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.