Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Webb City Sentinel column - 9-14-12

As the long hot summer comes to an end, it’s time to evaluate one season and plan for the next. For the second year in a row, the summer heat devastated some crops like sweet corn, reduced the supplies of others, and left us market volunteers drained at the end of each day. Our farmers showed amazing resilience, as did our customers. Customer attendance remained steady even in 100 plus degree weather and that’s what keeps us volunteers and our vendors going.

If you’ve been at the market lately, you know that our current produce supply is amazing given the heat of August. We have loads of heat-loving crops like egg plant (in many varieties) and okra. We also have good supplies of green beans, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, squash, onions, and lots of other things. We are short on tomatoes but should begin seeing more as the fall crops mature. Tomatoes won’t set their fruit if the temperature doesn’t drop to the low 70’s sometime during the day. So, we have a gap in production as a result of those hot days.

Because we had such a promising start this spring with about twice as much produce through May as ever before, we may still end up with an average season. I sure wish we could have maintained that great beginning. Still, it was a good summer in many ways. Probably the top of my list is the fact that six of my farmers received help from the Governor’s emergency drought fund that has allowed them to put in wells at their farms. These new wells mean we should have good fall crops which we might not have seen otherwise. Even with the recent rains, the subsoil is so dry that we are still considered by the experts to be in drought and that puts fall crops in jeopardy unless they have a consistent, assured source of water.

With drought apparently being the new normal in our area, these farms were looking at eventual failure without wells. A good spring is just not sufficient to carry a farm through a poor summer every year. Now they’ll have a way to sustain much of their production even in drought. These new wells will benefit our farm families and our customers and will make the market stronger, too.

Some of the other good things about this summer –

We were fortunate to have our market intern, Lindsey Rollins. Lindsey, a senior at MSSU in health science, was a God-send, capable, willing, bright and interested. We were also incredibly fortunate in acquiring a new market volunteer, Janet Taylor. Like Lindsey, Janet is a quick-learner and willing to take on anything. Even on the days she works, she’ll often pop over to help with set up and take down which are our most work-intensive times. She also was willing to take on management of the dreaded peach line – capable and brave.

Our cooking demonstrations underwritten by the Missouri Foundation for Health have been a real plus for the market this summer. We made contact with some wonderful resource people like Carolyn Smith and Susan Pittman who relished teaching others how to prepare fresh produce. Many customers made a stop at the demonstration table a part of their market routine. We got to try some very tasty dishes, sometimes with unfamiliar ingredients. I learned from Susan last Saturday that I actually prefer long beans over green beans. They’re similar in taste, but the long bean is firmer with a texture that I like very much. If you’d like to give it a try, you’ll find the recipe on the market’s web site: We also have it at the market. (The photo is of folks crowding around to try the long beans.)

Our canning program was a hit this summer with lots of sample mixes, recipe booklets and coupons. We still have all the freebies available, so if you’re in a canning mood – and with the loads of green beans we have now, how could you not be? – stop by and pick up instructions and discounts.

Now, on to the future. Since we’re expecting bountiful fall crops due to increased irrigation, the market can be open on both Fridays and Saturdays through October. That’s good news for our shoppers who can only shop on Saturdays. We did a survey last Saturday and of the 50 participants, only two shopped more than once a week at the market. That means that the vast majority of responders only come on Saturdays.
Come October, we’ll drop the Tuesday market till next spring. Then at the end of October, we’ll go to our winter market schedule which is every Friday from 11 to 2. The only exception that we anticipate is the annual Thanksgiving Market which is the day before Thanksgiving. Then, unlike every other “shop” in the country, we won’t be open the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Enough of the past and the future! Today, Granny Shaffer’s at the Market is serving stuffed baked potato with a choice of broccoli and cheese or chili and cheese, plus a drink for $5. Drew Pommert will play easy listening favorites. The Tri-State Iris Society will be at the market with more than 100 iris plants for sale.

Tomorrow, the Civil Air Patrol serves Cooking for a Cause breakfast. The Civil Air Patrol is made up of young people planning to join the Air Force. The Granny Chicks will perform so bring your dancing shoes! The first pumpkins will be for sale at the market. We're expecting over 600 to come in this fall.

On Tuesday, Granny Shaffer’s at the Market grills up hot dogs and hamburgers and also serves chicken salad sandwiches and chef salad. Gary Kyger will play classic country hits.

The market lost a good friend this week with the death of Merle Lortz. Merle lent his support to the market through this paper and the Wise Buyer, but when I think of him as a market customer I think of his discovery of fresh broccoli. He’d eaten broccoli before, but he’d never eaten fresh, local broccoli – delicious! Merle, I’m going to miss you and your sweet nature and I’ll think of you every time I see the market broccoli that you found so delightful.