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.