Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sentinel Column - 7-26-13

Do we have cucumbers?  Oh, YES!  (& lots of kids too)

One of the many pleasant and interesting aspects of volunteering at the market is making farm visits. This year I’ve done it a bit differently. Previously I always took another volunteer or board member along – our policies require two people to make inspections on most visits. This year I have been able to take Patrick Byers and Shon Bishop, horticulture specialists with the University of Missouri Extension and Lincoln University Extension respectively. It’s been a win-win for everyone. Patrick and Shon get out in the field and see what’s happening on the farms in Southwest Missouri (without having to worry about mileage costs), I get the inspections completed, and our farmers get the benefit of expert advice. 

On Monday, we had a full day from 8 am to 7 pm, starting out south of Mount Vernon at Madewell Pork’s farm, then heading up to Lockwood to see Nancy Rasmussen and her sheep, chickens, cattle and one llama at Sunny Lane Farm. The llama is a “watch dog” and indeed he gave me a very close eye when I approached the yearlings to take pictures. After that we stopped at Broken Wire Ranch just south of Stockton and then Pate’s Orchard in Stockton. We finished up at Fair Haven visiting Joe and Carrole Palmer.

That particular loop is one of our longest inspection trips, over 250 miles. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be heading over to Springfield to see PT Gardens’ urban farm and to Fordland to Terrell Creek dairy. And on another trip we’ll visit two of our new growers, Harmony Hills and Zebra Farms for the second time this year, as required by our policies. Once they have a year at the market under their belt, they’ll have just one visit each year. 

The market began requiring farm visits about 10 years ago. Our rules from the beginning (in 2000) required sellers to grow or make what they sold at the market. And that is what I publicize regularly on behalf of the market. That’s what makes us different from other food outlets. But I soon became uncomfortable with making that claim based just on a farmer’s signature on the application. Much as I’d like to just trust all farmers, the fact is that sometimes folks aren’t truthful and I didn’t want my word to be based on someone else’s honesty – or lack thereof. So the market members agreed to require an inspection of all vendors. Initially it was once a year, then we went to twice a year. Now we’re back to once a year, except for new growers who are inspected prior to setting up and again later in the season the first year. Market policy allows me to visit, with or without notice, anytime and I’ll often pop in to see how things are growing if I’m in the neighborhood. 

Even with inspections, the producer-only requirement means there must be a lot of trust between the grower and the market manager. After all, I can’t be on every farm every time they harvest. That’s the reason that if that trust is broken, there’s no going back. A few years ago, I had two farmers within a week come under suspicion. One had a ton of beautiful green beans which someone questioned. I had actually been on that farm the week before and could check my records. They had four fields of green beans and photos showed them ready for harvest. There was no question that the farm produced the beans being sold at the market.

The second farm didn’t have such a happy ending. They sold beautiful sweet corn in August, so beautiful that it would have had to be sprayed and irrigated. I knew from my prior visit that particular farm didn’t spray and had no irrigation in place. I called immediately after market to tell them I was heading their way for an inspection. Before I got in my car, they called back to say that it was their cousin’s corn, not theirs. Well, I knew it wasn’t their cousin’s corn either, but it didn’t matter whose corn it was. If they didn’t grow it, they couldn’t sell it. I told them they could no longer sell at the market and sent them a list of area markets that they could apply to, some of which did allow resale. Those particular growers will never sell at Webb City again, though we are on amiable terms and they have since attended some of our training sessions.

It was a disappointing experience but it had its pluses. The farmer found another outlet for their product through the list I gave them and word quickly spread through our vendor community that producer-only meant producer-only. You better believe when I visit a farm, they show me every last thing that they’re growing and if any question comes up later, they want me to immediately come inspect their farm to verify that they’re following the rules.  Trust, but verify – it’s a combination that seems to work for us.

