Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Webb City Sentinel column - 9-26-13

Janet Taylor, a market volunteer and friend, loaned me a copy of Vegetarian Times Farmers' Market Cookbook. It's called a cookbook on the cover, but it's actually a magazine full of seasonal recipes and has an excellent article on farmers markets.

Sometimes articles on farmers markets seem to read as if they had been put together based on some sketchy internet research, but this article, called Market Intelligence – how to score the best produce at your farmers' market, is right on target. It asks the right questions, and asks them of the right people.

Here are just a few of the questions and answers, with comments I can't resist making:
How can I be sure that the produce is really organic? Ask at the stand or look for a sign. Though some farm stand signs are emblazoned with “Certified Organic”, many farmers who follow organic practices don't bother to certify because of the paperwork, and in some cases, the cost, says Larry Johnson, manager of the Dane County Farmers' Market in Madison, Wisconsin. These vendors may describe their produce as no-spray or pesticide-free.
We get this question a lot on our WCFM facebook page and our answer is: We have no certified organic producers. Talk to the grower and find out about their growing practices.

Is it inappropriate to negotiate prices? Yes, says Johnson, who emphasizes that farmers work hard to put a fair price on their products. “You wouldn't haggle at a grocery store,” he adds.

This has come up at our market as well. As a policy, we discourage bargaining for lots of reasons. One is that our customers who pay the posted price would have good reason to feel cheated if someone else bought the same product for less. Another is that bargainers can be very aggressive and it's just painful to see one of our gentle farmers being browbeaten into lowering their price. That's certainly not the atmosphere we strive for. Another is that our farmers set their prices according to their costs and investment of time. Selling at a lower price could put their livelihood at risk and failing farmers is not what we're about.

I think customers wanting to bargain usually come from other countries where bargaining was the norm. You would never expect to pay full price at a market in Mexico, or India, or anywhere in Asia. But in those places, the merchant takes bargaining into account when setting the prices. He starts out high so he can meet the customer somewhere in the middle. In Webb City, our vendors set their price where they need to sell it. They don't inflate the price in order to bring it down.

There are occasions when the price might be discounted some, particularly when buying large quantities, say for canning. When you buy a bushel of tomatoes, the price per pound will usually be less then when you buy a quart box. They're probably not as pretty either.
If there is a huge variety of produce at a stand, should I be suspicious about who grew it? Not necessarily, says Amelia Saltsman (author of the Santa Monica Farmers Market Cookbook). Many small farmers grow a row or two of different root vegetables and greens, and can then sell a variety of goods (opposed to industrial farmers obliged to grow a lot of one thing to supply giant distribution centers).

Again, this is very true at our market. While a few of our farmers specialize in a single type of produce, Broken Wire which specializes in peppers would be an example, most grow a wide variety of crops. And even Broken Wire branches out into melons, squash and tomatoes, as well as eggs. Pates Orchard focuses on fruit, but you'll find some pretty fantastic onions and tomatoes at their stand. It makes sense for a farm to have as many profit centers as it can. An extra $30 in flower sales can pay for the gas to drive to market.
That's just a taste of the article and doesn't touch all the recipes in the magazine. It's well worth a read.

At the market today, stop by the University of Missouri Extension table and try some Sweet Baked Apple Wedges. Gospel Strings takes the market stage and Granny Shaffers serves lunch for the last time this year: home style chicken and noodles and chicken salad sandwiches. Next Friday, Phil & Friends (that would be my husband Phil Richardson) cooks up all-you-can-eat ham and beans with fixin's and a drink for $5. It will be a Cooking for a Cause and all profits will benefit Webb City's Bright Futures program. Fair warning, they'll be brown bean because that's what Phil and I like. You want white beans? Volunteer to help!

A special bonus today – Jo and Rae Letsinger of Sarcoxie are moving their iris beds and have 250 German bearded iris bulbs to give away.

Tomorrow Trish Reed serves as our Market Lady for the last time this season. She'll be cooking up something good to sample. The Market Lady project was funded by a USDA grant that is wrapping up this month.

Hubert Sigler will be at the market selling and signing his book Tyrone Dust. A novel set in the 1930's in Texas County, Missouri, it is loosely based on family and community stories Hubert grew up hearing. Hubert will also be at Minerva's from 11:30 to 2 should you miss him at the market.

