Thursday, August 30, 2012

Webb City Sentinel column - 8/31/12

Okra - learn to Creole it on Tuesday!

I’ve been away for a couple of weeks seeing some of the great cities of central Europe and a lot of its countryside as well. I saw some pretty spectacular things and met some lovely people, but as always, it is good to be home.

Within 12 hours of being home, I was reminded that Webb City is a very good place indeed to live. I was speaking to one of my farmers on the phone Thursday morning when I heard a thump. I abruptly said “Gotta go, bye.” I knew it had to be my mother taking a tumble while she watered plants. Indeed I found her on the floor in the reception room next to my office. She was struggling to sit up, holding her left hand. I’d no sooner helped her into a sitting position when in walked Jackie Clark and two other Webb City firemen, Doug Moore and Scott Pink. My first thought was that they were making their annual inspection of commercial property, but no, they were just driving by and Doug had seen Mother fall inside the office. Now that’s paying attention. Doug, who is a paramedic, gave Mother a quick going-over. Then he and Scott helped her into a chair. Meanwhile Jackie had called the ambulance. Did you know that the ambulance crew will come and evaluate the situation and if they don’t take you anywhere there is no charge?

After an evaluation, the paramedics recommended I take Mother to Urgent Care and have the hand x-rayed just in case there was a fracture.

So three happy things – no fracture was revealed by the x-ray and Mother will be fine, our Webb City firemen are wonderful and if you think you have a health emergency, in Webb City you can call the ambulance service for a professional evaluation without worrying about wasting your money. If you end up spending money taking the ambulance, it was well-spent on a potentially life-threatening emergency.

By the way, another thing Webb City has over central Europe is that our city has not been destroyed by wars over and over again. The palace at Budapest had been destroyed 86 times in the last 1,000 years. That’s about once every two or three generations. Well, OK - I'm math challenged - it's probably more like once in every four or five generations. Still I expect most generations experienced the destruction and/or the reconstruction.

And there’s also language. I was told by a Hungarian that their language was one of the most beautiful languages in the world and that it was a shame only 15 million people spoke it. About a billion people speak English, so we can talk to a lot more people – which is lucky for us because we Americans usually only speak English. Unlike us, about half of those billion people who speak English learned it as a second language.

In addition to your produce, you could pick up some language skills at the market. Many of our Hmong farmers speak not only Hmong and some English, but also Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian and French. In fact, one family speaks primarily in French. When I first visited the farm of the Yang family several years ago, their teenage son served as translator as we went through the fields. It slowly dawned on me that I could understand some of the conversation between mother and son. No, I had not miraculously learned Hmong, they were speaking in French. In fact, the son is French, having been born in France where the family lived prior to coming to the United States. Ma Yang and her husband Tang are very kind to let me practice my high school French on them whenever we’re at the market. I long ago forgot everything I knew about French verb tenses so I must sound atrocious, but they encourage me.

Since I am blessed with a French daughter-in-law I have picked up a few French phrases that Emmanuelle often uses with my granddaughter Madeleine, but I’m not sure how useful “walk, walk!”, “open your mouth” and “don’t spit” are going to be in other settings. The Yangs are helping me expand to “Good day”, “how are you?” and “is that zucchini?”.

It should be a good morning or bon jour today at the market. In previous years, the forecast of rain could mean a very slow market day, but I am confident that our vendors and customers will come out in force and rejoice in the rain. Granny Shaffer’s at the Market is serving ham, scalloped potatoes, a veggie side, peach crisp and a drink for $6. The Loose Notes are playing. Today is the last day for Lady Abigail’s Bakery. Abigail has taken on a full time job elsewhere. Hazel’s Bakery will be adding Tuesdays and Fridays to their Saturday schedule starting September 11th.

Tomorrow, the Webb City Choir Boosters are serving breakfast from 9 to 11. Center Creek Bluegrass is playing.

On Tuesday, Bill Adkins is slated to play, but he’s under the weather, so watch our facebook page in case that changes. Granny Shaffer’s at the Market will have hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken salad sandwiches and chef salad. Tom Rhodes will be our only baker, so if you want baked sweets, load up today and tomorrow. Carolyn Smith will be at our good-for-you cooking demonstration table with Creole Okra.

