturday when our market intern Lindsay Rollins demonstrates grilled zucchini rollups. Satisfying and only 20 calories, the roll ups make a tasty appetizer or side. Lindsay will also have coupons for Ball Jar products and samples of canning mixes and there’ll be a place to sign up for more coupons direct from Ball Jar as well as for a drawing. Lindsay is a senior at MSSU working towards her honors diploma by volunteering at the market this summer.

On Saturday, Big Brothers, Big Sisters serves breakfast till 11. Their volunteers spend individual time with their “Littles”, giving them attention on a regular basis, usually two to four times a month. There’s also a lunch buddy program when volunteers regularly eat lunch with their “Littles” at school. Both programs give children a consistent connection with a caring mature mentor that fills a gap in their lives and leads them towards a healthy, productive future. Like every Cooking for a Cause at the Saturday market, you get a tasty breakfast, support an important community project and – bonus! - enjoy some live music, which this week is provided by the Granny Chicks. Bring your dancing shoes, they do some lively polkas.

Planning the week ahead, don’t forget the Tuesday market where you can get most the selection but half the traffic and crowds. And next Saturday is Second Saturday and that means the Art Market and free streetcar rides.

See you at the market!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sentinel Column 5-25-12

Our farmers often share their abundance with those in need. Howard Thompson, who comes to the market on Saturdays with his fruit, has a bumper crop of blueberries and asked me what local feeding program would like a portion. I responded what local feeding program wouldn’t? and directed him to Crosslines. But it turns out that he’ll be feeding some very different neighbors. Several large sections of wooded land near his orchard have been cleared for development. That has pushed the deer that had lived there onto his land. He figures the deer population on his farm has tripled and they’re hungry and they love blueberries. They’re leaving enough for him come to the market, but he’s shut down his you-pick operation – at least for humans.

Deer are often a challenge for farmers. They jump high fences and are notorious for cleaning out sweet corn fields. One year I had a farmer put a 10-foot fence around his entire corn field. He also used organic methods to keep the worms out of the ears by putting a few drops of vegetable oil on the tip of each ear. It works pretty well, but the farmer discovered it was like buttering the corn for the deer. The day before harvest he found the deer had taken a bit out of the tip of every single ear of corn and the ground was covered with tale-tell prints. He didn’t get a single ear. He took it with amazingly good humor.

The most interesting response to critter theft I’ve come across was in northern California while visiting a farm with a group of market managers. The farm was actually a Buddhist retreat that also grew a large amount of produce. They sold the produce at area markets, raising funds for their program, and they also used gardening as a meditation tool. Every Thursday all the folks at the retreat spent the morning hoeing in silence. The head gardener, a young woman with dred locks, said silence on her part was very difficult as she watched them step on or hoe up the crop.

One of the visitors in my group asked if they were ever bothered by wildlife. The land lay in a valley surrounded by wooded foothills that had to be full of all sorts of birds and other creatures. The head gardener looked mystified. She didn’t understand the question. So the visitor rephrased it. Do deer and other wild animal invade the gardens? Oh, she said, the birds will fly out into the first couple of rows but, no, the animals don’t take much. The coyotes and bob cats keep the deer and other animals in check and if the birds fly too far out into the garden they risk attack by hawks. No, they don’t take too much. Leave it to a Buddhist gardener to just plant extra so nature can exist in harmony. However, I don’t think Howard’s deer are Buddhist. They are taking way more than their share!

We should have a good supply of blueberries. Our other growers are not running into deer problems. We’re also seeing the very first of the raspberries and blackberries. In another two weeks, we should be buried in them (or should I say “berried” in them?).

We’re got a great supply of zucchini and yellow squash, cucumbers are coming in, as are onions. Sadly, this is probably the last week for strawberries.

The Agees, who garden using organic methods, will be at the market for the first time on Saturday. Sunny Lane Farms should be back Friday after a week’s absence.

Music on Friday is by Center Creek Bluegrass. This is a favorite local band led by Donnie Howard. Granny Shaffer’s is serving Spaghetti Red for lunch. They also have a chef salad available and slices of pie.

On Saturday, breakfast benefits Cub Scout Pack 25. The pack, based at First Presbyterian, is one of the oldest in the state and many, many men in our community have been part of it. The pack will also be selling their Boy Scout popcorn. Drew Pommert will play Saturday morning. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Drew is the son of Rob Pommert who plays most Tuesdays for us and Drew plays the same style of music which is usually easy and gentle.
Next Tuesday, Carol Parker of KSN is visiting the market for a live remote. You’ll see the KSN van with that giant antenna. And speaking of Tuesday, for those of you who took me up on the suggestion to try shopping on Tuesday – good idea, right? Easy to park, short lines, good selection. And, my, oh my, could you tell school was out. We must have had over a 100 children come with their families on Tuesday. They especially had a good time drawing at the mural booth. We love our kids! We hope to see lots of them – and YOU – at the (shady) north wall of the Middlewest Building, Broadway and Main, tomorrow and Sunday between 10 am and 4 p.m. when the community starts the Market’s Community Mural. We’ll supply the paint and the brushes, you supply the labor – for 5 minutes or all day, whatever suits you. So come to the market Saturday morning, then head up to the first stop sign on Main Street and join in the community mural.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Webb City Sentinel column 5-18-12