Andrew Pommert performs tomorrow and breakfast benefits the Downtown Joplin Alliance. The menu will be biscuits and gravy, sausage, and eggs to order. Starting next week, the Saturday breakfast menu goes to pancakes, grilled ham and eggs to order.
All these changes for next week means that our October schedule will be in place. No more Tuesday markets till next year but we'll be open on Fridays and Saturdays through October and then on Saturdays all the way until mid-April when we re-start the regular season. It all happens under the market pavilion.

See you at the market!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sentinel column - 9/20/13

Do you get excited about the changing seasons?  I sure do. I am so ready for fall foliage and crisp weather, just as I was so ready last March for brilliantly green grass and the soft gentle breezes of a spring day. I guess I’m in the right line of “work” because seasons are a big part of the farmers market.

We’re beginning to see hints of fall at the market. There are big beautiful locally-grown mums for sale. They’re winter-hardy so you can plant them if you want and enjoy them year after year or you can be like me and just enjoy them for a season. Honestly there are only so many mums my courtyard can hold.

The pumpkins are coming in too which is lucky because I have orders from my daughter Emily for a carload. When I visit her in Indianapolis next week I’m to bring two large mums, four large misshapen pumpkins and 10 pie pumpkins. “Misshapen”?  Yes, I asked too. They are to be the bodies of spiders crawling down the hill in front of her house. Apparently Emily wants creepy spiders.

Emily loves decorating for the holidays (I think Jeanne and Stan Newby are her inspiration!). She sure landed in the right neighborhood to enjoy Halloween. Irvington, where she lives, is celebrating its 67th annual Halloween Festival Week this year. The festival culminates with a street fair and costume parade that draws over 12,000 people. Emily became a homeowner and Irvington resident last year and she decorated in a big way for Halloween. It paid off. She won fame and glory as Irvington’s “Rookie of the Year” during the festival. This year she’s not a rookie so she’s going to have to try harder. Maybe I’d better take more pumpkins.

September brings the market’s annual Arts in the Park celebration and do we ever have a good one planned this year. It takes place tomorrow from 9 to noon under the pavilion. Breakfast benefits the Webb City Parks. 

The Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center will host a leaf rubbing table. The trees may still be green but I’m sure we’ll find some very colorful leaf rubbings at that table.
Spiva Center for the Arts is hosting the ever-popular Veggie Art tables. The kids love turning veggies into aliens, bugs, cars and other objects. And if you’re not a kid, play with us anyway. There’s no age limit at the art tables – and there’s no charge either.

Our market artists will also be there with glass work and jewelry.

The highlight of the day will be our music. We were fortunate to receive a small grant from the Missouri Art
Council and from Bob and Frances Nichols (yes, they would be my biggest boosters – and my parents) so we could bring in WildHeart. Also known as Jan and George Syrigos from central Missouri, WildHeart will take kids on a musical adventure through nature at 9, 10 and 11 o’clock. It’s not often we have Emmy award winners at the market so don’t miss them. 

On the half-hour, we have bluegrass from the Missouri Millstone Trio. The Trio includes Randy Corbin who has played often at the market and who ramrods the bluegrass at the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival. The CJ event is a week from tomorrow and will have lots of great groups playing. 

Thanks to support from MAC and my folks, the market was able to partner with Madge T. James School to bring a performance by WildHeart to our kindergarteners today. They’ll hear some great music and learn about nature from two professional naturalists.

Speaking of school partnerships, you should have seen the kids digging sweet potatoes at the Kids Garden Wednesday. It’s always a fun “treasure” hunt, as well as a challenge to convince them not to dig the whole crop at once. Last year I made the mistake of letting them do that. We had so many potatoes that they couldn’t carry them home!

Today at the market the Plainsfolk play traditional music and Granny Shaffer’s at the Market serves lunch.
Next Tuesday is our last Tuesday market of the year. William Adkins will play and Granny Shaffer’s will serve lunch.

We’re planning ahead for the changing seasons at the market. In October, we go to Friday and Saturday only. The Friday meal becomes a Cooking for a Cause. My husband, Phil Richardson, will prepare the meal in the inspected kitchen of Central United Methodist Church. He’ll do all-you-can-eat ham and beans one week and chili the next. It will be served by volunteers and the profits will go to non-profits chosen by the volunteers. Our first Friday Cooking for a Cause lunch will benefit Webb City’s Bright Futures on October 4th.

Another change coming up in October will be the Saturday breakfast which will be pancakes, ham and eggs to order. And it’s a Bright Futures weekend because the October 5th breakfast will benefit Bright Futures too. Want to volunteer at either meal?  Just give me a call at 483-8139.