Trish Reed, one of our Market Ladies, is focusing on food preservation. Last Saturday she showed folks how to pickle – cucumbers, zucchini, and okra. Tomorrow she’s demonstrating how to can tomatoes. It’s a perfect time of year to do both. The farms are loaded with tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini and many of the farms are bringing in boxes of seconds that are more economical and just right for preserving. Seconds are veggies that have a blemish that makes them unsuitable for the vendor’s market table, but are otherwise sound. A little prudent trimming and they’re just fine for canning and pickling. If you’d like to buy in bulk, just visit with your favorite farmers. If they don't already, have what you're looking for, ask them to bring it to the next market for you.

Tomorrow Apple Road Farm will have cucumbers for sale in “pickling batches”. That’s about 6 pounds. Xiong Farm, Brakers, Fredricksons and others have been bringing big boxes of tomatoes for canning.

Today, William Adkins will perform. Granny Shaffers at the Market will serve homestyle chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes, chicken salad sandwich and a fresh fruit plate. Our Extension ladies will demonstrate and sample “Farmers Market Salsa”. They’re spicing up the recipe with corn freshly roasted at the market. (Broken Wire has started roasting corn as well as peppers at the market.)
Tomorrow, the Loose Notes play at the market for the first time this season. The Master Naturalists will serve breakfast till 11. 

Tuesday, our easy day – after the first 15 minutes, the Pommerts will play and Granny Shaffers at the Market will serve freshly grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, chicken salad sandwiches and a fresh fruit plate.

A week from tomorrow will be our annual Tomato Contests. Bring us your biggest, weirdest and tastiest tomatoes (in the tasting category we need two version of the same tomato, one for tasting, one for looking at.)  There’s $20 in market tokens for the winners in each category.

Farmers Market Salsa
Serves 4
1/2 cup fresh raw or cooked sweet corn*
1/2 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, diced*
1/4 cup onion, diced*
1/4 cup green pepper, diced*
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 cloves garlic, finely minced*
1/4 cup picante sauce
Baked corn tortilla chips or cut up vegetables for dipping
Wash your hands well. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Drain before serving. Serve with chips or veggies. Refrigerate leftovers immediately.
*Available now at the market.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Webb City Sentinel column - 7-19-13

One of my growers asked me last Friday towards the end of market, “Who moved the Fourth of July to today?”  She was referring to the mob scene we usually encounter around the Fourth of July. We had the perfect storm at opening last Friday when the sweet corn and tomatoes came into season on the very same day  I don’t think we’d ever had so many people under the pavilion at one time. There must have been close to a thousand. There were long lines at no less than 7 vendors – and when I say long, I mean long, 50 feet long. All blending together so some folks weren’t sure they were in the right line and some folks didn’t even know they were IN a line. It was pretty much chaos for about 20 minutes. And, frankly, for those 20 minutes it was just not fun to be at the market.
Tuesday was so much better. We had a good crowd and even a number of lines for the first 30 minutes, but it was not jam packed and the sweet corn and tomatoes lasted for the entire market so that should reassure folks that they can come after the initial rush and still get their sweet corn and tomatoes, along with a ton of other things (The photo was shot on Tuesday.). 

One of our customers suggested giving a sign to the last person in a line so folks could figure the lines out more easily. I was afraid customers would see it as just one more rule of a notoriously rule-making market but no, people seemed to like the signs and be happy to hold them and pass them on. The lines were more organized and easier to identify which made everyone, especially me, happy. I’ve printed up more for other vendors (where’s MY sign?) so if you are at the market early today, you may see them about. We probably won’t need them for more than a few weeks. The lines will dissipate as people become confident that supplies are adequate to meet demand and they’ll be able to fill their market basket without coming early.