Supply and demand – that’s one of the biggest challenges of managing the market. It’s my job (as a volunteer) to recruit enough vendors to meet our customers’ demand and needs and to attract enough customers to support our farmers. It’s a hard balancing act but I’m going to give it a try – Did you know that this past Tuesday we actually sent tomatoes and strawberries back to the farms? Shocking – especially when you consider that we’ve been running out of both in 30 minutes or less on Fridays. Friday is always our biggest day of the week. Sales are twice as much on Friday as on Tuesday or Saturday. Some of that is because we have a few more vendors on Friday but most of the reason for more sales is that we have many, many more customers on Friday.

I’d like to encourage you to add Tuesday market to your schedule. On Tuesday you will find, with the exception of meats and coffee beans, pretty much the same products as on Friday. What you will not find are crowded parking lots and long lines. In fact by 11:30 you will likely find all the products and none of the lines at all. On Tuesdays you can still enjoy lunch (Granny Shaffer’s sold out of chicken salad sandwiches this week. I’m sure they’ll bring more of that increasingly popular choice.) You’ll hear the dulcet tones of Rob Pommert (he denies it, but I’m pretty sure he took voice lessons over the winter – he has an even more mellow gorgeous sound than last year.). And you’ll find a tremendous supply of produce.

Now I don’t want to discourage you from coming on Friday or Saturday – they each have their special qualities, too, but Tuesday market is relaxed, easy and a great day to pop in or meet friends for lunch. Why not introduce a friend to the market on Tuesday?

We received some good news this week. We are receiving, for the second year in a row, a small grant from Jarden Home Brands, makers of Ball brands preserving products. Only 30 markets in the country received the grant. We’ll be doing lots of demonstrations and handing out sample mixes and recipe booklets.

We also received a grant from the Missouri Health Foundation to do nutrition education at the market. So I’m looking for a nutritionist, dietician, home ec teacher or college intern with that expertise to work at the market about 6 times a month this summer. If you know of someone give me a call at 483-8139.
The farmers market can be a key component of a healthier diet for our area families, which in turn should result in healthier families. These grants will allow us to show folks easy, simple ways to eat healthier and to incorporate more local foods into their diets now and, with food preservation, even into the winter. Since we’re looking at a bumper crop this year, that will make for a healthier community and stronger family farms.

Speaking of a bumper crop, sales at the market are 60% higher than this time last year. I think most of that increase is due to more produce being available. Many of our farmers planted what we call a “risk crop”. That’s an early planting of a variety of crops that likely will never get past the last freeze – but this year they did and that risk is paying off with abundance at the market. We already have loads of summer crops coming in like zucchini and squash.

The photo at right is of one on of two high tunnels at Braker Farm, loaded with tomato plants. The photo was taken 5/17 during farm inspections.

And some of the credit for more produce has to go to the market’s training program, our close connection to the state’s extension horticulturists and to the mentoring that goes on between our farmers. They are constantly trying to improve their quality and production.

And let’s not forget Mother Nature. Two years ago, we thought we’d gone through the worst growing season in living memory. In August it was so hot and dry that production was halved. Then last year happened and we realized that the year before was a walk in the park. The tornado was weather like we’d never seen before, and it was followed by 2 months without rain and 30 days of over 100 degrees. When it gets that hot, vegetables won’t pollinate no matter how much water you pour on them.

This year, thus far, has been the best growing season in living memory. Take advantage of it. We may not see another like it in a decade.

On Friday, Granny Shaffer’s serves chicken enchiladas, beans and rice, drink and dessert for $6. The Loose Notes play blue grass, gospel and cowboy music.

On Saturday, the Ozark Gateway Audubon Chapter serves breakfast from 9 to 11. They use their profits to provide education about the natural world to children and adults. Another of their projects is bringing birds back to the Joplin tornado fields. The Granny Chicks play from 9:30 to 11:30.

On Tuesday (remember that’s the day with lots of produce and easy parking!), Granny Shaffer’s serves freshly grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, chicken salad sandwiches and chef salads. Rob Pommert performs.

It’s going to be a great year at the market. Don’t miss it – and don’t let your friends miss it!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

We're back!! & here's a lovely recipe to celebrate

For some reason our blog was temporarily suspended (I think we were hacked!).
In any case, we're back now and to celebrate, here's a lovely recipe that the Market Lady did at our market today:

Tomato, Basil and Couscous Salad
2 1/4 cups canned chicken broth
1 10-ounce box couscous 1 cup chopped green onions
1 cup diced seeded tomatoes
1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Cheese curds or feta for garnish

Bring broth to boil in medium saucepan. Add couscous. Remove from heat. Cover; let stand 5 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. Fluff with fork. Cool.

Mix all ingredients except cherry tomatoes into couscous. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with cherry tomatoes and cheese.