We’re also looking for artists and artisans for our Christkindlmarket in November and December. More on that later, but if you or a friend makes high quality art or crafts, give me a call.

Last but not least, we still have loads of produce at the market. There are plenty of tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini and more, plus the cool weather crops like lettuce, sweet potatoes and winter squash. Fair Haven just made a batch of apple butter and will have it at the market today. Now doesn’t that sound like fall?  It’s coming!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Webb City Sentinel column - 9-13-13

It’s official. The Park Board gave us their blessing this week to hold Winter Market at the market pavilion on Saturday mornings. In October, we’ll be at the pavilion on Fridays and Saturdays. November through early April we’ll go to Saturdays only – 9 am to noon.

About six years ago we started our Winter Market. It was the brain child of Nancy Rasmussen of Sunny Lane Farm. As a rancher, she has product all year round and needed a place to sell her beef, chicken and lamb. 

Those first few years, the market was pretty small, mostly meat vendors and bakers with a little produce at the beginning and end of the winter season. We only met twice a month and Nancy took care of management. By the third year sales had increased to the point that Nancy could no longer run her own stand and the market too, so at her request, I stepped in. Last year volunteer Janet Taylor took on much of the management responsibilities. 

Our third year, the winter of 2010-11, we grew a little more and it was REALLY cold. Only two market days were above 40 degrees. Twice I had to sweep snow out of the pavilion before opening and once we had to cancel due to over a foot of snow.

That sent us to the Clubhouse for the next two years of winter market. Changing locations was confusing for our customers and crowded for our vendors but it was warm, except the poor meat vendors who were stuck with their trailers outside. But don’t feel too badly for them, they had heaters inside those trailers.
Then in spring of 2012, city economic director Chuck Surface contacted me about a grant for the market. I supplied him with documentation and photos of the market, its sales, and vendor and customer numbers. Lo and behold, the US Department of Agriculture gave the city funds to by rubberized canvas sidings for the pavilion and large portable heaters in order to extend the market season.

The sidings couldn’t have come at a better time. We had seriously outgrown the Clubhouse. After our winter production conference last year we knew that we’d have at least twice as many winter growers at the market this year and probably more. And we barely had room for the growers we had last year.

Another critical reason for returning winter market is that the Clubhouse is not available to us on Saturdays. That is the most popular day to rent the Clubhouse for parties and events so it was just not an option to tie it up with the market every week (we went to every Friday last year).

Why the move from Fridays to Saturdays for winter market?  For the last several years many customers have asked us to stay open on Saturdays. Their work schedule just didn’t permit them to shop during the day on Fridays. For example, the school administration, as great as they are, won’t let teachers pop out to stock up on Swiss chard and broccoli. 

The deciding factor was sales. Friday market sales had, since the beginning, been much higher than the other days, two and three times as much. Saturdays have been growing, but even last summer Saturday saw only 70% of the sales that Friday produced. Not so this year. Saturday finally burst past Friday and is now our biggest sales day of the week. It may not feel as busy because our Saturday crowd doesn’t seem compelled to do all their shopping in the first 20 minutes of market but the crowd is much steady. I rejoice when I look down the pavilion at 10 minutes till noon on Saturdays and it’s still full of customers – and produce. That’s one reason Saturdays have grown so much. Our farmers are finally producing enough to have full tables two days in a row. It took a while to build up to that.

Today at the market you can enjoy the music of the Granny Chicks, polkas are guaranteed. Granny Shaffers at the Market is serving homestyle chicken and noodles, chicken salad sandwiches and fruit plates. Extension is demonstrating “Sweet Potatoes Four Ways”. The basic preparation is the same for each recipe, but the spices vary. Try them all and pick your favorite. Patrick Byers and Shon Bishop, with University of Missouri and Lincoln University Extension, will be on hand dispensing gardening and growing advice. Larry Cassatt comes to the market for the first time this season with his melons. Terrell Creek is back with goat cheese. Fair Haven is bringing 80 dozen ears of shucked corn. Just toss them into boiling water. Josh Flager and Courtney Luthi will each have big gorgeous mums for sale today and tomorrow. We’ve been having plenty of farm-fresh eggs on both Friday and Saturday so pick up a dozen. They are great scrambled or fried. 

