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!