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!