Tomorrow William Adkins takes the market stage. The Friends of the Webb City Public Library serve breakfast until 11. Market Lady Susan Pittman demonstrates Fresh Tomato and Basil Pasta and Fire-and-Ice Tomatoes. Craig Hansen of Hillside Farm in Carthage returns with his elephant garlic tomorrow. He’ll only be here a couple of times this year so don’t miss him.  (that's a photo of his garlic above.)

Just two more “Easy Tuesdays” left this year. Marshall Mitchell performs western and cowboy music. Granny Shaffers at the Market serves freshly grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, chicken salad sandwiches and fruit plates.

The market is open on Friday and Tuesday from 11 to 2 and on Saturday from 9 to noon.
See you there!

Christkindlmarket is Coming!

In November and December the market is hosting a Christkindlmarket - that's a German tradition - open air markets for the holidays.  We're a little behind the times - they've been doing them in Europe since the middle ages. 

Our Christkindlmarket will be in the south part of the pavilion (remember it's enclosed & heated!) during Winter Market on Saturdays from 9 to noon.  We are looking for excellent artisans and artists to set up regularly or on a few Saturdays.  This year, plan to give local as well as eat local! 

To download the Christkindlmarket vendor application, click here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Webb City Sentinel column - 9-6-13

Tuesday, about 15 minutes before the market closed, I noticed some new customers. I knew they were new for two reasons. Our experienced customers wouldn’t arrive that late to buy produce. Honey and meats, yes, because those vendors always have a good supply till close and always stay till the end. But our regular customers know that produce selection can get sparse by the last half hour of market because popular items can be sold out and many farmers are in the process of packing up and heading back to the farm (though they are always willing to unpack and find what a customer is looking for). So I knew it was probably this attractive young couple’s first visit to the market. But the dead give-away was their delight. They were Asian and they were thrilled with the selection of Asian specialty crops they found at the Lee stand. They were loading up on long beans, Thai peppers, water spinach, loofa, and Thai eggplant. They were laughing and calling to each other, as they discovered yet another favorite vegetable from their childhood. It was fun to watch them.

You’ll have some new discoveries yourself this week. The sweet potatoes and winter squash are in season and the mums are as well. Courtney Luthi, the young woman who helps at the Braker stand, grows mums every year for the market. The Brakers will have to get along without her for a while because you will see her at her own stand with mums pretty much every market day starting today. Josh Flager, a young man who has grown mums for the market the last few years, opens his stand up tomorrow. So we should have lots of mums for sale. 

Of course, the summer crops are still going full force but we’ll see more of the cool weather crops soon – let’s hope we see some cool weather, too. The loose leaf lettuce is back in season. Turnips are just around the corner. We’re beginning to see some broccoli and edible-pod peas. Pumpkins are coming in.
Many home gardens are winding down, but our market farmers are still planting for fall and winter. In fact, brace yourself for a slew of green beans this fall. I’ve seen huge fall plantings of green beans on many of our farms. I am so ready for fall. Aren’t you?

Today long-time market favorites Jack and Lee Ann Sours play traditional music. Granny Shaffers at the Market serves homestyle chicken and noodles, chicken sandwiches and fruit plates. Our Extension ladies demonstrate and sample Crusty Okra Circles. 

Tomorrow the Tri-State Cerebral Palsy Center benefits from Cooking for a Cause. The breakfast is served from 9 to 11 and includes biscuits and gravy, sausage, farm-fresh eggs cooked to order and orange juice or coffee. The CP Center which is here in Webb City is a developmental preschool that serves children with delays and disabilities, ages six months through six year. It provides such services as physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and special instruction and is an important asset for our area.

No Apparent Reason, the house band for the Woodshed in Carthage, takes the market stage tomorrow. Normally we couldn’t afford this accomplished group but they’re big fans of the CP Center so they cut their fee in half so we can afford them and then donate what we pay them to the CP Center!  Fill their tip jar up. Between their talent and their generosity, they more than deserve it.

Tomorrow Market Lady Trish Reed will demonstrate and give samples of an eggplant dish.

Tuesday we're open from 11 to 2.  Granny Shaffers at the Market will serve lunch and William Adkins is playing.  It's our easy shopping day. 

I had a fun visit just this moment as I was writing the column. A lady from Tulsa was in the office and noticed the market sign by my door. She popped in to say she loved the market. She has business that brings her to Webb City and she said every time she comes down, she goes to the market. “I don’t know anyone here, but I go to the market and everyone is so friendly and the entertainment is wonderful. I go back to Tulsa and tell everyone what a great market Webb City has.”

Sometimes it takes a visitor to remind us of what we’ve got. See you at the market!