Next Saturday is our annual Arts in the Park day so we’re pulling out all the stops with three musical groups – at 9 am, Rob and Drew Pommert play, at 10 the Suzuki String Academy plays and at 11 Heartland Opera brings family friendly versions of songs from their Hot Scandals show playing next Friday and Saturday night at the Route 66 Civic Center.

See you at the market!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Webb City Sentinel Column - 8/24/12

I have to admit that right this minute, as I sit on a ship on the Danube listening to a concert of arias, the farmers market could seem remote. But though a long way away, the market’s people and products are not really far from my mind. And, too, food is always of interest to me.

My husband Phil who ramrods the Saturday breakfast emails me that the CP Center volunteers did a fabulous job preparing and serving breakfast last week and that they were wonderfully supported by the community. I hope for the same results tomorrow when the high school band boosters do breakfast. Now that school is back in session, we really need our customers and friends to come out on Saturdays. This becomes even more important as the September festivals approach. No matter what your plans, I bet you can fit in breakfast at the market. Enjoy some lovely music, fresh local produce, new – or old - friends and have a great start to the weekend and create some wonderful memories for your children or grandchildren – and yourself.

A friend told me last month that his granddaughter made her annual visit recently and spotted his cloth shopping bag. Are we going to the market? He had used the bag when he took her to the market last summer. Who says kids don’t enjoy simple pleasures?
Actually we all enjoy such pleasures, regardless of age. I was surprised recently when volunteer Rick Ford shared with me some photos he’d taken at a Saturday market. One showed a view of a crowd of our Saturday shoppers. There were a few seniors like me, as well as teens and children, but most were young and mid-aged adults. When we opened 13 years ago, 80 percent of our customers were older than me. As I’ve aged, the customers have become younger! Now we run the gamut which is wonderful because not only does variety add spice to the market, but it also bodes well for our future. Now we just need to acquire more young farmers.

Sad to say, we are losing one of our younger farmers – Hector Troyer who, with his family, is moving to the Stockton area to run a home for troubled teens. This will be his last season with us for at least two years. He and Lois will be wonderful mentors for the teens but we are sure going to miss them.

Should you know of anyone interested in learning to farm, young or old, stop by the information table. We can hook them up with training or possibly even an internship opportunity.

Granny Shaffer’s at the Market is serving beef and noodles today with potatoes and gravy, drink and dessert for $6. They’ll also have chef salad. Gospel Strings performs.

Tomorrow as I said earlier the band boosters serve breakfast. Red Bridge plays. Trish Reed will demonstrate how to pickle okra.

Tuesday, Granny Shaffer’s will serve hot dogs, hamburgers, chef salad and chicken salad sandwiches. Erik Brown and the Flatlanders perform. Carolyn Smith demonstrates a grain salad chock full of veggies - Southwestern Quinoa Salad.

Here’s a bit of serendipity. My traveling companion Joan Letsinger and I arrived after dark last week into our hotel in Prague. It faced a long narrow central park. Imagine my delight when the next morning we stepped out of the building to find a small open air market right at our front door. A couple of produce stands, a couple of bakers, others selling wine, olives and olive oils, a few crafts. The produce at European markets looks perfect and is beautifully displayed, but you can tell by the variety that it is not all coming from one farm and it’s pretty obvious that the seller hasn’t grown any of it. They just buy it, display it and sell it. They are not producer-only markets like we often have in the US. The big give-away is the smell or rather the lack of smell. At our market, smells fill the pavilion – peaches and melons, especially, but also the herbs and the roasting peppers. So soak up the market this weekend and next Tuesday with all your senses – and enjoy being in Webb City where your food comes straight from the hands that grew it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Webb City Sentinel column - 8-18-12

The cooler weather has been a welcome break for all of us, especially for our farmers. You can imagine the stress of working every day outside in the July heat and the reduced rewards it produced in terms of production and extra work it created in irrigating. Unfortunately, it’s a rare farmer around here that can simply turn on the pump. For most, limited water means watering the crops in sections. At least one of my farmers can only water at night because their residential well cannot keep up with household needs and field needs at the same time so they end up working day and night. And, almost all our farmers have to make choices – like do I keep the blackberry bushes alive or the tomato plants alive, or do I keep the tomatoes alive or the squash alive.