Tuesday was a lovely day for several reasons, not the least of which was that one of our newest volunteers, Silas Gray, showed up unexpectedly and took care of ferrying customers from and to their cars in the market cart. I had been worried about having a driver – I was expecting a crowd, a crowd that would be loaded down with corn and other bulky purchases far, far from their cars. This is the first year that we’ve really needed the cart on Tuesdays. Previously we didn’t have enough customers to more than fill the close by parking. But the last few weeks, we’ve had folks parking way south into the park and that’s a very good thing. The fields don’t know to produce less for the Tuesday market than the Friday and Saturday markets so it’s wonderful that we’re getting more customers for that Tuesday harvest. More profits for our farmers, a pleasant and bountiful shopping experience for our customers – everybody’s happy.

Speaking of profit, one of our customers made a particularly apt comparison after last Friday’s market. When the bell rang, it reminded her of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when many retail stores have hordes of people taking advantage of holiday sales and when typically those stores finally begin to show a profit for the year. Indeed the week before the Fourth of July is typically when our farmers begin to show a profit on the farm. Not so this year. With the harvest running at least two weeks late, our “Black Friday” – last Friday - was also two weeks late. We’re just hoping that the high season extends later than usual because if market attendance drops dramatically, as it always has previously, when school begins in mid-August, our farmers will lose about one-third of their most profitable season. It would be a bit like ice and snow shutting down the mall from December 15th to the 24th. In other words, a financial disaster. It will be critical this year that our customers stick with us through the fall. So think fresh and local even after school starts in a month.

I know the crowds are a hassle and we’re doing what we can to spread those crowds out over more time and days so we can maintain the lively but pleasant atmosphere that we want to be known for. That’s one reason we added the Saturday market several years ago. But the reality is that during the high season when produce is coming in by the truckload, we have to attract two and three times our normal customer base to ensure that most of it is sold. Our faithful year-round customers can’t absorb the quantity the fields are producing. So next time you’re stuck in line, remember you and all those folks in line with you are making the market possible. To have a healthy market, we need financially healthy farms and that takes year-round supporters and a large influx of high season shoppers. The large crowds certainly make my volunteer job more challenging and, since I buy last, I sometimes miss out on the most popular items, but to me it’s worth it because large crowds and high sales keep our farmers in the business they love and make the market a vital connection between the farm and the community.

Today we’re open from 11 to 2. Gospel Strings performs. Our Extension educators are making and giving samples of Veggie Dip. Granny Shaffers at the Market is serving homestyle chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes, chicken salad sandwich and a fruit plate. 

Tomorrow we’re open from 9 to noon. The Joplin Exchange Club serves breakfast until 11. They are donating all their profits to the tornado recovery in Moore, Oklahoma. Red Bridge plays bluegrass and gospel. Market Lady Trish Reed demonstrates pickling and canning cucumbers and zucchini. She’ll also hand out free pickling mixes and will have drawings for canning equipment and books.

Tuesday, of course, is our easy shopping day. Granny Shaffers at the Market will serve freshly grilled hotdogs and hamburgers, chicken salad sandwiches and a fruit plate. Rob and Drew Pommert will perform. And we’ll have tons of produce waiting for you. See you at the market!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Webb City Sentinel column - 7 - 12 - 13

My oh my, high season has arrived at the market.   The sweet corn is in!  Braker Farms called to say they expect to have over 100 dozen ears of corn today and tomorrow.   Xiong Farm is bringing in the first of the field tomatoes.   We even sent some tomatoes home on Tuesday which is a shame.   The blackberries are pouring in (& I’m not saying anything about a certain other fruit – the line is too long now!)

Try a Cucumber Feta Roll on Saturday!
Sweet corn, field tomatoes and the fruit that shall not be named are our biggest sellers at the market, but let’s not forget the less glamorous produce that is in abundance, like egg plant, onions, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, green beans, potatoes, purple hull beans and all our Asian specialties to name just a few.   The first of the okra is due in today from Fairhaven.   Endless Bounty has “June apples.”  I guess this year with everything late they’re July apples.   These small tasty apples are especially good for apple sauce and since they weren’t sprayed with chemicals are perfect for baby food.   Yang Farms has been bringing lots of raspberries and Green’s Greenhouse has a ton of blackberries.   Tomorrow is our last day to have Thompson Orchard with their hundreds of pounds of blueberries.   They have been really good.

