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!