The prospects are looking brighter for several of our market farmers, including the one irrigating off his residential well, because they are drilling new wells funded in part by the Governor’s emergency drought order. At least four of our farmers are drilling wells that will salvage their summer crops and enable them to produce a fall crop. I still have at least four more farmers that also need more reliable water. One of them is watering from her residential well which is located a good quarter mile from her 4 acres of crops. Every time I visit, her van’s cargo space is loaded with gallon milk jugs filled with water that she rations out to her plantings. Imagine trying to keep four acres alive that way. It’s just not possible.

In the 13 years the market has been open, we’ve had one really wonderful season when the temperatures and rainfall were perfect all summer. We’ve had three brutal summers, with the worst being this year and last. If these brutal years are our new normal, improved water sources and improved watering systems are the only way we can hope to have local produce during the summer. My farmers are already well on their way to improved watering systems. None use overhead watering anymore. All have switched to drip irrigation which uses much less water. Now many still need wells or ponds to supply that water and thanks to the governor’s program, we’re four farms closer to securing our supply of local produce. Here’s hoping for the other four farms.

Another positive funding experience we’ve had this year has been our grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health. MFFH was created when Blue Cross/Blue Shield converted from a nonprofit to a for-profit company. They were not allowed to take their “profits” into the new company so they created a foundation that promotes better health in Missouri. Last year Freeman Hospital received a grant from them that helped them start their farmers markets in Joplin and Neosho. This year, we received a small grant that has allowed us to have cooking demonstrations on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The demonstrations have been very well received and, hopefully, have taught folks ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets. That's one of our demonstrators, nutritionist Susan Pittman, in the photo. We hope, of course, that we get to team with MFFH on many other projects in the future.

I was checking out at a grocery store last week, getting some balsamic vinegar for one of the demonstrations, when the cashier asked “why is it that Webb City’s market has so much going on?” I think there are lots of reasons. Our volunteers are essential for many of the things we do, as are our vendors. Our vendors don’t just set up and sell. They set up, and then help each other or the volunteers. For example, the Lee family who sell at the north end of the pavilion always take down and stow our market umbrellas at the end of market. Seems like a small enough task, but after a long day of working in 100+ degrees, it takes commitment to take on another hot task. Robin Green of Green’s Greenhouse always wipes off our tables and benches before market. And, of course, our farmers are key in our educational efforts, whether it’s the Kids Community Garden or the annual Food Safety workshop. The fact that the media is generous in their coverage and the Sentinel generous in their ads allows us to spread the word about all the activities and what’s in season. And finally, those grants make a huge difference – whether they’re for education like the USDA specialty crops grants that we’ve received three years running (and we’re pretty sure we’re in line for another one this year that will bring a major conference on Winter Produce Production to Webb City), or the Missouri Arts Council grant that has helped fund our music for 10 years or our Ball Jar grant that allows us to introduce folks to food preservation or the MFFH grant will provides our cooking demonstrations. Yes, there’s a lot going on at the market.

Our Webb City folks will be particularly interested in next Tuesday’s cooking demonstration because it is the debut of Carolyn Smith at the market. Carolyn was the Family and Consumer Science instructor at Webb City High School prior to her retirement. She will demonstrate healthy lunches that can be packed for school or work.

Today, Granny Shaffer’s at the Market is frying up catfish right at the market and serving it with fried potatoes and onions, coleslaw, green tomato relish, dessert and drink for $6. Jack and Lee Ann Sours play traditional music.

Tomorrow, we’re in for a treat when one of our area’s premier blue grass groups, No Apparent Reason, plays at the market. Not only will they put on a great show, but they are donating their fee from the market to Cooking for a Cause. The Saturday breakfast will benefit the CP Center here in Webb City. Breakfast, biscuits and gravy, sausage, fried or scrambled eggs, farm fresh tomatoes and drinks are served from 9 to 11.

Nutritionist Theresa Dohm demonstrates a good-for-you recipe tomorrow.

It’s another great weekend at the market. Don’t miss it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Webb City Sentinel column - 8-10-12

It’s National Farmers Market Week but it’s a typical week in Webb City because we celebrate every week. For example, today we have Center Creek Bluegrass playing, plus a bonus - Sadie’s Dollar, a young local group, will play while the Center Creek players take a break for lunch. And they’ll certainly take a break because Granny Shaffer’s at the Market is serving their famous fried chicken, with potato salad, three-bean salad, drink and dessert. And that’s not all folks, because Jon Skinner, urban forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation, will be at the market to diagnosis bug and disease problems and advise you on late summer tree care and fall tree planting. Plus we’ll have our healthy recipes and food preservation table set up as we do at every market loaded with recipes and all sorts of canning goodies like labels, recipe booklets and coupons.