In other words, it’s high season at the market – at last.

You may wonder how Xiong Farm beat everyone in having an abundance of field tomatoes.   Nhia (pronounced Ne-ah) has much more acreage planted than many of our other farmers and he is committed to being the best farmer he can be.   Nhia always attends every training session we provide.   He implements what he learns – installing irrigation, building a “cool room” for storing harvested crops, consulting with our market mentors and extension when he has questions.

After our winter production conference earlier this year, he built his own high tunnel.   He plans to build another next fall.

He and his family put in incredibly long hours on their farm and at markets.   He also sells on Saturdays at City Market in Kansas City which is why we rarely see him on Saturdays in Webb City.   
This April when we inspected his farm, my co-inspector Tim Green and I were astounded by what he had in the ground.    The cool weather crops like leafy greens and spring onions were mature and being sold at the market.   

The broccoli was not far behind.  He had started the plants in his greenhouse.   He built that after our first series of hoop house workshops three years ago.   The instructor had shown our farmers how to build using scrap materials along with purchased materials, so Nhia’s greenhouse has a certain organic feel, but it works well and the price was right.

He then moved the plants to the field, protecting them with row cover.
When we visited in April, he also had warm weather crops like tomatoes, green beans, zucchini and squash well on their way, all protected by row cover.   It was just enough protection to get them through that snowy weather in May.   

As a result, Nhia’s tables are loaded with field tomatoes a good week or two earlier than we’ll see from our other growers who will have a few this week but not the bin loads that Nhia has.

It won’t be long though until we’re flooded with tomatoes.   And we’ve already got enough cucumbers for folks to be seriously thinking about canning.   Pick up your free canning booklet and free pickling sample at the information table.   We also have coupons for discounts on canning supplies.

If you’ve driven by the Kids Community Garden lately, you know harvest is underway.   We had six children working Monday.   They all had some weeding time, some harvesting time and some time when we talked about using zucchini.   Naturally, zucchini is in abundance and in a variety of sizes.   We discussed how to use the big zucchini – bread, cake and relish and what works well with the smaller zucchini – sautéing, stir fry and baking.   The kids also took home peppers, both sweet and hot, cucumbers, and tomatoes.   One of our little gardeners brought salsa and chips that she and her aunt had made from the tomatoes and peppers she harvested the week before.   Tasty, but I was sure glad I’d brought drinking water for everyone!  The kids agreed to donate their midweek harvest which I take care of to the CP Center here in Webb City.   

Speaking of peppers, sweet and hot, Broken Wire is roasting peppers at the market on Fridays.   Roasting lends a smoky flavor to the peppers and intensifies the flavor.   Broken Wire is, to my knowledge, the only farm in Missouri roasting right at the market and, frankly, he gets way more business at his stand at a Springfield market, so let’s buy some roasted peppers.   We sure want him to stay with us!

The Granny Chicks are playing at the market today, so bring your dancing shoes.   Brad Douglas is doing a story on them to air tonight on KSN.   If you missed Brad’s heartwarming story last week on our bell ringer, Nicky Otts, you can watch it on-line.   There’s a link to it on the market facebook page where you’ll also find a listing of all vendors posted for each market.

Granny Shaffers at the Market is serving chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes, chicken salad sandwiches and a fresh fruit plates today.

Nutrition specialists from Extension are demonstrating and sampling stir fried vegetables with chicken.
Tomorrow’s breakfast benefits Lafayette House, our regional domestic violence center.   This worthy cause will receive all the profits from breakfast which is served until 11.   Hawthorne will play traditional music, including music from the Civil War era.   Market Lady Carolyn Smith will demonstrate and sample Cucumber Feta Rolls.   (Terrell Creek Farm sells feta and other goat cheese on Fridays.)

And, of course, we’ll be open next Tuesday with loads of produce, music and a meal.

See you at the market!