Tomorrow may be even more fun than today because nutritionist Susan Pittman will demonstrate Rigatoni with Grilled Vegetables. (That's Bob Foos demonstrating making Pesto last Tuesday.) Drew Pommert will play his guitar and sing. The streetcar will give free rides from 9 to 11. The Joplin Exchange Club will serve breakfast of biscuits and gravy, sausage, eggs, farm fresh tomatoes. All profits go to Healing the Family Counseling Center, a non-profit that works to build stronger families and prevent child abuse. Other non-profits at the market tomorrow include The Forget-Me-Not team raising funds for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. They’ll have homebaked cookies for sale, as well as cold sodas and water, handcrafted flower clips and hair bows and insulated drink cups which can be personalized with the owner’s name. The A.D.K. Teacher Sorority will sell cardinal door stops to benefit Children’s Haven and the Children’s Center.

So you can see, every market is special – we don’t need a farmers market week for an excuse. However, our market is definitely part of the national celebration. The Farmers Market Coalition, which is the national organization of markets, sends out a press release every day during the national week. Each release centers on a different aspect of markets and is illustrated by the relevant activities of five markets nationwide. On Wednesday, Webb City was recognized for our mentoring program, improving farming skills. On Thursday we were recognized for our gleaning program, specifically all the produce our farmers donated last year that fed hundreds of volunteers working in the tornado fields.

Our mentoring program has garnered national attention several times. We are really fortunate to have both farmers and extension folks dedicated to improving the success of our market’s farmers. For example, on Monday I drove down to a farm in Anderson that needs a well. I had with me a very experienced farmer, plus two Extension consultants. (That's Ed Browning,left, Extension Ag Engineer Specialist, with our farmer.) I was there for transportation, organization and as “cultural attaché”. I don’t speak Hmong but I have worked with our Hmong farmers enough that I’m pretty good at asking the right questions and insisting on answers. (The Hmong are incredibly polite. If they don’t understand something, they’ll rarely indicate that, not wanting to inconvenience you. So I keep asking questions until I’m sure everyone is on the same page.) Two hours later, plans were in place. And in two weeks, the well will be too.

On the gleaning front, my farmers are continuing their tradition of generosity by donating produce at the end of every Tuesday market. And they are not alone, our customers are dropping by items and our bakers also make donations.

So Tuesday, if you’d like to give something to Crosslines, just drop it off at the information desk and we’ll pass it on when the truck arrives at 1.

We also have good-for-you recipes demonstrated on Tuesdays. Last week, Bob Foos demonstrated pesto and then market intern Lindsey Rollins used the pesto to make Grilled Eggplant and Tomato Stacks. Both recipes are easy, tasty and printed below.

Rob Pommert plays for the last time this Tuesday. He’s headed back to teach guitar at OCC. (But never fear, we have other musicians lined up to finish out the Tuesday season which will probably be September 25th.) Granny Shaffer’s at the market will have their chicken salad sandwiches, freshly grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and chef salads. And on every market day we’ll have lots of produce, baked goods, honey and other goodies.

Many of the ingredients of the recipes below are available at the market. These and other good-for-you recipes can be found at the market and at

Bob Foo’s Pesto recipe

Darryl Alton introduced us to Pesto Genovese during the Webb City Farmers Market Pesto Festo! in 2005, I've been growing my own basil and making it every year since. You can make it in a food processor, but I prefer a mortar and pestle. Make several batches, freeze them in an ice cube tray for use throughout the year. I love it just melted in bow tie pasta.

4-6 cloves garlic
16 large leaves of basil
2 sprigs of parsley
6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts, walnuts or pecans
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 or 2 allspice berries
1/2 cup olive oil

Pound garlic and salt together until thoroughly mashed. Add nuts and allspice berries and pound until smooth. Add basil, parsley and cheese, pounding until smooth. Put in a bowl and slowly add olive oil while stirring constantly. Stir until smooth. Use immediately or store in a jar topped by a thin layer of olive oil placed in the refrigerator.

Grilled Eggplant and Tomato Stacks

You can grill the eggplant rounds up to a day in advance, then assemble the eggplant, tomato and mozzarella “stacks” at the last minute. To make the eggplant and tomato stacks look symmetrical, use eggplant and tomatoes with approximately the same diameter.

Makes 6 servings

2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium eggplant (3/4-1 pound), cut into 6 rounds about 1/2 inch thick
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
6 teaspoons prepared pesto
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, each cut into 3 slices about 3/4 inch thick
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 6 thin slices
6 fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat grill to medium-high or place a grill pan over medium-high heat until hot.

Use 2 teaspoons oil to brush both sides of eggplant slices; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Grill the eggplant slices for 5 minutes. Turn; continue grilling until tender and marked with grill lines, 3 to 5 minutes more. Transfer to a large platter.

Spread each eggplant slice with 1 teaspoon pesto. Top with a slice of tomato, a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf.

Drizzle vinegar and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over the towers; sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Webb City Sentinel Column 8-3-12

As we’ve watched our home gardens wither and blow away, I expect many in our area think there is no local produce at the farmers market. But actually we’re still overflowing with a wide variety of produce.

The Kids Community Garden, sponsored by the market on school grounds just east of the middle school, tells us why.

Our honey vendor tilled a large unplanted section of the garden Tuesday after market (in 100+ degree weather) and mentors Tim Green and Dale Mermoud worked with the young gardeners raking out the weeds. There were lots of tilled-up weeds because we’d been using sprinklers which “rain” on the planted and the unplanted ground. Those weed seeds were just laying in the fallow ground waiting for some moisture. We’ve since switched to soaker hoses that only water the crop rows.

It seemed like the kids were ankle-deep in dust as they raked. The soil is so dry. But upon closer inspection of the rest of the garden, we found the crops growing well. The kids picked five quart boxes of tomatoes. The okra and sweet potato plants look great even though they haven’t been watered in a couple of weeks. With a weekly watering the green bean, bell pepper and squash plants look good too. (The rows are mulched with straw to keep the weeds down and to retain moisture.)

We have found the same situation on our farms that have irrigation. Despite the heat and drought the crops continue to produce. Most of our farmers have to pick and choose what to water. Their fields are too big and their water supply too limited to water everything even though they use drip-irrigation which is the most efficient method.

The heat-loving, or should I say, the heat-tolerating plants like okra, peppers, melons and egg plant continue to thrive in this hot weather. Many of the other summer crops continue to produce but not at the quantity that we’d see with normal temperatures and some rain.

While cherry tomatoes do not seem to be affected by the heat, regular tomatoes need the night time temperature to drop to the 70 degrees or below for their fruit to set on well. So far, we continue to have a good supply of tomatoes. They are a bit smaller and not as pretty but they sure taste good. In fact, I think the ones we got at the market last week were the best-tasting we’ve ever had at the Nichols-Richardson table.

The market continues to connect our farmers with the expertise to cope with these conditions. Tim Green, of Green’s Greenhouse, is an expert tomato grower. As the market’s board president, he often goes with me to inspect our farms and I always love to have him along because he readily shares his tricks of the trade – like pinning row cover to the west side of tomato rows to reduce sun scald. Tim is one reason our farmers have so much to bring to market despite the weather.

Tim knows, as do most of our growers, that better farmers make for a better market and a better market is good for everyone who sells and shops there.

So what’s happening at the market besides loads of produce? Today we have homemade chicken and noodles for lunch and the Plainsfolk play traditional music.

Tomorrow, nutritionist Theresa Dohm demonstrates Farmers Market Potato Salad. Pick up the recipe and try a sample at her table by the central entrance. The Chert Glades Master Naturalists serve breakfast from 9 to 11. They are a group of volunteers who promote awareness and preservation of natural resources in our area.
Hawthorne plays traditional music and music from the Civil War era.

On Tuesday, our market intern continues our good-for-you recipe program with demonstrations on making Pesto and Grilled Eggplant and Tomato Stacks. Those are both treats you won’t want to miss! But if you do, all our recipes are posted on

Also on Tuesday Rob Pommert will play and Granny Shaffers serves hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken salad sandwiches and chef salads. And don’t forget the Crosslines truck which comes every Tuesday between 1 and 2 pm. Over the last two Tuesdays our farmers have donated over 400 pounds of fresh produce to feed their neighbors in need and several customers have brought by canned goods. Let’s keep it up!

See you at the market where you can eat well and do good, too.